There is more to life than brand engagement

Purple persuasion No. 28 by clikybd. Virtually nothing to do with this post but the word of the week is beauty and I’m fed up with photos of the First World War.
I get the whole brand engagement thing.

I understand the new world of the empowered consumer. I have believed for half a decade that all markets are conversations and that brands can only take part in those conversations if they can add something positive to them.
I was cluetrained to within an inch of my life while most of the new marketing mafia were getting their cycling proficiency badges.
And I want to do a whole load of things with brands that help them engage consumers and engage with consumers. On and offline, in analogue and digital media.
BUT am I the last person alive that thinks that there is a role for more active persuasion?
That businesses still need to actively approach consumers and persuade them of the merits of their brand or behaviour.
Sure I see active persuasion as a subset of brand engagement – persuasion should be engaging otherwise it is unlikely to be very persuasive.
But I worry slightly that in the new world order solving business problems by actively persuading people about a brand’s point of view is regarded as heresy.
Of course I don’t mean we can pull the wool over people’s eyes, convince them that a bad product has merit, deny that reference to each other has replaced deference to the advertiser or spend our way into peoples lives.
I just mean persuasion must be more active than the cult of ‘brushing past people in the lobby’.
Too much foreplay and not enough consumation is not good business for businesses
Fellow bloggers of the plannersphere we need to tread carefully.
Lets not throw the commercial instinct baby out with the corporate bullshit bathwater.
Friday rant over.

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32 Replies to “There is more to life than brand engagement”

  1. I think a lot of the problem is that when people talk about active persuation, a lot of people assume you mean hard sell (with added motivational fists in the air).
    But there is so so much to be said for constructive and helpful selling without shoving in product spiel in boatloads. Its possible to sell in very few words, or even none at all, so why do people see it as such heresy?
    Is there maybe an element of the creative folk who feel that selling may devalue their creative ideas?

  2. ‘Selling’ has got a bad rep – door to door, car salespeople, girl scout cookies.
    Plus, we hear ‘selling’-out often enough as it applies to people, bands, brands, etc.
    I think a lot of clients feel as though their brand is trying to be noticed in a crowded room – why not talk louder or more aggressively? Why not get attention through annoyance, insistence or shiny magic tricks?
    I think very powerful brands give people something to think about rather than shoving info. down their throats. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I always wonder about the person in the room who isn’t waiting to talk, but instead is trying to listen.

  3. Let’s reverse the situation for a moment
    Let’s suppose that brand engagement, viral branding et al was the pioneering way to do branding. ‘Brand stories’ basically created purely by experience and consumer consensus alone
    Then, on a cold day one morning, a brand stood up bravely and shouted these are our values, this is what we stand for, this is why we’re better
    The point being that perhaps the brand-consumer ‘balance’ has simply been restored. And whilst things might get a little ‘consumer centric’ in the short-term, people will always respect confidence, leadership and a point of view

  4. Forgive me if I’m missing your point, but isn’t that what the sales people do so well? Along with catalogues and certain sections of websites? Or maybe you’re calling for a more seamless handover to that parallel universe of marketers -those whose income is directly tied to their ability to score (to continue with your analogy).

  5. Forgive me if I’m missing your point, but isn’t that what the sales people do so well? Along with catalogues and certain sections of websites? Or maybe you’re calling for a more seamless handover to that parallel universe of marketers -those whose income is directly tied to their ability to score (to continue with your analogy).

  6. I noticed you commented on my advocation of the need to remember to sell so we ‘re definitely on the same page on this. The big issue is how you define selling – my point is that we must never forget that our engagement is aimed at selling but the danger lies in seeing selling as hawking.
    My selling would be to convince potential users that what we have to sell is something that will honestly and effectively meet their needs and that when they’ve come to that conclusion, we facilitate their fulfillment by having a product/service that does what we claimed and a service orientation that makes it easy to obtain and use.
    To that end, to cover Emily’s point, I would envision sales staff as much more like active customer service agents than commission driven hucksters.

