Do you remember Star Trek: The Next Generation?
You know, the 1980's sci-fi classic with good actors wearing spandex outfits and rocking back-and-forth to simulate interstellar turbulence. The show looks a bit dated by today's special effects standards, but it certainly had its moments.
In nearly every episode, Captain Picard would invariably tell Data or some other crew member to get on with it by saying, with uncompromising authority, "engage".
The next generation of agencies is wise to take a little advice from the ever-steely Picard because engagement is not just the future of branding; it is the present.
The future is now when it comes to connecting with consumers who are increasingly over saturated by being yelled at by advertisements, and who respond accordingly by demanding that brands engage them with content in a way that is valuable, meaningful, and, often, understated.
What is wrong with the old way of doing things?
If you wish to generate buzz around a brand, remember this: Consumers are tired of the same old song and dance.
For many years, branding through legacy advertising has desensitised the public.
If a consumer feels sold, told, or otherwise solicited, they become cagey and unapproachable, which is a direct result of one-sided, un-engaging ads.
This is bad news for media outlets like magazines and radio stations who are struggling to fill advertising space. The old way of getting the word out about a business is increasingly ineffectual.
In short, when branding is overtly advertorial, it is as good as dead.
"Buy this", "you need that" - phrases such as these harken back to the Golden Age of advertising (in a Mad Men sort of way); however, the modern consumer is too savvy, too plugged-in, and too utterly discerning for such old school techniques to be effective.
Brands have to expect more, and the next generation of agencies have to deliver more. It is just as simple as that.
We interrupt this article…
The old way of creating brand awareness was through 'interruption'.
This tactic is a disruption to the consumer's day. Agencies made a set amount of impressions for their clients, and that was all there was to it.
Engagement is not about meeting some arbitrary quotas; it is about getting results for the client.
The follow-up thought to that is 'brand relationships'. The old, interruption-based idea is single-sided. The ad sells, the consumer buys, under the old way of branding.
Now, through the purchase and post-purchase process, the next generation agency is cultivating a brand and consumer relationships in a way that interruption never could.
What does brand engagement mean?
Brands need to present not only a product or service that is of value to their audience but also offer useful, entertaining and inviting content to their customer base.
People want content that speaks directly to their lifestyle. The old idea of telling the consumer what to do is long gone.
This is the fundamental flaw - marketers are still intent on guiding shoppers through the sales process to the feeding trough.
Herein lies our difference. The agency of tomorrow is all about facilitating brand engagement, not barking orders.
The self-directed shopper
Modern shoppers do not respond favourably to being treated like livestock.
They are self-directed consumers who like to engage in actions such as product discovery and purchasing on their terms. This contributes to massive, ongoing growth in the mobile sector, as shoppers feel at ease and in control when they shop with their smartphones.
Engagement is the only meaningful way to interact with the self-directed shopper. Facilitating self-direction is the way to urge engagement. The basic form of engagement is addressing a question or concern of the shopper. The next generation of agencies has to present solutions through content - not mere solicitations.
However, engagement need not stop at simple answers to simple questions. Engaging customers can happen through contests, inviting online fans and customers to share snack-worthy content, and interaction through transmedia - the sky is the limit.
Anything you can think of to get your audience interacting positively is worth much more than anything the old-order ads of yesteryear could ever offer.
As our friend, Captain Picard, loves to say, the time to "engage" is now.
In the past, perhaps it was enough to mesmerise, or merely entertaining to gain consumer attention. To borrow another quote from Star Trek, "He’s dead, Jim". Today's consumer is too smart to fall for static or overt advertising.
Brands have to dig a little deeper into the way they relate to the modern consumer, to set themselves apart from the crowd.
The agency of the future will excel at engaging customers in a way that is authentic and meaningful. Leaving behind the legacy media-based agencies of yesteryear to wallow in space dust, as branding moves warp speed ahead into the final frontier (sorry, couldn't resist that ending).
So, is your brand engaging its audience in a meaningful way?