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Engagement: old tune on a new fiddle.

April 3rd, 2011

I’ve been puzzled by the recent debates about the “real definition of engagement” and recent noise about the spectacularly mis-named engagement “Task Force”.

Why? Well it has a disappointing sense of deja-vu.

When I wrote Brand Engagement back in 2007  around the time my former SDL colleague, John Smythe wrote The Chief Engagement Officer, it was summing up a decade of employee engagement work and the talk was of “how to engage employees?” not “why?” or “what?”.

Then the banks imploded and the recession hit as they dragged other sectors down with them.

Contrary to the loud and often contradictory statements, engagement is a simple notion which has multiple applications. In brand terms it describes the degree to which customers connect with a brand in a way which causes them to become advocates, buy more product and “spread the word”.

The same notion applies to employee engagement. But in the world of the employee, the degree to which they are engaged with their employer either leads to a decision to join, to stay or, most importantly, to voluntarily give more, go the extra mile, innovate.

When expressed in these simple terms, there’s a clear business case from the point of view of the organisation (or brand). There’s plenty in it for the individual too who, let’s face it, wants to enjoy what they do for a living.

Pre-recession, all the talk around this topic concerned employee retention, the “war for talent”, maximising returns, idea generation, gaining competitive advantage. During the recession, as discretionary spending suddenly disappeared, it was all but forgotten as ”engagers” (including the communication and HR communities),became embroiled in the bloody business of surviving, re-sizing and damage limitation. So, perhaps it’s a good sign that we’ve come full circle and the “innovation” word is back?


The difficulty I have with much of the noise in this area is that we’ve already covered this ground. Even the quantitative crew got it some time ago, typified by Peoplemetrics in their 09 White Paper on this subject.

We now run the risk of re-obsessing about definitions when what employees and businesses need is action. Regardless of the fact that the platforms and media  have expanded in the last 4 years, they haven’t replaced the classics. No, Facebook simply hasn’t supplanted Facetime The beauty is somewhere in the blend and unless we inspire engagement rather than pay it lip service, we really run the risk of regressing and simply playing an old tune on a new fiddle.

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