What Does ‘Customer Engagement’ Mean?

By Staff, Little Black Dog Social Media and More


The phrase “customer engagement” seems to pop up in virtually every conversation about marketing or about social media these days. It is cited often as a goal of social media marketing or of other marketing tactics or strategies. But what does customer engagement mean in these conversations? Although there is in each conversation some kind of implicit or assumed consensus about meaning, there is no clearly universal definition of the phrase.

Popular Use

Among the meanings of “customer engagement” we have encountered are:

Romeo, The Little Black Dog, is engaging with Sadie Mae. He knows the importance of customer engagement.

  • drawing a customer into a conversation
  • getting a customer  to sign up as a Twitter follower
  • getting a customer to become a Facebook Fan
  • getting a customer to connect with you on LinkedIn
  • getting a customer to comment on your blog
  • getting a prospect to sign up for your newsletter
  • customers or prospects subscribing to your blog
  • someone requesting a report
  • persuading someone to take a poll
  • providing enough information and persuasion to get someone to call your company
  • requesting a call-back from your sales team
  • purchasing a product
  • joining a conversation about a product after purchase

In Recent Research

Clearly, however defined, customer engagement is important to businesses and to marketers. In fact, within the last year three major studies have been conducted that touch on the meaning and importance of engagement.

  1. In December 2011, a joint study by Marketing Profs and the Content Marketing Institute asked marketers to identify their most significant marketing challenge. Having an adequate budget was a challenge for only 18% of respondents and the ability to produce enough content was cited by only 20%. “Producing the kind of content that engages prospects and customers” was listed by 41% of responders.
  2. A study by Econsultancy asked individual marketers what was most effective for customer engagement. Seventy-four percent pointed to content marketing, compared to only 26% for advertising. According to the same study, 83% of marketing agencies viewed content marketing critical to creating emotional connections with customers. Compared to advertising to achieve this goal, 69% pointed to content marketing.
  3. Respondents to a recent survey by Optify said that effective B2B content has three top characteristics: (a) it is engaging and compelling [81.5%], (b) it is original [52.6%], and (c) it is custom content. The study also found that these respondents believe longer context formats and personal contact are more effective in engaging prospects and customers. Almost 80% pointed to case studies as most effective in engaging prospects and delivering a message, while 73% pointed to the value of white papers, and 72% pointed to in-person events.

As a marketing measurement or metric, engagement usually indicates the depth or level of a customer’s — or prospect’s — interaction with a company or a product. Further, the measurement typically defines some specific action or expression desired of the customer or prospect.

A Suggestion

In the absence of a universally accepted definition of customer engagement, it is wise to be very specific about what one means, particularly when contracting or measuring the results of social media programs or marketing campaigns. In an effort to fill the void, we would like to propose the following:

Customer engagement is a relationship that includes an emotional tie to a firm or its products/services/information of sufficient depth and strength to retain interest over time in the knowledge/expertise and products of the firm as a loyal customer who might be or become a customer ambassador or champion of the firm and/or its products.

By this definition, customer engagement should be an important goal of the communications, marketing, customer service and product development divisions of every organization. Further, the definition lends support to the pervasive view that quality content that builds emotional connection should be dispersed to the public in concert with other types of communication and interaction with customers and prospects. It should also be tailored to the stage in the purchase decision of each prospect or customer at each stage.

This is what customer engagement means to us. What does customer engagement mean to you?

About Vickie Pittard


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