  7. Yes, yes, yes John.
    Your point about needing to pay the bills struck a chord with me.
    I’m not sure I used the word sell by the way – I merely suggested that persuading was as important as engaging, or at least was a legitimate part of the many ways in which you can engage people.
    Right now we (United London) are trying to persuade young people not to drink so much that they become vulnerable to abuse, violence, crime and sexual attack. This issue requires an active intervention not simply passive relatioship building activity.

  8. Consumers like to be persuaded and like the attention that persuasive brands provide. But in line with a lot of other themes, the element of honesty, relevance and context are crucial in this age of web gossip.
    There is a major difference between a brand story and brand fable, and with a lot of brands falling into the latter, there is simply no hiding place for these Walter Mittys.
    Richard, what brands would you want trying to be more active with you and why?

  9. “What brands would you want trying to be more active with you and why?”
    Ohhh good question and one I have been chewing on over night.
    I am going to say ‘none’ and explain this in three ways.
    1) As a consumer I have no wish for any brands to be more active with me. I guess I feel that is their business, if they can’t be bothered to ‘reach out’ to me I’m unlikely to be aware of who they are much less interested in them. Not my job. I assume that the status any brand known or unknown has in my mind is deliberate and satisfactory to them.
    2) Of course this is clearly not the case. Few businesses and brands are where they want to be. Every day I come across brands and businesses through my own volition and wonder why that brand does such a poor job in communicating their existence and merits to me. Moreover the brand lanscape is littered with brands that I am aware of but which are utterly useless in communicating their point to me. To take a little snapshot of these you only have to walk down the British high street to see businesses that have no clue about the role they want their brand to play in my life – Boots (Clueless), WHSmiths (Clueless), Woolworths (Clueless). The reality each has a real role in my life but I am forced to make it up because the marketing department and their respective agencies can’t be bothered.
    3) Brands do not exist for the benefit of consumers they exist for the benefit of businesses since they encourage consumers make irrational decisions that are not in their best interests. I talked about this in a presentation on brands being a business person’s best friend (look in the side bar)- but the point of a brand is to create a situation where a product is so desirable that people are willing to make irrational trade offs mainly to do with price (Ipod, Innocent Smoothies) but sometimes different aspects of service (Ikea, EasyJet). In a way it is not in my interest that a brand gets better at persuasion, but it vastly in their interest.

  10. 2 is very true. I think you hit the nail on the head with those examples. Is WHSmiths a book shop, a stationers, a dvd store; it doesnt seem to know if it is either or all.
    If they dont know, how can we?

  11. agree. and would probably extend that to include Debenhams, BHS (British Home Stores – which sells tampax).
    I think most people would answer this question in a similar way. No-one would overtly want a brand to persuade them to part with cash for an irrational reasion. But, how about the brands we aspire to?
    Credit card companies display the elements of persuasion in its rawest sense. is there something that brands can adopt from this field?
    Asking myself the same question;
    1. I would welcome all financial brands to better persuade me that it is important to save for the future.
    2. Car brands to persuade me that contract purchase IS better than HP or outright payment and that my feeling of no genuine ‘ownership’ is unfounded..
    3. Tampax/Female Hygience brands to educate me on how I can do more for my wife (..and myself) on certain occasions…

  12. Aiming those ads at men, that would be unusual; but potentially it could work. I think if it was targeted away from womens locations it could be interesting.

  13. Morning!
    Cripes it’s even busy over the weekend on here chief!
    Now then – I have to say I agree with you. Brands can make peole make irrational decisions.
    But then people don’t make rational decisions anyway.
    The economic construct that is the rational man – homo economicus – is a convenient fallacy: we simply don’t look to obtain the highest possible well-being given all available information. Emotions drive pretty much all behaviour and then we work out why they are right.
    Regardless, brands can directly lever those emotive mechanisms.
    So the question about brand engagement for me is, why should I?
    As you point out – I can see why brands want to engage with me but why would I want to engage with a brand? Unless there was something in it for.
    In which case I’ll enage away merrily.
    Just buy me a drink first.

