You Might as Well Be Searching for Bigfoot

In Other Words, the Truth About 'Engagement' Is It's a Myth

By Published on .

Attend a few marketing conferences or read enough ad trade pubs and blogs and you will quickly bump into the "E" word -- engagement. Buzzmetrics, the Advertising Research Foundation and the American Association of Advertising Agencies even launched a blog on the subject last week.
Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel Credit: JC Bourcart

Engagement is, quite frankly, hot air. It's indicative of a systemic issue in the marketing community. We love to create buzzwords to describe new marketing methods when the good ol' outdated ones like blunt interruption don't quite work anymore.

Can anyone really define what "engagement" means? Have you seen it? I Googled "engagement marketing" and found lots of blather written on the subject. It seems to me like no one can really nail it. The closest I could come to a "definition" is the ARF's "Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context." Ahh, I get it now!

Yeah, right.

The truth about engagement is that no one can define it because it's a myth. It's sort of like a magical marketing unicorn or Bigfoot. Sure, there are a few fuzzy pictures of it on the internet, but no one has classified the species.
At least there are photos of Bigfoot.
At least there are photos of Bigfoot. Credit: Ronald Asadorian

The engagement myth is built on an insatiable desire to get consumers obsessed with our brands. That's because TV advertising ain't what it used to be. Often "engagement" is achieved through digital technology. Problem is, consumers don't want to be "digitally engaged" with us. They're only into each other.

As marketers, we shouldn't care about brand engagement. Instead we should focus on how we get people connected with each other and measure the number of times we helped them do so. That's why venues such as Second Life, YouTube, Facebook and other social networks are so hot: They allow people to connect with each other.

If you want to see engagement, find the right communities, build programs that empower people to connect, then get out of the way. Your brand will get a lift purely through association. Don't search for Bigfoot.

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Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
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