Breaking away from aimless engagement

Deconstructing engagement in order to connect with customers on their own terms.

We can’t stop talking about Engagement. It’s clear why: Engagement has undeniable benefits¹ ²:

  • Business Growth: Growing your customer base and profits
  • Developing Customer Relationships: Customers becoming invested in your business
  • Strengthening Customer Loyalty: Reiterating your business’ value to invested customers

"Google Trends" graph for the term Customer Engagement from the year 2004 to present day. The graph shows the world-wide popularity of the term Customer Engagement. The graph measures popularity from 0 to 100. Zero means this term is never searched, one-hundred means the term was at its peak popularity. The graph goes up at a 45 degree angle. The terms popularity around 2004 was 0 to 25, peaking at 100 in October of 2019.
Google Trends data for Customer Engagement from 2004 to present ³

While Engagement has remained a Marketing hot-topic for the last decade, the conversations on the subject remain rudimentary. Many articles talk about Engagement for Engagement’s sake; sharing general tips and tricks, minimally talking about Engagement’s overarching purpose, and rarely diving into the customer’s perspective.

These articles have had a noticeable effect; the domain of E-Commerce particularly tends to take the dire standpoint of “engage or die” ⁴ ⁵ ⁶. This perspective has created an overwhelming online environment. The internet has become a constant din of aimless Engagement; businesses throwing the proverbial spaghetti at the wall, with minimal perceivable consideration or benefit for the customer. Let me be straightforward, this is aimless Engagement, and it negatively affects customers.

The 3 main issues with Aimless Engagement:

  1. Guesswork solutions are a poor use of a business’ time, effort, and money:
    UX Design can create more effective solutions; with greater benefit for both businesses and customers.
  2. Aimless Engagement can undermine your brand’s message:
    Actions are stronger than words. For example, if a business’ brand messaging focuses on encouraging customers to feel relaxed, but said business Engages with customers using pop-ups with headlines reading: “URGENT”, that business is not practicing what it preaches. The primary function of Engagement is to communicate your brand’s psyche and value to the customer. If Engagement is done aimlessly, customers will “pick up” on branding inconsistencies (like in the example above). It signals to the customers that the business isn’t truly invested in its brand message. At worst, customers could perceive this inconsistency as a business being untrustworthy. Rendering all efforts in Marketing and Engagement, irrelevant.
  3. Customers learn to ignore businesses with poor Engagement:
    Aimless Engagement tactics regularly focus on keeping customer attention, with minimal concern for creating a positive user experience. For example; daily emails that provide the customer with a minimal value besides reminding them that the business exists. Tactics like this may work for now, but customers will use their selective attention to adapt:

“Selective attention is really a survival instinct; if people had to pay attention to all stimuli in the environment, they’d never get anything done. They’d also be more likely to overlook something important, such as a big-toothed predator sneaking up on them”
Jakob Nielsen NN/g

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In this series of articles, I’m going to outline the process of achieving what I call “Essential Engagement”. Essential Engagement employs User Experience (UX) methods to find the crucial points of communication between businesses and customers (required by any business to reach and maintain any level of success). I’ll be using the customer persona of “The Researcher to guide us through the process of creating Essential Engagement; Using a persona helps UX Designers make informed decisions that balance the perspective of the customer with the business’ goals.

Many of the topics throughout this series are applicable to other Engagement platforms (email, social media, etc) and Engagement purposes (philanthropy, self-promotion etc.). Still, I believe Essential Engagement starts with a business’ website. Besides a physical store-front, your website is the most direct way a customer can interact with your business. Customers make major decisions on your website; whether they will align themselves with your business, or not. Whether they will purchase your product, or not.

An Engaging website should be the first, and most powerful step you take towards creating positive communication between you and your customers.

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What is Customer Engagement?

Engagement: A general definition:

Here’s a synthesized definition of engagement, created mostly thanks to these two articles ⁹ ¹⁰ and the innumerable consumed over the year:

Engagement is defined as business making the effort to connect (through their website, social media, email, etc.) with their customer, in order to reiterate their brand’s worth.

“Connect” is somewhat vague. For clarity, let’s look at the definition of “engage”. What does it mean to engage ¹¹ another person?

  • To attract or involve someone
  • To establish a meaningful connection, emotional involvement
  • To make a promise, a guarantee, or commitment
  • To offer something, such as one’s word, as backing to a cause or aim

Engagement: Who’s involved and what do they do?

Truly Engaging customers requires a coordinated effort between Marketing and UX Design:

  • Communicating Engagement through Marketing
  • Demonstrating Engagement through UX Design

Businesses need to both Communicate and Demonstrate Engagement in order to successfully engage with their customers.

