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Brand Engagement in 2021

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As the COVID vaccine is making its way around the globe — and warmer weather hits North America — people are breaking out in a gleeful rush to “get back to normal.” Okay, so not everybody is vaccinated… maybe the CDC could consider some snappy branding to get people on board? “The Covid Vaccine — Give it a Shot!” Hmmm? Maybe? Okay, maybe not.

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Still, American consumers are out in force, dining, visiting family, going to sporting events, seeing movies… and lots of shopping, partially fueled by a boost of relief money flowing into millions of bank accounts. And the spending doesn’t stop there — consider the unexpected surge in RV sales, the pool contractors booked through 2023, or the practically obscene price of lumber that has skyrocketed due to the increased demand in home remodels (which makes sense: people were home a lot more, and all that time in the humble abode led to a lot of scrutiny).

All of this goes beyond an innate desire to get back into a normal flow. There’s an aggressive urgency to DO, and it’s leaving many brands scrambling to stay in step, just as they did at the outset of the pandemic. As brands again face these sudden changes and challenges in consumer spending, this is creating a need to reimagine Brand Engagement. But first things first…

What’s the difference between customer engagement and brand engagement?

It’s easy to get caught up in a terminological quagmire when the concept of engagement is brought up. Though not as peppered during the corporate town halls, shareholder meetings or pseudo-brainstorms with the same fervency as, say, “synergy” or “disruption”, engagement is definitely on the tips of the tongues of the people who demand answers. And they’re not wrong. So, let’s start, good and proper, with a breakdown of the difference between Customer Engagement and Brand Engagement.

Customer Engagement is, essentially, customer communications or, as Paul Greenberg (for HubSpot) says, “the ongoing interactions between company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer.” In other words, it is the tactics and means brands engage in with their customers to achieve a particular outcome. Customer Engagement is messaging. It’s conversational. It’s a back-and-forth, ongoing dialog that is designed to build trust.

Brand Engagement, according to the Journal of Product & Brand Management, is quite simply the process of forming an emotional or rational attachment between a consumer and a brand. Brand Engagement, the Journal explains, is an aspect of brand management, impacts brand attachment and has a positive influence on customer purchase intentions.

Regardless of the type of engagement, whether the actual, personal, back and forth between brand and customer, or the connected, emotional relationship between them, it’s paramount that it is easy for the customer to engage. This, in turn, will allow for a stronger emotional investment and attachment.

What is the value of brand engagement?

According to the National Business Research Institute, “Brand engagement signifies an emotional commitment to a brand. It’s more than brand awareness; it is loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. Brand engagement goes hand in hand with customer engagement and engaged customers translate to increased revenues, profitability, and market share.”

“Brand engagement is the Holy Grail for marketers,” says Consumer Psychologist and Professor of Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University, Mike Solomon. “It refers to the extent that a consumer views a brand as instrumental in expressing some aspect of the self. We can think of engagement on a continuum anchored at one end by apathy and on the other by total identification.”

Solomon continues, “Depending upon the current level of brand engagement, the marketer can either: 1.) tailor messaging strategies appropriate to that level or 2.) try to ramp up engagement by anchoring the brand closer to the consumer’s identity.”

In other words, Brand Engagement is the bond between brand and consumer. A prime example — one at the total identification end of Solomon’s spectrum — would be the shared bond between user and brand, found in Peloton. While the Peloton consumer is committed to the brand (a brand which enjoyed a massive boost during the closed-gym, stay-at-home days of the pandemic,) Peloton has also honed it’s connection and commitment to its consumer or members. In the pre-pandemic days, the Peloton classes were filled with members, a tribe of users eager to be part of a live experience, up close and personal with their favorite trainers. And if you couldn’t make it to the New York or London studio, you could still ride along, live, with countless others around the globe.

When the pandemic shut down the studios, eventually pushing the instructors to their homes, that connection didn’t falter: Peloton introduced the “Live from Home” series of classes. In an email sent to members:

“Every day, you continue to show up for yourself, this community and for us. And though our studios remain closed for now, we’re committed to giving our best back to you. That’s why we’re so excited to announce that our instructors will be teaching live classes again—but just like you, they’ll be at home! This is an exciting new chapter, and we’ll learn as we go. But together, we go far.”

