Unless you're a serious student of marketing.

Max Kalehoff of Nielsen BuzzMetrics posts this interesting discussion of consumer “engagement” in today's democratized (i.e., consumer-controlled), fragmented media environment.

The commercial marketing world is a-twitter these days over the concept of “engagement” (which essentially means getting your customer to be more involved with your brand). They're devoting entire conferences to it. It seems banging customers over the head with intrusive, marketer-controlled messages doesn't work anymore!

Nonprofit marketing has always been about two things: 1) maintaining repeat customers (i.e., donors); and 2) mobilizing them to actually do things (like write their Senator, volunteer). For smart nonprofit marketers, the challenge has always been about engagement. At our best, we're way ahead of commercial marketers in this respect.

But as Kalehoff observes, the marketing context is changing profoundly — and that means for nonprofit marketers too — as consumers become more resistant to unwanted and irrelevant advertising, as they face a growing blizzard of competing media claims for their attention, and as they learn to use ever-simplifying online tools to create their own media to express themselves. As Kalehoff puts it, customers are more and more able — and inclined — to “spit back.”

Like our commercial brethern, we nonprofit marketers need to deal with the implications of consumer empowerment in a context where our donors and activists more and more inhabit an online world that:

  • Amplifies the power and scope of word-of mouth conversations they initiate that can be brand enhancing … or brand eroding (ask Dell or AOL, both of which have been raked over the coals by passionate bloggers);
  • Amplifies the ability of supporters to use their own creativity — through blogs, online videos, podcasts, cartoons and photos — to communicate our messages;
  • Amplifies the importance of responsive customer service — you can forget about “walling off” or simply ignoring disenchanted supporters; and,
  • Amplifies the availability of digital data that permits detailed tracking of your supporters' online behavior (and thus, in the best case, individually tailored messaging), but also poses serious issues of privacy and resistance on the part of supporters to being “monitored.”
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