Thoughtful, Creative, Human — Engaging

In marketing circles, a topic almost always in the news is engagement strategy. As I see it, the theoretical underpinnings of such thinking are a clever chain of inductive reasoning—one part circular logic, one part sheer superstition. For starters, can the market research data purportedly behind the theory be replicated according to the scientific method?

Yet, I suppose there is a grain of truth buried deep in the mountains of white papers, blog posts and PowerPoints cropping up by the thousands each year. Trouble is, the more I read up on the topic, the more I’m reminded of a familiar phrase:

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

So while awareness of and sensitivity to how people behave in social space is certainly a factor in the development of sound marketing / advertising, I don’t agree that social engagement is a departure from “communication-based” advertising. If you’re talking to people in any medium, you’re communicating with them. And if you’re getting better results, it’s more likely because of the quality of your work.

Besides, there’s another factor in this equation, which may be the one thing most disturbing to today’s trend-hopping ideologues: There’d be no social networking response to brands without the traditional brand narratives they’ve already established. People don’t dys or respect Brand X, they dys or respect Coca Cola.

Metering the metrics.
In trying to evaluate “what works,” I prefer a simpler measure: to address the audience with creative imagination. Whether your goal is promotion, sales, awareness, brand building or social buzz, the most engaging outreach to consumers is advertising that is itself a quality product. To see what I mean, have a look at how four brands are reaching out to consumers in digital space as of 3-9-13:

Red Lobster
Hilton Hotels
Tesla Motors

…in a way not very far removed from traditional advertising. Sure, some of the differences are structural rather than cosmetic, but not as many as the hype would lead you to believe.

Kitchen intrigue.
Red Lobster’s Chef’s Kitchen page uses hover-state technology that’s not new. But the landing pages each hover state clicks to draw consumers in with a freshness and immediacy they’ll expect to find in-restaurant. The interface is intuitive, inviting—and the experience delivers insight into the brand’s back story that is, in a word, engaging.

Net advantage.
At the latest version of Nike.com, the confluence of interactive options creates a symphony of involvement. For one thing, it’s visually stunning. But what makes you stay on the site is the feeling it was created just for you. Instant customization helps ease decision making. The product shots are fresh, action oriented and, while obviously posed, capture a feeling of spontaneity.

And in a site not dominated by video, everything feels like it’s happening in real time—to you. The special effect here is unity of intent. Everything is Nike: no sub-brand confusion and no compromise. It’s a site only for people into sports, or at least, “the magic of sports.”

Resorting to seduction.
A great example of “selling the sizzle,” Hilton.com focuses your attention on the resort experience. Sure, the site features a full array of merchandising. But it does so seductively, luring you with the value the hotels deliver. Here the call to action is a call to your senses, your instincts, your lust to escape.

Finally, the pioneering engineering firm Tesla Motors shows what happens when concept and design are integrated to perfection. This is not a site, I hasten to point out, that could have been conceived and built fire brigade-style with “tight timelines, guys.” In any case, this site makes the product so appealing you’ll have to stop yourself from reaching for a knife and fork.

OK, I’ll admit, I’m totally obsessed with technological innovation. All-electric cars? Delicious. Still, I defy anyone not to feel engaged by a site spinning a great story—with memorable characters, “side missions” and many tempting paths to [product] enlightenment.

So while each of these sites can and is supported by outreach into social space, for my part I can’t see how this level of engagement is possible on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter—not to mention the unsung army of sites catering to 1000s of niche populations.

As I see it, if we’ve evolved enough as an industry to recognize the primacy of audience engagement, we’re evolved enough to pursue engagement wherever we find it. Not because we need more ideological rigor, but because offering our customers thoughtful, creative, engaging human experiences is what actually gets results.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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