Monday, October 09, 2006

The Great Engagement Debate: "Hot Air" or Meaningful Conversation?

Bigfoot_1Today in Ad Age, respected blogger Steve Rubel takes a few pot shots at the "engagement" movement ("You Might as Well Be Looking for BigFoot" p. 17). He uses terms like "hot air" and "blather." He's right on a few levels, and Max and I have often joked around the office about some of the silly directions and detours the "engagement" discussion is taking, or the near impossible lack of conscensus on such a "big tent" concept. But on another level I think Rubel misses the point. And he's not putting this "conversation" in its proper perspective. The ad research community has been stuck in the mud on traditional "reach and frequency" metrics longer than I've been alive, and the engagement discussion is finally pouring some fresh thinking and innovative measurement models into the mix. And of course there isn't consensus -- it's an early conversation, and a quite meaningful one (maybe even, dare I say, a raw and "naked conversation") involving a very diverse mix of smart and passionate people. The discussion is also unusually consumer (people, user, citizen...take your pick) centric -- e.g. how do we manage in a world of consumer-control -- and I think we all benefit by letting any conversation along those lines just flow and develop. Sure, the engagement conversation is flowing in from a different direction -- this time from the "paid media" crowd versus the early-mover Web 2.0 crowd (of which PR firms have been commendable leaders and "conversational catalysts") -- but more voices the better. How else do you truly move the needle!

Jargon as Barrier to Commonality: As a CGM evangelist, it's hard to disagree with Steve's final point that "we should focus on how we get people connected with one another and measure the number of times we helped them do so" or that we "should empower them to connect, and then get out of the way." But to be clear -- that is, in fact, a central building block of the engagement conversation, and it's a growing theme. Moreover, the notion of "co-creation" is not a bad starting point for moving this debate along. At the end of the day, we're all dancing around closely related concepts but with different reference points and jargon.

Too Early To Disengage! Which leads me to my very last point. This entire "engagement" debate is a major validation of much of what Rubel has been passionately and persuasively writing about for the past few years: conversation, blogging, community, and "participating" in the conversation. It's way to early to "disengage" brands and the very conservative research community from that promise, or lofty ideal. What's really needed at this point is an even more ambitious convergence of all stakeholder groups, and especially the PR leaders (recall my post re: PR & marketing), on this engaging topic. Let's stay engaged

(This is a cross post from


Blogger LHL Partners said...

I'm mostly with Steve Rubel on this one: engagement is, to me, the "flavor of the month." Marketers are confusing ends and means: generating engagement is how some marketers do their job, but it is not the end of any marketers job. Profitable (long-run) transactions are the marketers job and end; a means to that is engagement -- perhaps a very good means, but just a means. No one gets rewarded just for creating engagement.

12:21 PM  

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