  14. Interesting thought. Of the engaging brands, what is it that they do to make us want to engage them?
    Innocent (for one) makes me laugh like an old friend.

  15. Richard,
    Firstly, I’m glad that the war imagery has come to an end. I’d suggest the following festive images for December: snowman; Christmas tree; Christmas itself; tinsel.
    I’ve thought HARD about brand engagement on a number of occasions (but not recently). The best idea I’ve come up with is an advert at the point of sale – but with a BIG difference.
    You place your ad (be it outdoor, banner ad, radio etc) actually onto credit and debit cards so you are ALWAYS present when the consumer is buying products. Would this work?
    Also, adverts on toilet paper, pencils, paving slabs, bread, bed sheets, lawns and on low-flying sky craft would massively increase the amount of ads and therefore engagement between brands and buyers.
    I don’t have all the answers but surely someone can do something. Come on – I’m trying! Let’s crack this!

  16. But surely just increasing ad numbers does not increase engagement (except maybe for toilet paper…ho ho ho)?
    If anything, over exposure would probably reduce engagement as a brand starts to feel less personal and more universal.

  17. Referring back to that great book “Theory of Everything” we may have moved on as a community from the Orange “Economic Manipulation” stage into the Green “Sensitive Conversations” phase. But got stuck there. We may have hit the late green phase fallacy that conversation is all and no on must impinge on anyone elses feelings (for example by trying to actually persuade them of anything or win them over).
    Some people (like Adliterate) have moved onto a higher plane and understood that it is possible to be a trader and a citizen at the same time (the yellow phase as I recall). Yes, citizenship is a higher order virtue than trading but it is possible to do both. It is wrong to create a choice between : persuading and listening. Indeed (as Adliterate will no doubt explain) it is harmful to force this black and white choice on people : it actually hurts society. As long as we remember that citizenship is more important than trading active persuading is vital.
    Richard – please could you summarise The Theory of Everything so that tirade makes sense. Ta.

  18. I thought that made plenty of sense.
    Dont sacrifice citizenship for trading, but dont forget trading either…
    At least that what I got.

  19. shouldn’t all brand’s be listening then persuading them that this is right? If you don’t hear them, how can you persuade. The two go hand in hand don’t they?

  20. And this is a significant challenge for research – which is generally brands asking loads of questions rather than actually listening.
    Russell offered up that wonderful critique of research recently – that it was like trying to understand a river by drawing a bucket of water from it and then studying the water in the bucket.
    We must capitalise on the conversation that is now taking place onlne predominantly to simply listen to people – and we need new techniques to help us do this kind of unmediated research.

  21. I think it is more difficult changing the researcher than the research technique.
    I value the power of research, but like advertising agencies, a simple process (in this case listening) has become convoluted.

  22. Was talking about research elsewhere yesterday and came to the following conclusion:
    Research is powerful. But too many agencies (and apparently clients) rely on it without actually understanding the buying process of their own market. How can you accurately quantify research if you do not understand buying?

  23. I think its a great point on research of all this. Even the article that Will Collin wrote about a month back was highlighting the problem. One thing I have been thinking about as a starting point is looking at the positive time spent with a brand. This can be put together from a qualitative (time spent at brand experiences, events, instore etc) vs quantitative (time spent online, chatting, posts etc).
    It would be interesting if a client turned around from saying ‘How do we build our awareness’. To ‘I dont think our audience spend enough positive time with our brand to really understand us’. What can we to further develop the quality and the time they spend with us

