Recently, marketers have seen the emergence of a new species of agency walking nearly upright on the business frontier. These agencies live by a different creed, and are quickly mastering new tools and techniques, like social media management systems, inbound and content marketing, mobile and location-based media, digital influencer marketing, customer journey modeling, and cross-channel analytics. “Engagement agencies” have evolved in reaction to changing consumer behaviour. But how are they different or better?

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Advertising agencies help brands deliver messages to targeted audiences through various media channels in short bursts with the hope that target consumers: A) Receive the message; B) Act on it immediately, or recall and act on it in future when the need arises. The communication has traditionally been one-way and often “interruptive”, received at a moment not of the audience’s choosing.

Under that model, media selection is driven by reach (quantity of people potentially receiving the message) and frequency (quantity of messages delivered to an individual in a period of time). Creative wraps the message to grab attention and be either actionable (now) or memorable (for later). Sometimes, the creative execution can leverage certain attributes of the medium for extra impact.

But communications are sporadic, so an audience only receives messages during periods when campaigns are in-market – occasions suited to the advertiser’s needs, not theirs.

Have you ever seen an ad that doesn’t apply to you?

Sure, we’re all casualties of spray and pray advertising. Historically, brands who can fund the most campaigns tend to win the attention and top-of-mind awareness among consumers, but consumers are now running for cover.

Traditionally, marketing performance measurement hasn’t connected the dots between advertising investment and true business impact. As PR 20/20’s Paul Roetzer writes in his book The Marketing Agency Blueprint, “Although traditional marketing firms rely on impressions, reach, advertising equivalency, PR value , and other arbitrary measurements of success, marketing firms now have the ability to produce more meaningful outcomes that can be tracked in real time and directly correlated to sales.”

And that seems to be the opportunity for which engagement agencies have adapted and evolved to exploit.

Engagement defined

With engagement being on the minds and lips of many marketers these days, it seems like an elusive concept that is separate and distinct from advertising. So, what does this concept of engagement mean?

Forrester Research defines engagement as: The level of involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence an individual has with a brand over time. Forrester’s model sees the consumer progressing sequentially through these four stages, increasing their level of engagement at each step. The four I’s of Forrester’s engagement levels align nicely to their customer buying process.

Forrester's Engagement Model & Consumer Buying Process

 

On their Customer Engagement Agencies website, GISTICS offers this concise explanation: Customer engagement means simply how a firm attracts, serves, and keeps profitable customers for life. They also outline a similar four-phase model called the Engagement Sequence.

The web offers dozens of explanations on consumer engagement. But when you get down to it, engagement is really about brands having meaningful interactions or connections with individual consumers — a relationship even — in order to stimulate an affinity and allegiance to that brand over alternatives.

Engagement is really about brands having meaningful interactions or connections with individual consumers — a relationship even — in order to stimulate an affinity and allegiance to that brand over alternatives.

Engagement enrolls consumers in a brand idea and in an ongoing dialogue on their terms, rooted in relevance and value exchange, so a brand doesn’t have to fight and spend for top-of-mind awareness and recall – it’s embedded into the lives of individuals who share an affinity and allegiance for the brand.

So, what’s an engagement agency?

By contrast, a marketing engagement agency seeks to connect media touch points to consumer decision points along a customer journey that – over a period of time – motivates movement along a path towards a destination of loyalty and brand advocacy. Engagement denotes dialogue. It’s about conversations, not campaigns. Brand expressions instead of impressions.

Engagement agencies combine technology, analytics, strategy, creative execution and real people, enabling conversations that forge more meaningful relationships between brands and customers over time.

Engagement agencies combine technology, analytics, strategy, creative execution and real people, enabling conversations that forge more meaningful relationships between brands and customers over time. Conversations that are highly relevant and compelling because they take place when and how the audience chooses. And relationships that nurture a stronger brand affinity and motivate word-of-mouth brand advocacy. The result of which is ultimately measurable.

“An Engagement Agency identifies where and why media investments are made, and will identify alternative media, and investment strategies based on holistic multi-channel empirical measurement disciplines,” explained Alterian’s Mike Fisher in a 2009 AMA interview.

Engagement agency modus operandi

Many new models for marketing engagement are being developed. Theoretically, they aim to motivate consumers along the a defined path (the customer journey) from a state of unawareness through to a state of loyalty and beyond to word-of-mouth advocacy.

Anatomically, an engagement agency combines the technical expertise to deliver messages through multiple channels and the mandatory creative chops to produce persuasive content. Those skills, combined with, as Fisher puts it, strategic “…data-driven intelligence… enabling positive financial impact through the proper selection of the right message for the right audience at the right time,” is what really sets an engagement agency apart.

This is what modern marketing is all about.

And that’s why we created Cult.

Cult is an engagement agency devoted to turning ordinary customers into brand evangelists. Because we believe that creating, cultivating and catering to raving fans is the only way for brands to sustainably dominate amidst the chaos of today’s consumer marketplace.

We help brands remain relevant in a world where consumers have too many choices, too little time, and believe each other more than them. We create irrational loyalty, so customers transact without need of incentive, forgive you when you screw up and always shop you first.

We do this by merging old world marketing truths with new age gadgets. Colliding left and right brain ideas. Marrying analytics with experience and gut instinct. Helping brands listen for a change. And by creating remarkable interactions that reinforce their ideals at every step. We give customers something meaningful to talk about.

The Dawn of a New Marketing Era

“We are on the cusp of a truly transformational period in the marketing-services industry. The old guard, rooted in tradition and resistant to change, will fall and new leaders will emerge,” prophesies Roetzer in the first words of The Marketing Agency Blueprint.

Roetzer preaches the same kind of marketing enlightenment as Cult — and we are clearly not alone in our beliefs. There are other engagement agencies and professionals out there like Deep Focus and PR 20/20, honing their new craft in the shadows of the marketing landscape, destined to disrupt and displace the old-world advertising agencies. And there are progressive brands out there awakening to the fact that enlightened marketing is the path to salvation.

Join us on the journey. This will be exciting!

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