Over the past several weeks, I've been doing research on, thinking about and gathering client examples about brand engagement. 

In preparation for participating in a panel discussion at this week's Radian6 Social 2011 conference on High Performance Participation Brands, my objective was to share some big old nuggets from my personal observations; leaving what will no doubt be a rivited audience totally pumped up and ready to elope with their collective social customer.

Then I read this.  Paul Greenberg wrote a guest post on briansolis.com that probably gave, or at lease should have given us all pause.  Paul referenced a recent IBM Global Consulting study about the current mood of customers towards brands with respect to engagement.

You can read all the stats at your leisure.  But after reading Paul's post and then clicking through to the details, I had to wonder aloud.  Has the message been distorted?  Has the pressure to engage simply reincarnated old habits in a new form?  It's an established mantra that customers no longer have a tolerance for the "shouting through the bullhorn" brand messaging.  But, has that been replaced in some playbooks by a "chase me around the social web to try to get me to engage with you" approach?

The lesson I'm taking from this latest dose of reality?  There is no shortcut.  No easy path to customer engagement.  Its not about having a fan page or a celebrity persona on twitter.  Customers don't owe your brand their time simply because you've put it out there.  IBM exposed a fact that probably
everyone knows but about which there may be some serious denial at work.  Customers would rather talk to their friends and trusted associates about your brand than to you.

Take solice though.  There is in fact a secret sauce.  Well, it's not so secret if I figured it out.  The key to getting your customers to engage with your brand?   Give them such a compelling reason to do so, that to not would be down right silly.  People buy the entire brand.  Not just the product.  Not just the service.  The whole enchilada.  The brand value is the sum total of all of its parts.  Maybe that's why, when you look at what are considered the "most engaged brands", the list is pretty short.  Further, look at these logos and honestly tell me that the reason these brands earned this distinction is because of their twitter presence.


The fact that these brands have build such equity is what provides them the social currency to be engaged.  And that is actually the point.  These brands aren't engaging.  They are engaged.  Engaged by their customers.  That's not just hair-splitting.  Customers are making the choice.  They're calling the shots.  They're deciding with whom they engage.  (hey, IBM confirmed it.  So, it must be true).  So to Mr. Greenberg's definition of Social CRM: "the company's response to the customer's control of the conversation", responding to customers who run the other way by chasing after them is most definitely not the way to win friends and influence the social customer.    

By the way.  This is probably a good time to remind everyone that I'm a technology guy.  I'm clearly no marketing genius.  But, I am a consumer; a customer.  So, from my catbird seat, the way I see it is this.  I will give you my time if the value you give me in return exceeds my investment.  Give me that and I'll come find you.  I might even propose.  Trust me.