Engagement has long been a marketing buzzword, and widespread use of the internet and social media has only increased the usage of the phrase (even in books! check it out). But is it a) truly meaningful and b) even necessary?
Publishing professional Robert Sacks (also known as BoSacks) thinks otherwise. His daily newsletter of publishing industry insights recently covered a speaking engagement by Roy Reiman, founder of Reiman Publishing. At its height, Reiman had more than 16 million paid subscribers to its suite of publications, none of which were supported by advertising. One publication alone boasted over 5.3 million subscribers, more than Sports Illustrated and Time combined.
According to Sacks, Roy Reiman emphasized the need to understand the customer in his speech. But a fellow audience member misinterpreted this message, instead writing down one main word: engagement. Sacks reflects(emphasis added):
It occurred to me then at that exact moment that [engagement] is not exactly what Roy said. In fact, that is not even near what Roy said. I think the problem with the magazine industry’s approach and mantra today is that it is clambering all over the word engagement as if that were the magic bullet of success for our industry. Engagement is part of the formula, but it doesn’t take us to the atomic level necessary for true and sustained success. What I heard between the lines of Roy’s talk was that he knew how to “be the customer.”
Entertaining or engaging the customer is one good approach. But with our newly developing sensitivity for the power of social networking, “being the customer” takes the engagement concept to an entirely more exacting level. Sure, as publishers we are supposed to teach, entertain and enliven our readers. But it would be better yet if we were actually one of them, with the ability to do all the above tutorials and yet be perceived as part of the same group. The fact that we still call our readers “our readers” is surely part of the disconnected problem. Our customers, our “friends,” the members of our group are our business and we do better with them when we are one of them.
This advice is phrased in publishing-focused language, but it applies to the technology industry as well. You’ll get your best marketing ideas when you look at your own experience using technology products in similar categories to your own. In a world where Facebook’s 800 million unpaid but “engaged” users and Google AdWords’ perhaps 5 million (a generous guesstimate, based on 1.5 million users 3 years ago) paid users are considered (and paid as) a huge success, it’s sobering to think of getting 16 million people to pay you money on a regular basis.
So what are some of the things that you pay money for–that is, some areas where you are a customer? And what can your business learn from this? The answer might be more telling than you realize.