If a business Communicated Engagement but doesn’t Demonstrate Engagement; they’re “all talk, and no action”, not succeeding in demonstrating the value they guaranteed their customers. If a business Demonstrates Engagement but doesn’t Communicate Engagement; the customer has no way to quickly discern a business’ value, and the business will fail.

In this series, I’ll be focusing on the [UX / Demonstrating Engagement] approach to Engagement. I feel that [Marketing / Communicating Engagement] is heavily documented in many other articles.

Engagement: How does the customer fit in?

Positive feedback-loop titled "Successful Customer Engagement". Loop starts. 1: Marketing. Communicating potential positive customer experience through: Ads, email, etc. 2: UX. Demonstrating positive customer experience through: UI, graphic design, user flow, etc. 3: Customer Interaction. If customer has a positive experience, they are more likely to make a purchase. 4: Customer Loyalty. If customer had a positive experience, there is a stronger bong between the business & the customer.
The feedback loop between Customer Experience and Customer Loyalty creates Customer Engagement. The customer is only “loyal” if they share similar values with the business or if they find value in the business’ services.

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The two levels of Engagement

Now that we’ve found a definition for Engagement, let’s simplify the goals of Engagement. Businesses that are at different levels of maturity don’t need to aspire to the same levels and methods of Engagement. Let’s distinguish the purpose behind Essential Engagement vs. Targeted Engagement.

A screenshot from the film "It's a Wonderful Life". The two main characters, husband & wife, are standing outside of a new home. Both husband and wife are white. There is a crowd standing in front of them, the family that now owns the new home. The husband is making a speech to the crowd, welcoming the new family to their home. He is gesturing to the home proudly. The wife is holding congratulatory gifts for the the new owners of the home, and looks pleased.

Level 1: Essential Engagement aka “manners”

Essential Engagement employs UX fundamentals to show basic respect for the customer’s time and effort. This style of Engagement isn’t tailored to communicate with one particular group of customers, that’s why I call Essential Engagement “manners”; the purpose of this level of Engagement is to display business’ information, values, and products in a clear, straight-forward manner.

3 Benchmarks of Essential Engagement:

  1. Supporting your customers throughout their process of researching and purchasing products. Eg: Not distracting the customer, balancing business goals with customer experience, seamless navigation.
  2. Clarity: Clearly displaying business information (Eg: FAQ) and product information (Prices, sizes, etc.), so customers can find and understand information easily
  3. Trustworthy: The business demonstrates transparency regarding exchanges between the customer and business. Eg: clear return policies, well designed FAQ pages, etc.

Who is Essential Engagement for?

  • People looking to gain an advanced understanding of Engagement and the creation of positive User Experiences
  • New Businesses that may not have developed brand guidelines. Who may not have a complete grasp on their place within a specific consumer market

A screenshot from the t.v. show "Mad Men". The main character, a white man in a fancy suit, is standing in a fancy office. He is presenting his advertisement pitch for Heinz Ketchup to a group of men. He is standing in front of three sandwich boards, one has a picture of french fries, the other has a picture of a hamburger. He looks very pleased with himself.

Level 2: Targeted Engagement aka “branding”

Generally, the purpose of Targeted Engagement is to make a memorable connection with a specific group of customers. Working to have a clear understanding of the customer groups who are most receptive to your business, branding, and products. Creating Targeted Engagement requires sustained effort and research, and the execution is different for each business. For example, the best way to Engage with Heinz customers looks different from the best way to Engage with Adidas customers. Less ketchup, more shoes.

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There are no short-cuts to Engagement. Engagement requires businesses to both communicate and demonstrate respect and dependability to their customers. Through UX Design and Essential Engagement we can remove the guesswork of communication; creating a more genuine connection between you and customers, without wasted time, effort, or money.

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[1]: Casey Briglia. (August 20 2020). Why Customer Engagement Is Important | Link

[2]: Micah Solomon. (December 24 2015) Customer Engagement Is Everything In Business | Link

[3]: Data source: Google Trends | Link

[4]: Brett Relander. (December 9 2014). Too Much Social Media Can Drive Away Your Customers | Link

[5]: Shep Hyken. (February 21 2021) Customer Engagement Is Your Secret Weapon To Beat The Competition | Link

[6]: Ada Okoli. (December 19 2017). 2018: The Year of The Overwhelmed Customer | Link

[7]: Jakob Nielsen. (August 26 2012). Tunnel Vision and Selective Attention | Link

[8]: Amy Schade. (March 4 2014). Designing for 5 Types of E-Commerce Shoppers | Link

[9]: Alex McEachern. (May 11 2019) What is Customer Engagement, and Why is it Important? | Link

[10]: Swetha Amaresan. (July 30 2019) The Ultimate Guide to Customer Engagement in 2021 | Link

[11]: Dictionary. (2021) Engage | Link

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