One of my two boys is still a toddler, and we have a little bedtime routine for him every night: Bath, pajamas, stories, good-night kisses all around. As he emerged from infancy into little-boy boyhood, I began to get him engaged in his bedtime routine.
So for many months now, he’s the one who shuts the door to his bedroom every night, not me. I lift him up to reach the light switches, but he is the one to flick off the lights, not me.
Alternatively, I could take charge of this entire routine and just plop him in his crib when I’m done, but I found that the more engaged he is in his bedtime routine, the less likely he is to protest about going to bed. And the more he sees going to bed as something he chooses because it’s something he’s involved in, the more likely he is to sleep well throughout the night (although it’s far from a guarantee).
This anecdote is to show that one way to get someone to do something they may not want to do is to encourage them to become engaged in the process. Toddler doesn’t want to be put to bed? Frame it so he’s not being put to bed (passive) but he’s helping putting himself to bed (active).
This brings me to marketing. The more someone is personally engaged throughout the sales process, the more committed they become, and the more likely they are to buy whatever the company is selling.
Of course, this idea has become a prominent component of marketing these days. A B2B marketer might try to get prospects to download a white paper, attend a webinar, or sign up for a newsletter. Consumer-oriented companies urge people to tweet about them, share a video, or write reviews. They want fans and brand ambassadors.
Sometimes this stuff gets heavy handed. The trick is finding the right balance and tactics for the brand and audience, because when an engagement strategy fails, it can fail spectacularly. A few years ago, McDonald’s promoted the Twitter hashtag #McDStories to get people to share fun tidbits about their experiences with the chain, but instead many people saw it as an invitation to post about food poisoning, poor working conditions, and other criticisms. More recently, Starbucks’ “Race Together” campaign, which at least seemed to have good intentions in my opinion, was widely mocked for its clumsy integration of commerce and social issues.
But missteps such as these shouldn’t (and won’t) convince marketers to abandon engagement strategies. The tactic, after all, is tailor made for the digital age and essential to our lives. As my toddler shows, the idea that we warm up to things that we’re engaged in is rooted in our make-up from before we can even speak in complete sentences.