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September 21, 2018

Are You Prepared to Master the Engagement Economy?

We’re moving from the attention economy to the engagement economy. It’s no longer just about reach – it’s about how people interact with your content.

We’re moving from the attention economy to the engagement economy. It’s no longer just about reach – it’s about how people interact with your content.

Website pages with many visitors, but no engagement, will be punished by search engines. Similarly, ISPs with heavy inbound email traffic, but little email engagement, will also penalize the sender. We’re in a period where we’re shifting from large quantity bulk communications, to smaller, more targeted, sustained communication.

This kind of approach used to be a luxury. We used to think that creating a personalized experience was only for the big kids. I submit that it’s no longer a luxury. You HAVE to do it.

So, how do we break the cycle? Engagement is the factor that will most directly impact your marketing efforts.

The Nitty-Gritty: Poor Engagement Is Proven to Result in Lapsed Members

The 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General, Inc. asked members why they didn’t renew. Here’s what they found:

  • Bad: 24 percent of members surveyed said they didn’t renew because they left the industry.
    • Don’t fret – there’s hardly anything you can do about that, and it’s a waste of your time to try to re-engage people who’ve left the industry.
  • Worse: 23 percent of members surveyed decided not to renew because their employer stopped paying for their membership.
    • You can pursue this a little, maybe by providing a justification letter, but there’s not as much pay-back on this.
  • Worst: 37 percent of members surveyed reported they did not renew because they experienced a lack of engagement with the association. Yes, almost 40 percent of people reported leaving because they’re not engaged with their organization.
    • As opposed to the other two segments, this is a stat you can do something about.

With engagement, we can tackle this problem of member churn, and start seeing better results.

Personalized experiences have a direct impact on increased engagement.

You might feel like you have a registration problem or a renewal problem. In that case, certain tactics can help, but the bottom line is that you have an engagement problem.

People Expect Engagement

Here’s the key: The road to engagement is paved with personalized experience.

About 88 percent of prospects reported that they expect a personalized experience from companies and organizations.

Why? These companies we all use – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google – are creating these personalized experiences, and people expect this now (admit it…even you).

You might not directly compete with this type of company, but let’s face it: we’re all competing for online attention.

If you receive an email from a brand that you love, delivering relevant, timely content, then you’re more likely to open, read, and click it, rather than a random email that doesn’t apply to you.

Also, all of this is taking place against the backdrop of our demand for immediacy and our low tolerance for boredom. We’ve got an insatiable appetite to be informed and entertained, and we want that on-demand content at the tip of our fingertips.

We can change the channel at the click of a button, we can swipe left or right on the image of a potential mate, we can flick and scroll a social media post away, never to be seen again. How about a subject line that doesn’t immediately engage?

We’re living in a world of hyper-demand coupled with a short attention span, and it’s within this environment that we’re all trying to break through and engage with our members and prospects.

The name of the game is personalized experience.

So How Do We Create “Personalized Experience”?

First, some definitions.

What personalized experience is not: Personalization isn’t a mail merge where I use your name.

Simple personalization can be counterproductive. It shows that you’re making a basic effort but not really doing anything. There are also potential disasters when your system doesn’t work.

What personalized experience is: An ongoing, concerted effort to deliver highly relevant, timely content to the channel where I’m most likely to be viewing it.

You’ve got the what, the where, and the when of personalized experience:

  • What: You need to be delivering new content that ­I am interested in.
  • Where: You’re emailing me content that I’m interested in – but maybe I’m not checking email. Personalized experience takes the location of the engagement into account.
  • When: When am I most likely to engage with this content? If you’re trying to reach bartenders, 8 a.m. is not the best time.

In order to deliver a personalized experience, you need data. Here are a couple ways to get it:

Ask your members.

First, with marketing automation, members can sign up and tell you what they’re interested in. This is helpful because you’re hearing it right from the source. Since people are busy and may not give you all the data, and they certainly won’t tell you when their interests change, it’s best to use this method in tandem with another. When you employ online community with marketing automation, members will also have stated interests, which combined with your marketing automation form, can give you a great first step toward knowing their interests.

Infer from member activity.

A second, and perhaps more powerful solution is to observe members’ online activity. You have the ability to get a complete picture of their interests at any given moment – which is crucial, since people’s interest are always changing.

Using online community, you can see what type of content members are interested in, what discussions members are joining, what members are commenting on. On the marketing automation side, you can see what types of emails members are opening, what types of links members are clicking on, and what pages members are visiting through web tracking.

These actions are all data points that we have and can collect, and we can make a pretty good guess about what members are interested on. They’re indicating their preferences with how they interact with the content that’s available.

Where does this all lead us? Segmentation.

Segment Your Audience To Provide Personalized Experience

By asking members and observing their behavior, we get explicit and implicit signals about what they’re interested in. We can start segmenting our audience based on these interests.

Even if you have 100,000 people, you won’t have to create 100,000 unique journeys – people will fall into clusters, groups, and personas. By segmenting based on all these interactions, you can segment that audience into personas.

If you have a member who is interested in legislative issues (which you know because: he joined a community about legislative interests, visited website pages on legislative content, opened an email on legislative content), they should be in your legislative interests’ segment.

You can take this member and bring them into the legislative marketing automation campaign and send them content every week or so to lead them closer to joining. The person receiving highly tailored content is way more likely to renew their membership, attend the annual meeting, etc.

Pro Tip: Use lead scoring. Segmentation is important on the persona side. Lead scoring is similar to segmentation but with an important distinction.

Imagine you’re in an auditorium looking out at an audience. You ask who likes chocolate ice cream? 250 people raise their hand. You now have that segment. That’s great, but it’s incomplete. It tells you who is interested in chocolate ice cream, but it doesn’t tell you who is the MOST interested in chocolate ice cream. Lead scoring helps us get there by scoring actions from your audience to weight their levels of engagement.

The Future of Engagement Is Coming

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing everything. It’s changing everything from the food we eat to the cars we drive to the food we consume. And they’re fueled by one thing: data.

And you know what you have? A ton of data. If you have a marketing automation platform or an online community (or even if you have an AMS/CRM), you’re sitting on a goldmine of data.

In the association world, you’re the content creator and the curator. You create it, and you decide who gets it. That’s going to change with AI and machine learning. You won’t have to manually create segments, lead score, and infer what people want anymore. The software will decide it for you. You’ll most likely create the content, but your system will send people what they are interested in based on the data they’re producing. This information will help us paint the picture of that person, so we know what they’re interested in, and when/where they’re most likely to engage with it.

The future is really exciting and it’s not that far away. Focus on building personalized experiences to boost engagement, and you’ll be set up to embrace the new technology when it comes.

Download the Engagement Trends Report 2020

Mitch Eisen

Mitch has over a decade of experience in email-related technologies, in addition to television, film and advertising production. He is a frequent speaker on marketing automation, email marketing, and email deliverability.