The Anatomy of Brand Engagement
Amit Mathur is the CEO (and founder) of Vector Brook, where he is leading the development of cloud-based applications using Ruby/Rails. A proponent of open-source software, he is also leading the development of TopazSocial, an open-source social CRM system. Amit has several years experience developing software at Amdocs and Oracle. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Michigan. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @topazsocial.
The word “engage” has a variety of meanings. The one most appropriate, in the context of social media, is “to come together and interlock”. Another definition, “to interest someone in something and keep them thinking about it”, is also quite appropriate.
Brands want to be able to generate interest from prospects/customers, keeping them thinking about the brand, as well as interacting (interlocking) with them.
It is important to note here that conversations, interactions, and relationships are the essential ingredients of brand engagement. But while engagement encompasses conversations, interactions, and relationships, it is lot more.
Engagements between a brand and prospects/customers can be manifested in a number of ways on social-media channels:
♦ Communications on Twitter and Facebook
♦ Blog posts/comments
♦ Communications in a community forum
Social media is a definite game changer in that it empowers customers like never before. Customers want to be able to engage with brands on their own terms, and brands need to step up to the challenge, and be prepared to engage on these terms.
Brand engagements also continue to happen through traditional channels such as phone, chat, email, and face-to-face meetings as well.
A customer’s engagements with a brand take place through a number of touch points and go through many stages, collectively referred to as the customer’s journey. There are 2 main phases in the customer’s journey.
The first phase is the customer acquisition phase, where a prospect makes the transition to a customer. The prospect goes through the stages of awareness, consideration, evaluation, and eventually purchase of the product/service.
The second phase is the customer retention phase, where the customer is actively using the product/service, and then (hopefully) eventually becomes a brand loyalist.
The customer’s journey is affected by the nature of the product/service. For certain types of products/services, the features of the product/service are important, and all aspects of the features need to be communicated properly to prospects/customers. For other types of product/services, features are less important, and other factors such as price, and emotional connection with the brand, become more important in communications with prospects/customers.
Nature of Brand Engagement:
Brand engagements can broadly involve seeking more information, seeking assistance, or giving feedback.
Seeking Information In such brand engagements, the prospect/customer desires more information about the product/service:
♦ Questions about a product, product features, whether product can meet needs
♦ Questions about a service
♦ Questions about pricing, discounts
Seeking Assistance In such brand engagements, the customer faces issues while using the product/service, and seeks assistance:
♦ Discuss product issues (product not working, product needs repairs etc.)
♦ Discuss service issues (shortcomings/deficiencies in service etc.)
♦ Discuss billing issues (incorrect billing, change in plan etc.)
Giving Feedback In such brand engagements, the customer gives some sort of feedback about the product/service:
♦ Compliment the product/service
♦ Point out shortcomings/areas of improvement in the product/service
♦ Suggest new features/services
In the above scenarios, the actual interactions may be of the following kinds:
♦ Prospect/customer <-> company interactions: here the prospect/customer interacts directly with the company.
♦ Prospect <-> customer interactions: an existing customer may respond to a prospect’s question, and in many cases prospect’s are more likely to be influenced in their buying decision by information/recommendations provided by an existing customer.
♦ Customer <-> customer interactions: These are interactions amongst customers, where customers help other customer’s.
Outcomes of Brand Engagement:
Brand engagement outcomes can be neutral, positive, or negative:
♦ Prospect does not make any decision to buy the product/service; the prospect is non-committal, and has not reached a decision on whether to buy. This is a neutral outcome from the perspective of both the customer and the brand.
♦ Prospect becomes a customer by making a decision to buy.
♦ Customer receives a discount/coupon to encourage the customer to buy the product/service.
♦ Customer becomes a brand loyalist by making a decision to continue using the product/service, as well as possibly buying additional products/services from the company.
♦ Customer becomes a brand advocate by recommending the brand to others, either through social media or by word of mouth.
♦ Prospect decides not to buy the product/service, and instead chooses to buy from a competitor.
♦ Customer decides to switch to a competing brand.
Brand engagement outcomes need to be measurable, making it possible to compute ROI measures. Some measures include Customer Lifetime Value, NPS, Customer Satisfaction, and Customer Retention rates. However, more work is needed to better measure the outcomes of brand engagement.
Understanding the nature of brand engagement is critical to providing superior and consistent customer experiences across multiple communication channels, and multiple touch-points. CRM systems need to evolve to support all of these types of brand engagement, and help drive positive brand engagement outcomes.