Boil this communication down and you can see the key phrases that exemplify the shared bond of Brand Engagement: us, we, together.

During the “Live from Home” series of classes, the instructors still gave shout-outs, just as before, to consumers as they hit milestones (first ride, 100 rides, 1000, and so on), addressing them by their user names. Only now, they did it from the confines of their homes or apartments, with none of the professional sheen or production value the Peloton studios provided.

This didn’t stop people from gearing up, clipping in, and riding. In fact, one could argue, that by continuing to keep producing and pushing out content (and make no bones about it: Peloton is a content provider), and keep the conversation going, that the “Live from Home” series of classes actually served to strengthen the bond. After all, the instructors were going through the same thing — something many brands suggested (“We’re all in this together”) — which was immediately apparent, given the rather unassuming apartments or homes the instructors were broadcasting from. One thing that didn’t change from before the pandemic? The Peloton instructors still stayed active on social media, primarily Instagram, continuing to give consumers even more access and insight.

This isn’t to say Peloton is infallible. In late 2019, a Peloton commercial struck many vocal critics as being sexist, classist, or just plain bad. Then, earlier this year, it was announced that there were at least 39 reported incidents, one fatal, regarding its Tread+ treadmill. Since then, Peloton has offered to recall all of its treadmills for a full refund. But, again signifying the bond members share with their equipment, it is believed that only a small number of customers will actually return the equipment.

As an example of Brand Engagement, Peloton shows how a brand continues to cultivate a bond with its customers, while simultaneously adapting its tactics of engagement through a pandemic, a recall, even through tragedy, while still retaining a loyal base.

What are some brand engagement tactics for 2021 and beyond?

So here we are… semi-, sorta, maybe headed in a normalish direction (just as many brands, by and large, are still adjusting and acclimating to less direct, curbside, mobile or completely remote means of interaction.)

We’ve mentioned in the past about the HOW (like HOW to keep your branding fluid and HOW to speak to your audience through Vision, Empathy, Transparency and Accessibility). Read here.

And, now that we’ve gone a little deeper to discuss what Brand Engagement is, let’s talk about tactics. In other words, let’s talk about the WHAT (WHAT to do to cultivate Brand Engagement, WHAT to consider in the swirling, semi-, sorta, maybe headed in a normalish direction post-pandemic world.) These are the 5 WHATS of Brand Engagement:

Be Here Now

Not only the title of a popular book by Ram Dass (or Oasis record, depending on your personal jam) this is a mantra for this writer. Based on a tenet of mediation, this phrase came about as I was running one summer and listening to some of the “Running with Headspace” runs in the Nike Run app. Essentially, the idea is to be in the moment. For running, it means to be present, to be in the run. In other words, I started the run, I’m away from everything, and regardless of where my head may wander to, I still have to run back to get home. Yes, information is a wonderful thing. Data is a wonderful thing. Insight, foresight, hindsight… all wonderful. But during a run, those things can cloud what is happening as it is happening, and the next thing you know, you’ve rolled your ankle on a sweetgum ball because your head was elsewhere. So yes, gather all that info, but be able to respond to NOW. Continue to address what is happening NOW.  (And, when one considers how rapidly things have changed or how disparate response to the pandemic has been among consumers, “Now” can mean many things… best to be honest, authentic and rapidly responsive in engagement.) Speaking of NOW…

Be Adaptable

One thing that quickly evolved during 2020? Standards. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Let’s call it… production value. On one hand, commercial production ground to a halt. On the other, Zoom became the de facto means of communication. Suddenly, any way of communicating was the best way of communicating. And people accepted it. Sure, people may have put on some dressier tops for some calls, but we all know that pajamas and sweatpants became the official uniform of 2020. And the effect was seen in pop culture: Steven Colbert doffed the tie and jacket, Trevor Noah sported a hoodie. Does this mean we should all quit investing in quality work? Chuck it all and shoot video or photography with our phones? No, of course not. Look, it’s not like the next Marvel movie is foregoing their usual budget and filming in a dinner theater. People still appreciate production, still respond to pageantry. But we now know that there is an adaptability in audience expectations. Don’t get mired in the luxury of perfection. So, rather than stalling on engaging with your consumers till you can nail the perfect script, find the right director, get that perfect light, if the need is there, just say what you need to say. And while we’re on the topic of production value…

