By Becky Tumidolsky
“Engage your audiences.”
It’s the #1 commandment of content marketing. We’ve heard it repeated a thousand times, and we all know exactly what it means.
Yep, and I’m the queen of France.
I’m betting if you were to gather a half-dozen marketers in a room and ask each one to define the phrase “audience engagement,” no two answers would be alike.
In fact, some marketers believe the term “engagement” has lost its meaning altogether. (I highly recommend Jonathan Crossfield’s pointed takedown of this and other overused and abused industry buzzwords.)
Truth is, the word “engage” has many shades of meaning. In the interest of serving audiences and advancing marketing goals, content creators need to internalize them all.
“Engage” Is a Complex Term
If you look up the word “engage,” you’ll find these five definitions:
- Enlist (someone) to perform a particular service.
- Occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s attention, interest, etc).
- Start fighting against (an opponent).
- Establish a meaningful connection.
- Move into position so as to come into operation.
So which definition is most relevant to content marketing? In my opinion, it’s a five-way tie.
Engagement Is a Many-Splendored Thing
When you engage target audiences, you’re doing more than enlightening or entertaining them.
- You’re enlisting their help.
With every piece of content you publish, you’re asking audiences to give you their time and consideration, trust your authority and integrity, and share your message to help elevate your brand. Further down the funnel, you hope they’ll give you their business and become outspoken brand advocates.
Since you’re asking so much of them, you owe them the moon and stars—content that’s authentic, useful, entertaining, and superbly written. And that’s exactly what your audiences demand. If you waste their time with dull, insincere, self-absorbed, pretentious, or error-riddled content, they won’t lift a finger for you.
- You’re capturing their attention and interest.
Doing so requires knowing your audiences well and being committed to serving them. If this isn’t your starting point, you might as well hang up your hat.
To make audiences sit up and take notice, you need to:
- Establish rapport and resonance by way of empathy, sincerity, and a flash of personality.
- Enthrall them with a creative angle, a unique perspective, an intriguing position, and/or compelling facts.
- Speak directly to their pain points and professional concerns while demonstrating the utmost respect for their intellect, needs, biases, and values.
- Make your point clearly, dynamically, and confidently. Show that you’re fully engaged in the effort of content creation. Remember: Passion is contagious.
- You’re fighting their cynicism by disarming it.
Every day, audiences are bombarded by shallow, self-promotional blather masquerading as content. Not surprisingly, they’ve developed a reflexive resistance to marketing. Their cynicism is your fiercest enemy.
Good content marketers know how to slay the beast in its sleep. They not only anticipate and address audiences’ questions and objections, but they also acknowledge audiences’ inherent distrust based on past experience—not explicitly, perhaps, but by virtue of delivering practical value and a uniquely rewarding experience.
- You’re establishing a meaningful connection.
Making an emotional connection with audiences isn’t easy. But great content creators—those who love what they do and love meeting audiences where they are—make it look easy.
“Love works in business,” writes Brian Sheehan, a 25-year veteran of Saatchi & Saatchi and author of Loveworks: How the world’s top marketers make emotional connections to win in the marketplace. In his view, the most endearing brands share the following traits, tendencies, and abilities:
- Emotional (offering an “irresistible human touch”)
- Truth seeker
- Creative leader
- Driving “purpose to action” with a rallying cry
- “People Power” (igniting passions or “capturing the popular imagination”)
- Sensuality (i.e., “gateway to the real world”)
If you aspire to make a meaningful impact and foster brand loyalty, it’s worth determining how well your content stacks up against this list.
- You’re moving them into position.
Normally when we talk about engaging a piece of machinery—turning it on, putting it into gear, and locking it in place—we mean readying it for action. (How many times have Trekkies heard Captain Kirk’s order to “engage” the ship’s warp drive?)
Similarly, you should use content as an instrument to turn people on, to get them thinking about their needs (and how your brand can best meet them), and to solidify your relationship with prospects so you can convert them into buyers.
Andy Crestodina, strategic director at Orbit Media, offers some great advice for transitioning “suspects” into “prospects,” building trust, inspiring visitors, and starting a conversation.
- Write stories that explain your brand’s deeply held purpose and mission.
- Provide visitors to your site with concrete data and client testimonials.
- Address prospects’ most common questions in a white paper or FAQ section.
- Include links to marketing pages within blog posts to “guide visitors deeper into your funnel.”
- Encourage contact by way of a quick call to action on every page.
While your content should be devoid of marketing speak, it should speak volumes about why your brand is worthy of your audiences’ time and trust—and should gently and amicably guide them toward the desired result.
What Does “Audience Engagement” Mean to You?
More importantly, how do you go about achieving it? Please weigh in below!
Since 2001, Becky Tumidolsky has written awareness-building content for B2B brands and their discerning audiences. Her work has appeared in leading publications such as Forbes, U.S.News & World Report, Bloomberg Markets, Newsweek, and Inc. as well as corporate blogs, websites, white papers, and other content assets.
Becky loves writing fluid, error-free prose. She’s even more passionate about building the foundation for her work—uncovering core brand distinctions, framing them thematically, and developing fresh, compelling narratives that advance corporate strategies.