In 2007, Forrester called "Engagement" marketing's new key metric. We defined it as "the level of involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence an individual has with a brand over time." Since then the term has taken on a life of its own (a Google search for "marketing engagement" returns more than 47 million entries) and has come dangerously close to becoming an industry platitude bandied about with little to no meaning. How did this happen? Well, due to overwhelming clutter and the need to connect with customers in a world in which people created 500 billion online word-of-mouth impressions through social media, marketers needed a new term to describe the interaction they were having with customers and "engagement" fit the bill. Yet the term is now mostly used to describe the first half of our definition: "involvement and interaction." But any good marketer knows just getting a customer to be involved or to interact with an application or campaign is typically not enough to drive results — even basic awareness. In fact, there are two types of failed marketing campaigns on the Internet. The first is the ghost town of shiny objects that are littered across the Internet (see Second Life just to start). One marketer aptly described these as "the ones where we had great expectations and heard nothing but crickets." The second type is even more common but not always deemed a failure. These are the ones in which the marketer, and more often the agency, spin the program with a variety of metrics like clicks, visits, time spent, downloads, etc. — yet are never able to tie them back to real business results.
All of this leads to why the second half of Forrester's original definition of engagement, the "intimacy and influence," is crucial because it represents the impact of getting a customer's attention. "Intimacy" represents the qualitative data like brand awareness, brand favorability, and sentiment (when proven at least directionally accurate). And "influence" represents their propensity to share it through word of mouth (e.g., share rate, Net Promoter Score). Of course, the other aspect of impact would be actual conversions, when measurable.
So how do you get back on track with engagement? Simply by ensuring that you define it as a metric that not only captures interaction and involvement but also intimacy and influence. You can get really lost in emerging technologies by creating all forms of interaction and involvement — so make sure that you always tether your objectives to whatever program you develop. If it's about sales, then build engagement that will get people to interact but also buy and advocate. If it's about brand, then build an application that captures both the interaction and involvement metrics as well as the intimacy metrics. And as you do so, make sure your team and agency partners focus on those metrics that tie back to the predetermined objectives. It's simple advice, but unfortunately too often ignored in today's fast-paced world.