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What is online engagement?

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Chapter 5

Online customer engagement - meaning

Online engagement is the catalyst that converts prospects to customers, customers to loyal customers, and loyal customers to vocal brand advocates. A colleague once described engagement as, “The gravity that holds an audience in orbit around a brand.” As such, it’s become the newest competitive battleground for marketers. Just ask a CMO what their top ten online marketing concerns are. Engagement will usually appear in the top three. And, as challenging as engagement can be for domestic brands, it becomes even more elusive when trying to engage across the barriers of culture and language.


According to the online customer engagement definition, it can take many forms, from favoriting a Tweet to creating a video on YouTube. But, the reasons why people engage with brands remain consistent.


Put simply, people engage with brands they don’t mind being associated with and like. Those are brands they understand, value, relate to, and trust. How well does your brand compete on these criteria? If you’re not satisfied with the level of engagement your brand receives online, then there is a good chance that online visitors find the brand’s offer unclear, undifferentiated from your competitors, irrelevant to their needs, untrustworthy, or all of the above. These are the issues to deal with if you really want to solve engagement problem at the source.


  Visit Essentially, people just showing up, which increases web traffic.
  Consider Visitors hang around and consume content. This increases time on page, which is good for SEO.
  Acknowledge These are likes, rating, favoriting, essentially, pushing a button.
They’re low engagement activities, but do provide a public receiptthat content was consumed.
  Contribute Taking the time to reply, leave a comment, or chat online.
  Follow People subscribe to your channel or RSS feed, which provides a passive channel of contact to these subscribers.
  Information This is submitting personal data, like filling out a survey, which provides marketing intel.
  Permission People submit an email or a phone number, which enables further one-on-one contact.
  Create People add things they’ve created or curated, like posts or pictures that enrich a brand’s content.
  Amplify People share content with their proprietary audience and, in the process, promote brand awareness.
  Advocate This means actively endorsing your brand to their proprietary audience, which, in addition to promoting awareness, also fuels understanding, interest, and trust in the brand.
  Convert Perform the highest order ask on the asset — typically downloading, trying and/or buying something, or linking somewhere.


Why does the world need another guide to online engagement?

Duffy Agency wrote this online customer engagement guide because we see a disconnect between the reasons prospects fail to engage with brands online and the tactics that are widely prescribed to address the problem. Most books and posts published on the topic of online engagement focus on editorial tactics to improve content. Having worked with scores of international brands, Duffy Agency has found that poor editorial skills will certainly make matters worse, but, in most cases, they are not the source of the problem. The source of most online engagement problems are outmoded brand strategies that were not developed with an online audience in mind.


This guide takes a different tact in addressing online engagement: It focuses on the fundamental elements of a brand that need to be adapted to the new digital marketing landscape that has been shaped, in large part, by the internet over the past decades.


For most marketers, discovering the digital engagement meaning is a new skill. Pre-2005, when marketing communication was mostly one-way, engagement wasn’t on the radar, at least not the way it manifests itself today. Drawing on our work with dozens of online brands, Duffy Agency has outlined a process that can be used to increase online engagement at its source. This guide will help your brand engage its online audience in a manner that will not only increase sales, but also drive loyalty and advocacy after the sale. Below are a few questions to help decide if this approach is right for your brand:

What type of digital engagement are you looking for?

If you’re not satisfied with the online customer engagement of your brand, your first reaction may be to try new tactics. A quick Google search will reveal oodles of quick fixes for online engagement, like addressing trending topics, writing snappier headlines, running contests, crowdsourcing, being more personal, real-time response, embracing causes, etc. These tactics can be very effective at triggering engagement in the same way that tickling someone can make them laugh, whether or not they find the person tickling them funny or even likable. In our work, Duffy Agency has found this stimulated engagement to be very useful to boost online metrics. But we’ve also observed that the strongest brands in their categories tend to be the ones with solid organic engagement. That is, brands that people want to engage with even when they are not prompted to do so. This signals that the brand is striking a chord with consumers on a much deeper level and, therefore, is less dependent on tactics to attract engagement (or customers).


Any brand can adopt tactics that will produce temporary boosts in engagement. But that doesn’t make them engaging brands, it just indicates skilled tacticians. To really move an online program to the next level, you should ensure that the brand’s strategic foundation has been optimized for online use. That means going beyond triggering engagement online with oneoff tactics and addressing the source of what makes one brand more engaging than another. Once that is done, use short-term tactics to fuel that engagement and provide the occasional boost.


If your brand needs more than temporary boosts in engagement in digital marketing, then this guide will help.

Testing your assumptions

When looking beyond the tactics, often more fundamental issues that are hurting engagement with the brand are found. That’s because conventional brand models, upon which most brands are based, were created for a different reality: They simply don’t take the new marketing landscape — defined by the internet — into account. Brands online today are exposed in a way that would have been unimaginable just five years ago. What passed as an adequate brand focus then can look like a blur to prospects online today. And, no one will engage with a blur.


What’s more, prospects are assessing brands in greater numbers and at far greater speed and through far more touchpoints than was the case back then. Brand communication needs to be tailored to the digital environment to be more immediate and address the behavior of online prospects and customers. These are the root issues that make brands come to life online and elicit organic engagement.


Whether launching a new brand or trying to boost the online performance of an established brand, chances are you will need to take a closer look at the online engagement meaning and reexamine the brand’s basics to attract, hook, and engage more people online. That starts with reexamining how your brand category, value proposition, and position are communicated, and how these elements are supported by your brand profile. This isn’t so much about changing the brand as it is about updating the way you profile and communicate your brand online.


If your brand strategy hasn’t been revised yet for today’s digital environment, then this guide will help. This guide began its life as part of an introduction to strategic online marketing for graduate students and entrepreneurs. Duffy Agency has since expanded it to provide business owners and brand managers with a conceptual framework and step-by-step advice to focus their brand offers online. As you might imagine, this will also focus these brands offline. Today, your brand’s prospects and customers live with one foot in both online and offline worlds. To address this, you should ensure you project one seamless brand identity online and off. However, you need to start somewhere, and, as a digital-first agency, Duffy Agency’s starting point begins online.

Like this post? You'll find more marketing insights in my new book: International Brand Strategy: A guide to achieving global brand growth, now available from booksellers globally. Order your copy here.