The future of engagement is...? Disengagement

20 Aug 2012  |  Michael Bayler 

Michael Bayler, strategist and author, Bayler & Associates, on automated value...

Ericsson, the leading maker of wireless network equipment, will see as many as 50 billion machines connected by 2020. Only 10 billion or so are likely to be cell phones and tablet computers. The rest will be machines, talking not to us, but to each other. The combined level of robotic chatter on the world's wireless networks... is likely soon to exceed that generated by the sum of all human voice conversations.

"Talk to me, one machine said to the other", The New York Times, 29 July 2012

A rare sense of vindication

The recent article from which this quote was lifted brought joy to my heart.

It's little dry for that, surely, you say? Far from it. Almost 10 years ago to the day, my friend David Stoughton and I published a book - Promiscuous Customers: Invisible Brands - that took as its departure point the hypothesis that information, in and of itself, does not create value, and in many instances will attack it, both for consumers and brands.

To the contrary, the only information that adds value is that which removes both work and risk - perceived or otherwise - for the consumer.

(Bear with me here... I'd like to show you why our toxic love affair with data needs ground-up recalibration.)

Although the book was published right on the dotcom crash of 2002, this very challenging stance was not a popular one. Indeed, to this day, a seemingly unshakeable sentimentality - I call it "prestalgia" - hovers around discussions of the role and value of data.

We began the book with a robust attack on CRM - not the technology itself, but the underlying assumption by marketers that, per se, owning information about a consumer adds value to that relationship.

This, remember, was at a time when loyalty models such as Tesco's Clubcard were starting to make a significant impact, and the apparently promising links between digital consumer data, connected markets, and the World Wide Web were the subject of enormous focus: a hypnotic and apparently self-evident data-driven model was bought into by most of the marketing community.

But we said no. You're wrong.

Getting real about loyalty

I won't drag you through the whole argument: it was long-winded, by necessity complicated, and to be honest, not a great deal of fun to read: let alone write!

However, much of the second half of Promiscuous Customers was devoted to the future impact of what we called "automated value". Today, this is discussed as either "The Internet of Things", or more punchily, "M2M" (Machine-to Machine).

Our argument was, and indeed remains so 10 years on, that the sentimental assumption by marketers that empowered, connected consumers generally care enough about their brands to engage in repeated displays of active loyalty over long periods of time is entirely wrong.

Brand loyalty is rarely, if ever, about love - one well-known drinks firm even aspires to "brand adoration" - but about utility. We are today, if you like, far more "loyal" to our burglar alarms than we are to our browsers (how much do you pay for home security vs online content, without missing a beat?).

And the ascendance of the app has cemented the role of Automated Value at the heart of brand-building: "What can you do for me, that I can't (be bothered to) do for myself?" says the smartphone user.

Even the hugely aspirational Nike, with its still-fertile Nike+ application, has built powerful, shareable automated consumer value with an application whose entire impact depends upon shoe - or more recently, smartphone or watch - talking to network on the runner's behalf. All the user does is configure the service - the application does the rest. This is M2M applied to consumer branding.

(Note, by the way, that the model has this year been pushed out to other sports where Nike seeks traction, for example golf and basketball. This one's going to run and run.)

Getting consumers to disengage

The arrival point for contemporary consumer engagement and loyalty is not, I'm relieved to report, that most trite of consumer gestures, the "like", nor even the marginally more credible retweet.

It's the point at which the consumer consigns the immensely hard and complicated work of creating information-based value to a brand application.

We may not get the brand love we crave for this typically offhand commitment... but what we get is worth far, far more.

While paradoxically, the consumer actively engages much less with our brand when they begin to rely upon an application for a particular service (let's stick with Nike+ as an example for now) we need to learn to see this as a marketing positive. They may clock off from the often tiresome active engagements via our website, but don't mistake this cold shift in engagement for a drop in loyalty.

This, in any sector where information plays a significant role, is the lion's share of the future of marketing and branding.

Oh, one more thing... wait till M2M comes to the Big Data party. Real time consumer value that doesn't need scores of analysts crawling all over my data looking for something that a good creative director could have told me five years ago? I'll take that, thanks.

Automated value is coming to town. We - really - ain't seen nothin' yet.

Your Comments

Wednesday, 22 August 2012, 15:02 GMT

Wow, what an article! A great, disruptive thought, well worth the attention of the marketing/CRM/content community.

I agree with almost everything Michael said, as M2M is close to my heart as well, but was just wondering whether what he calls 'disengagement' is maybe just a word for another form of much deeper, different enagement?

After all, commenting on Facebook is a nice pastime that is easily forgotten in a busy day, while leting the brand - and its 'service product' - become an essential part of my life is an act of a deep brand trust.

If, as the saying goes, 'behaviour is motivation filtered by opportunity', brands still need to stoke motivation, but also have to remove the friction for experiencing that opportunity: make the take up path as smooth as possible.

This is where 'disengagement' comes to the fore. Once again, a lovely article I'll be glad to share - if Media Tel only removes that friction of lacking the Facebook share opportunity.

Lazar Dzanmic
Planning Director
Kitcatt Nohr Digitas
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