An illustration of three people digitally engaging with a brand
PHOTO: Adobe Stock

Anytime you interact with a customer, you have a chance to create brand engagement. If you don’t have a strategy to make the most of those opportunities, you’re wasting your chances.

Companies often get caught up in expending energy on new technologies and trends and forget that brand engagement needs to be a consistent priority. It’s about connecting with people every chance you get.

Getting back to basics and focusing on people can help you build a process that works. Start with your employees, then look to brand ambassadors and customers. The right building blocks can help you craft a winning strategy that strengthens customer engagement and increases revenue.

What Is Brand Engagement?

Brand engagement refers to the attachments made — both practical and emotional — between consumers and brands.

These attachments form in a variety of ways, such as when a customer:

  • Uses your product or service
  • Browses your website or social pages
  • Reads online reviews and recommendations
  • Engages with your marketing messages
  • Participates in community-based forums
  • Chats with your customer service representatives
  • Discovers the reputation of your employees (on social media, for example)

A brand engagement strategy, therefore, is the plan and techniques used to improve and maintain a company’s reputation.

The right strategy can bring in new customers and nurture the loyalty of existing ones. It also creates positive associations with a brand and increases the perceived value of products. All of this equates to a bigger bottom line.

Conversely, poor brand engagement can lead to negative associations, which means customers might shop elsewhere. That's especially true for companies that don’t have the market dominance of big corporations like Coca-Cola or Amazon.

If you want to build a solid brand engagement strategy, experts say you have to focus on creating connections and positive experiences.

“Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back,” said Kevin Stirtz, author of “More Loyal Customers.” “We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them.”

Consider the three tips below to create a brand engagement strategy that delivers results:

1. Brand Engagement Includes Employees

“To understand an organization’s culture is to begin a process of harnessing and channeling ‘the way we do things’ into incidences and patterns of activity that, ideally, best serve the needs of customers,” wrote Ian P. Buckingham in his book “Brand Engagement: How Employees Make or Break Brands.”

Buckingham claimed that if you build a customer-centric culture, your employees will be your most effective brand management tools.

A 2018 PwC study confirms this, revealing that 82% of US consumers want more human interaction. Another 59% believe companies have lost touch with the human elements of the customer experience (CX).

What it means: If you get the interactions between employees and customers right, you’re already ahead of the game.

Start by giving your employees the right tools. Ensure they have the training and knowledge to answer customer questions, process transactions and manage customer complaints.

Related Article: The Impact of Automation on Employee Experience

What to Do: Improve Employee Happiness

Beyond training and workplace tools, you also need to consider employee happiness. Happy employees lead to happy interactions, and customers can tell when a team member is unhappy or disinterested.

In 2015, Gravity Payments CEO, Dan Price, became famous for giving everyone at his company a minimum wage of $70K. Over the next six years, the company’s revenue tripled.

According to Price, his employees “no longer have to be stressed about making enough money to cover the basics. It creates a situation where people can focus on their work, career progression and increasing their capabilities.”

Employee happiness isn’t just about wages, though. Google’s Californian Googleplex is famous for its many cafés, swimming pools and game rooms. So famous that it was featured in a movie starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.

When Google treated its employees right, the team rewarded them with loyalty, new products and a passion for the company that customers love.

2. Brand Engagement Encourages Customer Creativity

The influencers you pay to advertise your products aren’t your primary brand ambassadors. No, those are the passionate fans who talk about your products with friends and share reviews and recommendations with no expectation of a reward.

Robert Kozinets, currently a professor at USC Annenberg, calls this “social brand engagement,” described as “a social act full of culture, meaning, language and values.”

Fandoms are an example of the power of social brand engagement. Fans of creative brands like Marvel and Pokémon create stories, images and videos expressing their love. These works created by consumers help spread the brand, thus making more fans.

Powerful fan campaigns have even influenced brands, like when the TV show “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” avoided cancellation or passionate fans helped “Veronica Mars” creators raise more than $5 million for a movie.

This passion doesn’t just exist for movies and TV shows, either. Some people film themselves unboxing dog toys or create how-to blogs on budgeting software. Other people post on Instagram, raving about beer, hiking boots and pillows.

People have many ways to share their love for brands and products — an ideal situation for companies looking to grab a slice of the market.

Related Article: Content Marketing: Develop Your Omnichannel Strategy in 9 Easy Steps

What to Do: Promote Conversations and Content

If you want this kind of passion from your customers, it means putting them in the driver’s seat, which can be a scary proposition. But you should look at it as an opportunity to listen to your customers’ conversations about your brand. Learn how they use your products and what improvements you can make.

Of course, no one may be talking about your brand. If that’s the case, there are plenty of ways to encourage brand engagement.

Regular communication is a great place to start. Make sure your messages are exciting and let your brand’s personality shine through, giving fans a reason to share.

If you need some inspiration, look to other brands that are popular with consumers. Wendy’s, for example, is known for its bold Twitter quips that often go viral.

If you want customers to make fan content, find ways to collaborate with their creative endeavors.

For instance, Coke’s “Share a Coke” campaign took the logo off bottles and replaced it with names to become a worldwide hit. Then, in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, the company asked customers to record a video giving a shout-out to friends and family with the drink. Those fan-made videos became the content for Coke ads over 2020 and 2021.

You may not be able to offer your customers 15 minutes of fame on national TV, but that doesn't mean you can't offer incentives to encourage conversations. Think special offers, access to exclusive forums and opportunities to connect with the employees behind the products.

3. Brand Engagement Incorporates Positive Experiences

Not every customer will be a passionate advocate for your products, but that doesn’t mean their experience isn’t important.

A 2018 PwC study on customer experience found that 32% of customers would walk away from a brand they love after only one bad experience. It’s also likely they’ll tell their friends about that experience.

Therefore, positive CX is essential to your overall brand engagement strategy. Loyalty programs, personalization and creating content that matters to consumers — such as helpful instructions on how to use a product — are all vital aspects.

Related Article: Cross-Departmental Collaboration Is Key to Customer Experience

What to Do: Show That You Care

Strong interpersonal connections — online and in-store — should be at the core of your customer experience strategy. This means always making it easy for customers to receive help when they need it.

Customers are more likely to be loyal if you show them you care.  A 2020 Qualtrics XM Institute study asked respondents how forgiving they are of a single bad experience. Most customers (77%) are forgiving if overall CX is good — but this number drops to 15% for poor CX.

Listening to complaints, responding promptly and offering problem-solving solutions will ensure customers stick around. (This goes back to giving employees the tools and training they need to solve these problems.)

The Bottom Line

Brand engagement is about more than marketing. It's about building a community of people — employees, customers, brand ambassadors, etc. — who are passionate about your brand.

You can — and should — track key performance indicators to measure how well your tactics are working. Strong brand engagement can be seen in increased revenue, employees who stick around longer and a growing market share.