Customer engagement

Customer engagement: leveraging the power of emotional value exchange(s)


Since several years a customer-driven revolution is sweeping through organisations across the globe. It impacts everything we do as businesses, including marketing and advertising. Great brands know that the days of pushing out product messages are over.

Attention needs to be earned. Being utterly relevant and connecting with a changing consumer in a personal and emotional way are key to earn that attention and engage customers. Great brands know how to engage instead of interrupt.

The future of customer engagement: setting the scene

Stop interrupting start engaging“Stop Interrupting, Start Engaging” is the message we increasingly hear and actively share as a result of the many shifts that have brought the genuine paradigm shift in customer engagement upon us. “Stop Interrupting, Start Engaging” was also the theme of an event Wunderman hosted last month in New York City where customer engagement and the end of interruption took centre stage.

Customer engagement is what most brands strive for in a fragmented media and marketing reality where loyalty decreases and attention spans are shorter than ever. Yet, engaging (with) customers is easier said than done in the customer-driven revolution. How do you effectively engage the ‘new’ consumer in a world with (close to) zero brand loyalty?

In this blog post we look at the art – and need – of engaging an ‘empowered’ consumer from an emotional value perspective. It’s the first post in a series on the pillars and success factors of customer engagement.

Emotional value and perceptions

Let’s first look at what customer engagement is as there are several views. Most definitions build upon the definition from Ron Shevlin: “Repeated, satisfied interactions that strengthen the emotional connection a customer has with the brand.” Repeated, interactions, satisfaction, emotion, connection, customer and brand. That pretty much sums up all the elements.

At Advertising Week 2015, Wunderman Seattle President Julie Rezek moderated a panel debate, ‘The Future of Customer Engagement’. Many of the topics we’ll tackle in this blog post series, were addressed. The panelists: Paul Berry, (founder and CEO of RebelMouse), Marie Huwe (GM for Integrated Marketing Communications at Microsoft Business Solutions) and T-Mobile CMO Andrew Sherrard.

All participants agreed that customer engagement has changed over the years. Not so much the definition but the ways to achieve it – and its importance. What has made things different in the space of customer engagement, Julie Rezek said, is the emotional value exchange taking place.

The panel debate at Advertising Week

The panel debate at Advertising Week

Because of the earlier mentioned changes and the fact that customer engagement has everything to do with this emotional value exchange and connecting the value of the brand with the value(s) of consumers, it isn’t easy to achieve though. It happens on a higher level of affinity, psychology and perceptions.

And aren’t perceptions everything? Think about customer experience where experiences are all about emotions and perceptions.

Emotions are facts: connecting with passion points when attention is scarce

Julie Rezek stressed the importance of perceptions when she kicked off the debate: “emotions are facts for consumers”.

Andrew Sherrard agreed and said engagement is about “those intersections where people are naturally and authentically excited and you are not really selling to them or trying to brazenly scream about the benefits or attributes of your product”. “Instead”, he continued, “you are actually woven into their life and what they are already excited about“.

Woven in the passions and lives of consumers. It can’t get more emotional and personal. Yet, Andrew Sherrard also acknowledged it isn’t easy. “Engagement is probably the hardest thing to get from anybody today”, he stated. When you think about the decline of traditional media, the proliferation we saw with all the new media and changing consumer behaviour, it’s already hard enough to get someone to pay attention to start with. Have them engaged and be passionate about anything is really difficult.

That’s why, according to Andrew, it’s important to connect with passion points that people are really excited about.

Customer engagement starts with the who, when, where and why of the customer

Brands have little choice when it comes to customer engagement today. Moreover, as Julie Rezek reminded, there is a correlation between the affinity towards a brand – again a highly emotional given – and revenues. Consumers with affinity spend more by 23% on average than those who don’t.

So, where do we get started when we want to engage customers? The answer is in the question: the customer! Andrew Sherrard stresses the importance of understanding the consumer and listening well. In a public space, such as social where T-Mobile is very active, listening, responding and taking actions based upon what you learn already is part engagement as such.

“One of the most important ways you can build trust and engagement is by reading, listening, responding and literally changing things all the time based on the feedback through social handles”, Andrew said. Add to that the important role of the front line, including T-Mobile’s many retail stores, and it’s clear that customer engagement starts with true understanding of the needs and emotions of consumers.

Listening and understanding customers to act and engage them is equally important in a B2B environment. Marie Huwe explained how committed Microsoft is in getting all that input and feedback in a continuous way. And it’s about more than knowing WHO the customer is, certainly as this dimension of continuity matters a lot according to Marie as we’ll cover in the next blog posts.

In order to engage with customers you also need to look at all stages of the life cycle. Furthermore, if you want to connect with customers in an emotionally engaging way, you need to go where they are and not just focus on your own properties such as the website, Marie Huwe said. You need to figure out where your customers are so you can create value when and where it matters to them: at the right time, thinking about their path and walking in their shoes. The when, where and why.

Sharing stories and experiences: passions and values to engage

Creating value when and where it matters and walking in the shoes of customers brings us to customer experience and the key role of good content and stories. After all, customer engagement is about shared and even co-created values. What better way to connect values than shared stories?

Customer engagement also involves the brand and the psychological state of the consumer as a result of interactive experiences at the right time. And when we say experience, we say totally putting ourselves in the shoes of customers, using the many ways we have to do so, from front-line employees and face-to-face interactions to social signals and Big Data. Customer experience indeed.

The glue of value in customer engagement increasingly revolves around great experiences and stories. As Paul Berry puts it: engaging brands are able to reach the audience that they wanted to reach – through the right content. An indicator of whether or not they achieve this is if and how the content gets shared, according to Paul.

Knowing that the audience loves the content enough to share it tells us how the story engages them and if it ‘sits’ where it matters, at the right time and in the right context, while connecting with the right passion points and relating to common values. We don’t just share stories: we share experiences, passions and values.

Value is in the eye of the engaged customers who act upon stories that emotionally relate with their values. As the saying goes, facts tell but stories sell. And isn’t storytelling one of the most emotional human phenomena we know?

Watch a recording of the panel debate.