Customer Engagement Transcends Channels

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Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Expert Insight: Industry Authority

Engagement today is much like social media was in 2007: lots of talk, loads of fear, and little action. The lack of an industry-wide definition further fuels the problem.

Increasingly, marketers are looking to measure customer engagement, but it remains elusive even to the savviest marketer. So, marketers return to their antiquated techniques and metrics. Why? Because they are comfortable.

But traditional media metrics lump people together into a giant anonymous goo, and the Web's capabilities to track individuals' behaviors get relegated to repurposed traditional metrics-relics of a time when marketers controlled the messages. The continuing adoption of enabling technologies like TiVo, spam blockers, Do Not Call lists, or comparison shopping sites, coupled with supercharged online social behaviors, leaves marketers positioned between a rock and a hard place.

Enter engagement-a promising approach to understanding customers and prospects, but a challenge for most organizations to internalize because of narrow definitions that assume engagement can only happen online. However, engaged customers live in both a digital and physical world. At Forrester, we've developed an encompassing definition that transcends channels, tactics, and processes to accommodate this understanding. Engagement is the level of involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence a person has with a brand over time. We call these four components the 4I's.

Identifying with the 4I's
The first "I" is involvement, which is the presence of a person at the various brand touch points (metrics include website visitors, time spent per page, physical store visits, and mass media ad impressions). Interaction includes the actions people take while present at those touch points (metrics include click-throughs, online transactions, in-store purchases, and uploaded photos or videos). Intimacy is the affection, or aversion, a person holds for a brand (metrics include sentiment measurement in blog posts, blog comments, discussion forums, and customer service call sentiment). Finally, influence is the likelihood a person will advocate on behalf of the brand (metrics include brand awareness, loyalty, Net Promoter, satisfaction ratings, and forwarded content). Historically, the metrics marketers use most often are the involvement and interaction categories. But it takes a more holistic approach to understand engagement completely.

To bring the 4I's from concept to practice, we need to align them with a person's buying process. While the marketing funnel was designed to address this, it stops short because it only tracks a person as he moves from awareness to consideration to preference to action. It stops once a customer buys something, but engagement also happens after he buys. In reality, the buying process traverses four stages: A person learns about a product (discovery), decides if it is right for him (evaluation), uses it (use), and forms an opinion (affinity). Discovery happens by observing others with the brand, initiating the discovery, or being encouraged by others. Involvement allows marketers to measure a customer's presence, once he discovers a product or service. Evaluation happens by identifying credibility, assessing viability, and determining relevance.

Interaction metrics enable marketers to measure the actions people take when deciding if a product is right for them. Use is composed of three elements: the usefulness of features and functions to accomplish a goal; the usability of those features and functions when in operation; and the desirability (positive or negative) based on repeated use of the product or service. Intimacy tracking allows marketers to measure a person's attraction (or distaste) toward the brand after a person uses a product or service. Affinity is manifested in the passion level for the brand (favorable or not), expression of passion through sentiment (verbal conversation, written text, or produced content), and advocating for, or against, the brand. Influence presents opportunities for marketers to measure the impact individuals have on others, feeding into their discovery process.

We can all agree that measuring engagement is no easy task. To make it happen, marketers must define the constitution of an engaged customer, audit the company's engagement measurement capabilities, assess the value of each metric, and prioritize which metrics to obtain. Effective engagement measurement comes from a deep understanding of a customer's needs, goals, and opinions.

Marketers need to get their hands dirty by studying their customers to identify their level of engagement, and use that insight to make their marketing strategy and product offering better. It may seem daunting, but it's certainly possible.

Contact Haven at bhaven@forrester.com

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