Busting the engagement myth

New evidence from the HBR helps bust through the hype and hysteria around consumer engagement. I've long believed the idea of consumers wanting a "relationship" with your brand is bollocks for most brands. And the good old HBR has given me some hard data to back this up, reporting on a study involving more than 7000 consumers. They suggest that "Companies often have dangerously wrong ideas about how best to engage with customers." You bet they do.

Social media experts claim that its not enough to have lots of people following you. What really counts is engagement: interacting with them regularly, and creating a 2-way dialogue. Here's a classic quote, from The Social Buzz Lab: "There is an art to engaging in social media. Its not about your products or services its about building relationships. Whether its online or offline networking, its all about interaction."

Myth buster 1: Most consumers DON'T want a relationships with your brand.

If you're selling pasta sauce or petfood, not Prada, then I've been asking for a while, who in their right mind would want a relationship with your brand? And the HBR study confirmed this. 77% of consumers  don't want relationships with brands. As the report says, "In the typical consumer's view of the world, relationships are reserved for friends, family and colleagues."

So, unless you are a luxury product, stop trying to build relationships. Focus on doing what brands were invented for: helping people choose quickly and confidently to simplify their life. Make a good product. Make some good marketing to promote it. Sell it in lots of places. Period.

Screen Shot 2012-05-29 at 17.52.32Myth buster 2: Shared values matter more than interactions

Its scary how many marketers have bought the idea of consumers wanting frequent, 2-way interaction with their brand. In the HBR study, frequent interaction was quoted as being important by a measly 13% of the minority of people who actually wanted a brand relationship.

The biggest factor by far, 64%, was sharing the same values as the brand. This is good old fashioned branding basics, of finding a connection between your brand and your consumer. The authors quote as an example Pedigree Dog Food's shared value of "a belief that every dog deserves a loving home".

Myth buster 3: Less interaction is more

One dangerous consequence of the obsession with engagement is feeling the need to keep interacting with consumers on a regular basis. This leads to brands bombarding consumers with direct mail and emails, now complemented with Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. However, the study concludes "There's no correlation between interactions with a customer and the likelihood that he or she will be "sticky" (go through with an intended purchase, purchase again, and recommend).

Screen Shot 2012-05-29 at 17.51.53
Less is more. As the report says, "For any new marketing campaign, ask 'Is it going to reduce the cognitive overload consumers feel as they shop my category?' If the answer is 'no', go back to the drawing board."

In conclusion, most brands are better off not trying to engage with consumers to create relationships. They need to "get back in their boxes" and focus on helping make life simpler and easier.