“Audiences are going to engage with content that is original and unique, which means canned, generic content will fall by the wayside.”
– Kristin Marquet, Founder & Creative Director, Creative Development Media
Remember the days when branding your product or service involved a cowboy, sitting on a horse, wearing a 10-gallon hat and holding a cigarette? Seems like forever ago. Today’s savvy consumers demand stimulation through every sense imaginable. Sound, touch, feel and engagement are not only popular concepts for brand management, but necessary ones as well.
It’s all about the experience – and today’s marketers know it. Successful brand engagement means you are tapping into your consumers’ emotions. The concept of audience participation has morphed into a paramount step toward reaching – and keeping – your customers. Simply put, brand engagement is the forming of a bond or a loyalty between a consumer and a brand. And while it’s a part of the brand management pie, you can make the case that it’s the most important one.
Deb Gabor believes that the brands capable of giving their customers ways to interact with them are the ones people are talking about. “Articulating your brand and bringing it to life, and having lots of one-on-one connections with your audiences, takes place in several different forms,” says Gabor, CEO of Sol Marketing. “These include digital marketing and content marketing through the internet, as well as real-life events – if your brand exists in places other than online – and the management and activation of all the various touch points that exist around your brand.”
Gabor says a brand exists in a 360-degree space. Consumers should to want to eat, drink, live, smell and further experience a brand in every environment. That one-on-one engagement gives customers the option to interact with a brand and feel it is specific to them.
Kristin Marquet describes brand engagement as the consumer’s emotional attachment to a brand, and she says continuous brand engagement is important in developing and maintaining a loyal client base. It requires the use of multiple touchpoints with consumers.
“It’s important to have multiple touchpoints that are consistent, because it allows the customer to experience the same messaging and same level of service, from the first encounter to the last,” says Marquet, founder and creative director of Creative Development Media.
Be the real deal
Look around and you’ll see that consumers are getting smarter when it comes to organic, authentic content. More often, audiences are able to discern true content from “fake news.” Gabor says the idea is to make your content seem as authentic as possible, and not too overtly salesey.
“In the world of fake and not-fake news, people are increasingly skeptical of the content they consume,” she says. “Authenticity is going to become more important as audiences become more sophisticated in their consumption of content.”
Today’s consumers have a wide variety of platforms from which they can consume content. “Audiences are going to engage with content that is original and unique, which means canned, generic content will fall by the wayside,” Marquet says. “If brands want high engagement, producing top-notch content is critical.”
The role of content marketing in the brand engagement equation is huge. It’s about educating and entertaining your customer through compelling content, which strengthens the brand and results in greater customer loyalty.
“Customers will purchase more and spread positive reviews,” Marquet says. “This is especially important with Millennials since so many rely on the reviews of their peers and other customers for product and service purchases.”
Gabor cites Moxy Hotels, Marriott International’s answer to 30-something travel, for going about audience engagement the right way. The company started a YouTube series in July 2017 called “Do Not Disturb.” The webisodes are set in a Moxy hotel room and aim to connect to millennials, who would be the hotel chain’s prime guest and customer. Moxy’s target audience is able to see themselves in a Moxy hotel and feels that they are – or could be – part of the content. The tone of the series has been compared to Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns.”
The hotel brand hosted a huge “coming out” launch party, partnering with the Millennial-approved fashion brand, MADE. “Moxy has done a good job of making experiences highly tailored to their target audience,” Gabor says. “The audience knows they are in the right place when they consume Moxy content.”
Assessing the success of audience participation means measuring outtakes versus outcomes. Measuring clicks, views, time spent online, etc. – these are outtakes.
“An outcome involves how behavior, attitude, and perception have been changed, and it’s hard to measure,” Gabor says. “They are a little like advertising and awareness generation, in that the path between an activity and a purchase isn’t a direct one.”
Companies really have to understand what they’re trying to measure and what behaviors they’re trying to change, assuring the right metrics are in place to match their purpose. “Audience participation is rarely about selling stuff,” Gabor says.
Companies often choose the strategy of associating their brands with people who already bond with their target audience. While this tactic can be wildly successful, it also can be a slippery slope.
When you’re choosing how to go about the process of aligning your brand, be thoughtful, deliberate and strategic about that alignment. “A company has to assure the [person they align with] doesn’t get into trouble or develop a negative reputation, etc.,” Gabor says. “It’s important to ensure they align with the beliefs of the person.”
Sometimes, the person with whom you align your company can be perfectly fine, but the wrong fit for your message. Who doesn’t remember Pepsi’s 2017 ad, aimed at the “Join the Conversation” movement, with Kendall Jenner as the spokesperson? The company took a lot of immediate criticism as a result of casting Jenner, leaving Pepsi ad execs looking out of touch and tone deaf to the country’s racial and gender-related issues.
In the end, you must assure the brand risk is worth the brand engagement reward.