Customers today are savvier than ever. They know what they want (and what they don't want). Moreover, marketers are realizing that maintaining positive relationships with today's customers goes far beyond traditional customer service.

Today, marketing is all about engagement, a two-way interaction that's both meaningful and personal. Consumers want to feel good about being your customer, so connecting with them and making them feel like an individual (and not just a number) is crucial to earning their loyalty. After all, various emotions shape their attitude toward your company and ultimately influence their buying behavior.

Successful brand engagement taps into personal experiences.

At the heart of emotional branding is the personal connection people feel with the brands that add value to their lives. Examples abound—such as grocery chains providing trendy recipes to sell the required ingredients as well as clothing retailers hosting "lookbooks" from hot designers. Some shoe merchants even offer videos aimed at the consumer about particular styles and how to wear them.

Successfully engaging your prospects through unique, relatable Web content is crucial for building customer relationships.

So, how can you engage users to promote your brand?

First, it doesn't hurt to have a great product or service that does something amazing for the customer.

Another approach is to take your social media to the next level. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter are no longer considered trends or a phenomenon; most of us have acknowledged that they are part of our everyday lives. This is a major opportunity to not only engage your audience but also to build and maintain a community.

Understand that only posting status updates and photos on social media is not enough. To keep your audience connected, provide valuable content, and create a shared experience that keeps them interacting.

Though it may be tempting to treat social media like your own personal soapbox from which you can boast about your brand, a simple video can tell your story in an infinitely better and more concise manner. Facebook users are twice as likely to like a video than a text post, and videos are shared 12 times more than text and links, according to a recent HubSpot study.

Another way you can engage customers in a meaningful way is to launch a video contest. Ask users to create their own videos from a theme you define and get them to vote for their favorite videos.Doing so can help motivate fans to create and share videos associated with your brand and strengthen awareness.

For example, at HotSchedules (which offers cloud-based mobile labor management software designed to make life easier for the restaurant, retail and hospitality industries), we launched a video contest that ended up driving traffic in a big way.

Countless videos were submitted by customers who depend on our mobile tool to access their schedules, swap and trade shifts, and communicate with their coworkers and managers. Many videos demonstrated the difference between restaurants that use the software and those without the scheduling tool, and what that would be like for those employees and managers.

One of the winning videos follows an out-of-touch manager who can't seem to handle the flood of time-off requests and shift changes. Another submission titled "Panic Attack Patsy” captured the typical craziness that ensues when restaurant managers become addicted to scheduling. "My name is Patsy, and I'm addicted to scheduling," she says in the opening scene. It's followed by her best friend Cassie who adds, "I started realizing how serious her problem was when I found her sleeping with a calendar underneath her pillow."

Other videos spoofed cult favorites, like the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and the recent TV hit "Pretty Little Liars."

Here are a few other customer engagement strategies to consider when promoting your brand.

  • Communicate regularly. Reach out and always respond to your customers (even if they are complaining on Facebook) to make sure they always get the help and support they need. Don't forget to thank them, too.
  • Stay relevant. Position yourself as a thought leader and report the latest industry news before any of your competitors. Be sure to post breaking stories and offer recaps of recent research reports. That can drive social likes and shares, as well as links to your website.
  • Engage with images. Strive to provide a user-friendly website or blog experience that's eye-catching, even if your visitors' attention is divided between their laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Content can range from custom infographics to breathtaking photos or thought-provoking videos.
  • Offer curated video content. Content curation is defined as "the art and science of finding and sharing quality content on a specific topic." Curation can help you build an audience. You then have a larger group of people with whom to share your own content and who can spread the word about your brand.
  • Ask for help. Speak directly to your followers in an attempt to gain even more of their attention. Ask them questions about themselves and how your product fits into their lives. Hold contests that get them talking about your brand. Or place a shout-out to your fans, asking them to contribute a creative caption for an image or fill-in-the-blank post.
  • Cultivate internal team building. Don’t forget that creating unique content can engage your employees, too, an important point that doesn't always get recognized. By creating brand ambassadors from within your business, you are showing customers a completely different product perspective. It also reminds everyone about why they are doing what they do for the company.

* * *

Whatever customer engagement strategies you employ, the key is to remain consistent. Think about the brand messaging you employ as well as your customers’ overall end-to-end experience. And if you give them a consistent (and extraordinary) experience, you’ll ultimately be rewarded with their trust, dedication, and continued loyalty.

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Mary Kay Hyde is senior director of Marketing and Communities at HotSchedules, now part of Red Book Connect.

LinkedIn: Mary Kay Hyde