On engagement

Engagement is perhaps the industry term of the last decade. To me, engagement has always been about keeping the conversation going, about understanding needs, and above all else relationship building. Lately, it is clearer than ever that I have misunderstood. Engagement equals addiction. Measured in so-called impressions, repeat clicks, total time spent, with the ultimate goal of converting your attention into cash. I do not own a pair of rose colored glasses. I always knew this was about moving folks through a hypothetical pipeline, strike deals, and make money. What I was blind to see is how aggressive everything has become — or been — and just how manipulative things are.

When it came to fundraising, I would run reports and look at the overall numbers, e.g. thousands of alumni. But the next step was always to drill down to specific names, actual human beings. Now, it seems data sets are reported in the aggregate only.

Companies harvest data to see what folks are clicking on, as if what we click on is tantamount to our interests. CTR equals relevant content, which in turn means companies should put out more of the same thing to this group. It’s no wonder there are those of us constantly in search of something different, artisan, authentic.

When I first saw artificial intelligence (AI) as a way to help manage this engagement process, I thought I was staring at the answer to one of my [on-going questions]: what is the role of technology to the sale process? AI would give us the tools necessary to take data and put it into action. (“Actionable insights”, another piece of [jargon] folks are eating up these days.) As it turns out, it may be the first real effort to transform the humanity in our work to an artificial one. Are we asking ourselves what we lose as we switch to AI when it comes to human-computer interaction? Merriam-Webster [defines engagement] to include “emotional involvement or commitment”, but how will this be if it is administered via AI? Will that be meaningful?

If we define engagement as the interactions that lead towards a developed relationship, what of current marketing practice does and does not adhere to this definition? What can we stop doing in favor of customer experience and customer retention? What CLV are we sacrificing if we continue down this current path?

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