Most people think of marketing as a one-way street – the company uses whatever medium(s) it can to advertise produce, new deals and reach out to the slice of the population it is trying to interest, and that is that. The prospects are entirely passive in this view of marketing, simply existing to have products and services hawked to them while the marketing team are the active participants.
Engagement marketing, also known as experiential marketing, event marketing, live marketing or participation marketing, is different in that it actively invites ‘audience participation’ – as it were – and offers a situation where prospects are in the position of making the first move when it comes to becoming customers of a specific brand, thus beginning the process of building a relationship with the brand in question.
Rather than focusing on advertising and selling a product or service, a company which is using engagement marketing will use a variety of techniques to bring prospects and customers closer to the brand as a whole, which would hopefully begin to build a relationship between the two, and potential brand loyalty in the future. The use of what I will call ‘give-and-take’ marketing is key here: inviting people to subscribe to newsletters; having a blog which customers can comment on and discuss new developments with the company and with each other; and engaging with social marketing for the same purpose are all key elements of creating an environment where prospects and customers feel like they are developing an attachment to a specific company.
There could be parallels drawn between this type of marketing and content marketing, since they both leave behind elements of traditional marketing in an attempt to bring customers to their brand via a focus on the customer themselves, rather than the product or service which is the drive behind the marketing campaign. The difference between these two styles of marketing is that content marketing does at least make reference to the product it is marketing, however obliquely (as seen in the Ford Mustang ad), while engagement marketing often leaves the product out of its advertising campaigns altogether in favour of beginning the engagement with prospects and customers for which it is named.
To explain engagement marketing in greater depth, I will be looking at the advertising campaigns of Volkswagen and Budweiser respectively and discussing the approaches they take to engaging potential customers with their brand.
In 2012, Volkswagen, to advertise their new range, came out with an advert featuring a little boy dressed up as Darth Vader attempting to use the Force on various household objects and pets. None of his attempts to use the Force work – he can’t even persuade the family dog to stand up – until his father comes home in the new Volkswagen Passat! It is revealed quickly that the flashing of the car lights was down to the boy’s father locking the doors, but clearly mini-Darth believes that he has control over the Force!
Note that the actual product does not make an appearance until almost half way through the advert – the marketing strategy, following engagement marketing rules, is focusing on creating a rapport with prospects who are looking to buy a car and existing customers who have bought Volkswagens in the past. Focusing on the young, professional looking couple with their adorable mini-Darth is a way of engaging with and drawing in that particular market is a marked contrast to the normal way of marketing\describing cars in terms of their speed and new features, which may have the potential to turn away prospects looking for a family car.
A key aspect of engagement marketing is leaving prospects in a position where the final decision on whether or not to engage with the services and products on offer is in their hands, and that is where this advert fits in very neatly. The presence of the family lays down the suggestion that people who fit this demographic may want to invest in the type of car being advertised, as well as using the situation to subtly highlight that it is quite a good family car.
This aspect of engagement marketing is also seen in the 2014 advert for Budweiser, featuring a puppy and some Clydesdales, where the underlying theme is not to let go of something (in this case beer, as represented by the puppy) that you love.
This advert is interesting because the product which is ostensibly being advertised is not present at all, or (to take another point of view), is only present by proxy: the Clydesdales. This is engagement marketing to the max, since it relies entirely on people’s interpretations of what the advert is actually trying to say. This can backfire, as seen by one commenter on the Youtube thread who assumed that the advert was about Labrador adoption, but the comments themselves prove that the engagement marketing style used is working, since they are interacting with each other.
One again, the style of this advert leaves the ultimate decision up to the customer, while taking various steps towards making their brand memorable – the popular song, ensuring that people would think of the advert every time they heard it, and the cuteness of the interactions between puppy and horse which would make people smile when they remembered it.