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The Biggest Challenge For Marketers: Engagement

by Steve Olenski  |  
February 9, 2012

A recent McKinsey Quarterly study revealed that having the ability to engage their customers and leverage those relationships is the No. 1 digitally related challenge facing marketers today.

The survey, which was conducted over a two-week period, queried nearly 800 marketing executives representing a wide range of industries from business-to-business marketing and business-to-consumer marketing.

The results of the survey were quite fascinating insomuch as over 50% of the respondents indicated that engaging their customers and gleaning deep insights from those engagements is their most important challenge from a digital perspective yet over half of the respondents also said that over the past two years the advancements in digital marketing have provided them with the ability to engage their customers.

Look at these two charts:

Chart #1

Chart #2

So, from Chart #1, you see the No. 1 challenge marketers face in today's digital world is engagement. And in Chart #2, you see the No. 1 change that has had the biggest impact on marketers in today's digital world: improved engagement.

On one hand, what we have is marketers who are thrilled to be able to engage with more people, thanks to advancements in digital technologies (e.g., social media). And on the other hand, you have these same marketers saying that while it's great we've been able to engage more over the past two years, there's still a whole lot of work to be done to truly do engagement marketing the right way.

One finding that was somewhat disconcerting was this one:

Only 47% of marketers are either already addressing the need to engage more or are in the process of doing it? You could take a glass half-full view of this, but, to me, it indicates the need for marketers to learn more ways to use engagement marketing to its fullest advantage.

There's one more chart I want to share, and this one was really telling:

Look at the disparity between what tools marketers are using currently to engage their customers vs. what they think they should be using in the next two to four years.

  • 78% currently use their company's website, yet only 28% say they should be using that in 2 to 4 years.

  • 60% indicated email is currently a way to engage their customers but two to four years from now, that number drops all the way down to 24%.

Not surprisingly as the numbers go down for the "traditional" means to engage (website and email), the numbers go up for social media and mobile applications. The future of engagement marketing will be through the use of social media, mobile marketing and other emerging media.

Why do you think engagement is such a challenge for marketers?

Sources: Google Images, McKinsey Quarterly

Steve Olenski is a marketer/writer/blogger currently looking for full-time work. He has over 20 years experience in advertising and marketing. He lives in Philly and can be reached via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his website.

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Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred, Steve Olenski is a senior content strategist at Responsys, a leading global provider of on-demand email and cross-channel marketing solutions.

He has worked on everything from a Super Bowl TV spot to a Mom and Pop radio spot---and all points in between. He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't use foul lang... well, he doesn't drink or smoke.

He is a naturally curious and opinionated person who's had to fight his way (sometimes literally) for everything he's achieved professionally. And if it were not for his rock (AKA his wife), he would not be here today. He would still be stocking shelves, not that there's anything wrong with that... 

Follow @steveolenski on Twitter

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  • by Gabe Sumner Thu Feb 9, 2012 via blog

    I'm a bit surprised that Mobile Applications (as opposed to Mobile-friendly Websites) were identified as the area where marketers want to be more involved. The 30-day retention rate on mobile apps is said to be 5%:

    There are other statistics that suggest that 1/4 of all mobile apps are abandoned after only one usage.

    The reality is that people don't utilize that many apps simultaneously. It's very difficult to compete for this limited resource. Consequently, when websites nag visitors to download an app (instead of simply presenting the content) they are often redirecting their visitor's interest into a black hole.

  • by David S Thu Feb 9, 2012 via blog

    Might the REAL reality be that people just don't want to engage with brands nearly as much as brands want to engage with them?

  • by Tony Zambito Fri Feb 10, 2012 via blog


    Very well prepared and articulate post. Thank you. The most striking aspect of the information you shared is the ranking at the top of the need to gather deep customer insights. And that it is seen as a means of being more competitive. I am not surprise at this ranking since the realization is setting in that customer insight is the leverage needed to develop the digital strategies and plans that fosters the engagement desired. I believe if this were strictly a B2B study, the numbers implementing buyer insight plans would not be as high. B2B buyer research and insights is lagging behind their sisters of B2C but gaining.

    Tony Zambito

  • by Lynne J. Johnson Mon Feb 13, 2012 via blog

    Great post Steve. I just spent the past week visiting all of our offices and while it's time consuming - I find Face to Face is the best form of engagement with our customers and my colleagues. It's so easy to stay behind the computer and use analytics to prove your growth - but do you think that can lead to a sense of security vs., reality? Thanks for the insights!


  • by Dave Mon Feb 13, 2012 via blog

    YES, this absolutely needs to be considered here! As marketers, we tend to push our own agendas and desires onto clients and consumers, which can impede true progress. Imagine if these challenged marketers put more emphasis on using digital to drive consumers offline (the REAL point of engagement)?

    Good read, thanks guys.


  • by Joshua Mon Feb 13, 2012 via blog

    Great insights Steve, as always. I found this insight from the survey to be particularly interesting:

    "Only 47% of marketers are either already addressing the need to engage more or are in the process of doing it"

    I think one roadblock to this is organizational culture. Even if marketers see the need to focus on this issue, their organizations may be resistant to change in general or this specific change in particular. Or they could be working in a field like pharmaceuticals with heavy regulations that also make leadership more hesitant to embrace Social Media, and therefore consumer engagement.

  • by Lynne J. Johnson Mon Feb 13, 2012 via blog

    PS: Posted your blog in my own :)

  • by Alan Mangelsdorf Tue Feb 14, 2012 via blog

    Steve -- Great post and like you, I love the graphic showing the disparity between digital tools of today versus digital tools 2-4 years from now. An interesting take on that is to consider how much things have changed in the last 4 years -- 2008 seems like such a long time ago in terms of digital and social marketing.

    I also wanted to draw your attention to a recent report from Accenture that examined customer loyalty.

    It dovetails well with your theme here, and raises a few questions. Most notably, how does increasing engagement via digital communications translate into improved customer loyalty. This is an easier question with consumer goods, where the digital form has been proven to be a great method for distributing and tracking coupons, discounts, offers, etc. How then does this work for B2B companies? Many of the B2B companies (including technology concerns) have been laggards where digital and social marketing is concerned.

    We still have a long way to go! Thanks again for sparking a good topic!

  • by Manuel Tue Feb 14, 2012 via blog

    Better engagement needs to be relevant and personalized. But how do you deliver that level of engagement to 100k or 1M fans, profitably?

  • by Sales Chat Sean Wed Feb 15, 2012 via blog


    This is indeed a very well structured article. Its one of the things which the marketers of today need to know more and more. As we are going deep into digital world ENGAGEMENT is becoming a science. In the past, it was easy to engage your prospects through few of the offline marketing options available but now sky is the limit for the available various resources. The more options we have the more complex it is to choose the engagement medium as well as engagement strategy. This is the marketing aspect which needs more and more study from all the aspects including but not limited to B2B engagement, B2C engagement etc.

  • by Sushant V Tue Apr 17, 2012 via blog


    A wonderfully compiled article. I agree on both accounts - engaging customers is one of the biggest challenge brands and companies are facing today and that Consumer Insights are a very important piece in the whole game. To me however, both these posses a chicken-and-egg question - without insights it is difficult to engage consumers in a meanigful conversation, while without proper engagement one won't get relevant insights. Another issue that you touched upon is on the increasing channels of engagement. I feel, this only adds up to the complexity as we marketers are now having a problem of plenty. Too many channels generating multi dimensional consumer data that can not be integrated to form the "whole" story.

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