  24. This should be fun :J
    I’m actually with those (Jon, Richard, original cluetrain) that who say both selling and engagement are needed. Certainly that’s what I’ve been saying in my recent ‘engagement marketing’ presentations. I know I’ve expressed excitement about engagement. And also scepticism about ‘selling’ things by using ads. But that’s a different point. As I hope to explain.
    Engagement I tend to believe is partly what you do when people arent interested (low interest, long purchase cycle etc.) Engagement programmes are seldom ‘come and be good friends with my brand’ and that’s it. Only with absolute obsessive fans (Lego ambassadors). Most of the clever engagement schemes build something which is broader; Pampers and immunisations, Nike and a great big run, everyone and (RED) etc.
    I think we should sharpen the debate. I believe that product, service, brand must be different and simply better. Like PB says:
    WH Smith doesnt need a shaper proposition, it needs a business strategy. It could go back to the commuter/train station/airport etc. Thats where they started. that explains quite a bit of their assortment. And its the only place left where somewhere nicer (Waterstones) or somewhere cheaper/more convenient (Tesco) wont eat them. A sizeable retrenchment in the UK retail footprint. But probably a model that will travel far. And could lead to a fantastic range if they went deeper on ‘everything for those in transit’. I read a trend report last week that told me that products and services for ‘those on the go’ are some of the hottest ideas in retail. The only for girls Happily convenience stores in Japan, iPod vending machines in hundreds of department stores, new services like fancy designer handbag rental. Starbucks music. Wifi. Not to mention Popup stores.
    Anyway I digress (I do, all the time – which reminds me…)
    I know there are those who would say engagement is everything. I think they are probably those who work in various types of engagement agency; just as it is usually ad people out in defence of messaging. I dont have either axe to grind. Although if anyone is usually f***ing things up for the rest in big client rosters it is the ad agency that wants to have ‘the big idea’ (an ad idea) and foist it on all the others. That’s why people like me have a go. You are the establishment. You are holding us back. But a French revolution regime, with its ten day week wouldnt be much better. We somehow need to find a middle way. Or a third term (maybe for a while that can be ethics & environment???)
    The consensus at the moment seems to be that engagement is where the business, brand & loyalty action is – it’s what everyone wants to talk about at the moment, including clients and even some quite traditional ad agencies. But the core brand experience has still got to be great.
    Lets narrow the conversation slightly – and be honest. When you say persuasion you mean classical advertising. Bernbach stylee. And even back then it was ‘both’. Before that VW campaign, the idea that made DDB (their ‘tango’) was actually an engagement idea; the Mobil Road safety campaign.
    Is advertising dead? Probably not. But it’s not exactly having a great decade. That has probably overshot, so that it is over-denigrated and neglected. But it is also hubris.

  25. Right John.
    I see active persuasion as a subset of brand engagement. Yes I think that is advertising. I still like the term advertising even though many people seem to rather squeemish about it. That is why I have developed the idea of active persuasion – to redefine advertising beyond a technique or a medium – and certainly beyond ghastiness of the vast majority of agencies that use that term to define what they do.
    My critique of engagement is when it is used an an excuse not to sell anything – just to cosy up. But it is certainly not to dismiss the idea of engagement at all – hence the idea that there is more to life than just engagement.
    Mr G you still seem hung up on propositions. Whether you use that term or not (and I didn’t) we all know we are not talking about the classical concept of a unique selling proposition. My comment about WHSmiths is that there is no central idea at the heart of that business and that brand. I don’t mean that there is no proposition but no big idea, no organising thought, no vision or direction capable of engaging any of us. Just roll after roll of the ‘creative’ dice in the desperate hope that this time they will hit pay dirt. Well we have waited for too long.
    Incidentlaly I have one but in a very anti 2.0 way I’m keeping it in the misguided belief that one day they will stop messing around and ask for it.
    Of course advertising isn’t dead. People like me and many of the readers and contributors to forums like this (and frankly you) are busy reinventing it. But I do expect a cataclysmic event that will wipe out the hard of thinking and creatively retarded agencies just as we witnessed in the 1950s and 1960s.
    Onwards Mr Grant onwards!

  26. > Do consumers want engagement?
    They seem to want good ideas, which is the sort of example which I tend to put forward. The key is often a bigger idea than being about the product/market. A city run not a shoe trying on exercise, a series of geek dinners not a lecture on wine.
    There are plenty of things under the heading of engagement which people dont want though.
    Can it be okay if it is a mixed bag? (like most things)
    happy weekend

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