Be Open to UGC

UGC — more formally known as User-Generated Content — is content that is, well, generated by users. Genuine, honest, sometimes raw, UGC is, more or less, by the people, for the people. Use that! While it is crucial to curate and vet, ensuring that it is appropriate to the brand and to the audience, UGC gives your brand engagement a voice, a dialog, providing a much needed authenticity people are craving more and more. Sometimes, UGC can become an extension of the brand — it’s that powerful. Compared to traditional, brand-produced media, UGC offers two big advantages: 1.) It is cheap to produce (sometimes free, as most of the UGC is produced on the creator’s dime, and 2.) there’s no great complexity or long-term commitment to using UGC — as it is shared through social channels, UGC can be uploaded and live almost instantaneously, without need for extensive scheduling or multimillion-dollar ad buys, unlike traditional video. But what about video?

Be a Video Brand

In a nutshell, online video gets eyes. More than any other social media content, video is the go-to means of getting the word out. And not just on brand sites or YouTube (still the reigning champion of online video) — people are consuming content across multiple channels, including Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Vimeo, Snapchat… the list goes on, with new apps or channels consistently being added. Considering the fact that most every person has a video player in their pocket (thanks to smartphones), this comes as no great surprise. What may be surprising, however, is how much people are consuming. According to Smart Insights, the average person will spend 100 minutes every day watching online video (for comparison, this is a 19% increase over 2019, which stood at 84). While this sizable uptick can partially be attributed to the pandemic pushing more people online, that’s not the only reason — video is quick, video is easy. Everyone has a camera, and editing is simpler than ever. Video is everywhere. Know what else should be everywhere? You.

Be Everywhere

Want to know the biggest WHAT of Brand Engagement? Be Everywhere. (In fact, whenever thinking of Brand Engagement, or B.E., think Be Everywhere!) 2020 found most everyone cloistered at home. We were working, shopping, dining, going to school, exercising (or not exercising), watching new movies, binging new shows, checking out new music… everything from home. And, in order to stay top-of-mind with their consumers, that’s where most of the brands turned their focus. Now, people are massively on the move, with an estimated half of all Americans expected to take a trip in the next three months, according to NBC News. This is a literal 180… from being quarantined at home to being out and about. You need to be in all of those places. Or, better yet, be everywhere. Commit to expanding your branding to account for mobility, sure, but also factor in how your brand is engaging and when it is engaging. Think of someone sitting at home looking for how-to videos rather than reading the included instructions — come on, we’ve all done it! Or someone quickly swiping through their social feed while waiting for their latte. Or someone running on a treadmill at the gym. Or another pumping gas before heading to work. Now, consider that those are all the same person. YOUR person. YOUR consumer. Talk to them. Engage with them, no matter what they’re doing or when. That’s being everywhere.

Why does Brand Engagement matter?

Maybe you’re still wondering why Brand Engagement still matters. You sell something, people buy that thing. Maybe it’s that simple. But, let’s look at some numbers:

Brands have a 60% to 70% chance of selling to an existing customer versus only a 5% to 20% chance of selling to a new customer.

It can cost up to 5X more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one.

Existing customers may spend up to 67% more on their purchases than new customers.

Another customer engagement study by Ray Wang of Constellation Research found that “…companies who have improved engagement increase cross-sell by 22%, drive up-sell revenue from 13% to 51%, and also increase order sizes from 5% to 85%.”

Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits anywhere from 25% to 95%.

Now, ready to engage? We are… It just takes some reimagining.

At Dovetail, we work with brands to build engagement, rethink what’s possible, and accelerate success in today’s ever-changing market landscape.

We’d like to tell you more, including showing you some Brand Studies with examples of Brand Engagement and how we can work with you through 2021 and beyond. See them here.

Let’s engage — contact us today.

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