Want to Engage? Just be Helpful

I frequently preach on the need to provide content of value to build trust with consumers. I, and many others, believe that the best way to sell products and services is through information and education, not carpet bombing sales messages.

Cynical consumers don’t trust adverting anymore, and will only pay you attention once they think you have something useful to offer. ‘Engagement’ is the buzz-term for bartering for people’s time to try and create such an impression.

Marketing departments worldwide are now being penetrated by the engagement philosophy. It’s now generally agreed that top down advertising is struggling, and the new engagement approach is needed.

Whilst there might be growing agreement on the need to engage, there’s still a blank space when it comes to a universal definition.

Dan Belmont, from live branded experiences company Marketing Arm, has a stab at it in an article in CNN Money.

He starts with a well composed quote from Yahoo CMO Cammie Dunaway, who said that, ‘Content is no longer something you push out. Content is an invitation to engage.’

Dan assesses that engagement is about creating an active involvement between consumers and brands. It is not about just getting attention, but is a deeper approach involving ‘content, experience and dialogue’.

Consumers want brands to provide them with something which is relevant and useful. Dan believes brands have to meet this with content that ‘resonates with consumers and ideas’.

As with everybody who has tried to box ‘engagement’ into one sentence, Dan finds that it’s just too complex to be narrowed down to a single phrase. None of the philosophy’s components (involvement, connection, experience, relevance) are new to marketers, just the way that they are now being used.

As Dan concludes:

“Marketing is more than simply delivering messages to passive receivers. Our consumers are people with lives and interests that lie beyond our products and services. To persuade them, we must try to engage them, no matter how we choose to define it.”

So how does this relate to small businesses? Not everybody has the budget to open their own store in Second Life, or create their own multiplatform social network?

The mindsets of consumers are the same whether their switching over from your TV adverts or binning your sales leaflet. They want you to provide them with something of value before they’re going to show you any love.

Small businesses can use one of their biggest assets to engage – their knowledge and expertise.

If you approach your newsletter, blog or white paper as an opportunity to offer a solution to a customer’s problem then you’ve already taken the first step on the road towards engagement, and winning their trust.

So whether you’re a multinational brand or just a skip hire firm, if you want to appeal to cynical consumers simply start talking to them in a helpful manner and the benefits will spread both ways. Just like the conversation.

12 thoughts on “Want to Engage? Just be Helpful

  1. “Content is no longer something you push out. Content is an invitation to engage.”

    Has it ever really been this? And if so was that a mistake or what?

    Check out what Tom is saying over at The Copywriter Underground.

  2. Just a question, why there are so many question mark in this post?

  3. Kate – I think Cammie from Yahoo was perhaps reacting to the times. The idea of simply pushing content onto people without considering how they would respond would certainly have been a mistake. Tom is always a great source for experienced thinking and I’m a regular reader.

    John – thanks for letting me know = teething problems with Live Writer I think. I dont remember using question marks for apostrophes, even if it was late at night.

  4. The question marks might be caused by cut and pasting from Word. That happens on our blog titles sometimes.

  5. Bravo! Great points, very well-taken!


    P.S. Found out about your blog through Laura Spencer’s “Of Note” post at “Writing Thoughts.”

  6. Kate – word and dreamweaver both do have a habit of adding code which can make things go haywire. Live Writer is supposed to be tailored for bloggers so I’m wondering if it’s my blog template.

    Jeanne – thanks. I’ve left a comment on Laura’s site thanking her for her support. It’s always nice to think people are interested in what you have to say.

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