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Customer engagement is worth going after in a big way, according to Econsultancy’s research. Engaged customers tend to stick around for longer, buy more often and refer your brand to their friends. What’s not to like?

As such a focus on engagement is both smart and necessary. We no longer live in a broadcast world, but in a world where listening, reacting and providing great service are essential if you really care about your customers.

In my view the key to a winning customer engagement strategy is to make it like a game, where points make prizes. The more the customer plays, the more the customer can win. And customers / users should be made aware of this. But what are the prizes?

I have compiled a bunch of suggestions to help you encourage customer advocacy by keeping your most engaged customers happy. Engagement differs depending on whether you're a retailer or a publisher or some other kind of company, so not all will apply to any one business.

So, in no particular order…

User-specific offers. Well this is about as straightforward as it comes. Remember to keep it personal and relevant. Target individuals, not segments.

Group buying / offers.
If buying something is considered to be the pinnacle of engagement then encouraging group buying among friends (for cumulative discounts, etc) might be a good idea. Sites like Groupon are doing a tremendous job of revitalising group buying and I think it’s a trend that’s definitely here to stay.

Free upgrades. Stop spending so much money on acquiring new customers: spend more money on making existing customers happy! Why not give shoppers the chance to upgrade products and services for free, either at the point of purchase or out of the blue? PS – I’m not talking about mobile-style upgrades, where a sexy new handset tends to come at a cost to the customer (e.g. a new 18 month contract).

Extended features. Therapeutic Xbox games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II require you to perform well in order to progress. The better you perform, the quicker you unlock new features (e.g. an AK47 with a red dot scope and attached grenade launcher!). Think about that… maybe you can create features that the highly engaged can open up?

Mentions. Some people like to see their name in lights. Recognition can make people feel special.

Exclusive / special events. People love the VIP treatment. Naked Wines hosts special tasting events for it’s ‘archangels’ and Marmite’s ‘Marmarati’ campaign is a good example of how to identify and reach out to hardcore fans of what can only be described as stinking black inedible paste!

Better products, services, content. If you’re prepared to listen and learn then your customers will tell you what they love, hate, want and need. Arguably the best way to reward your caring customers is to finesse your products, services, content and websites to improve the overall customer experience. Tell customers that changes are based on their feedback and they’ll love you that little bit more.

Product development.
With the above in mind, why not form a panel of highly engaged customers to help steer product development? Focus groups can provide you with ideas that you may not have considered.

Priority shipping. How about offering same day or next delivery for the same price as standard shipping (or free)? Delight customers with superfast delivery and perhaps they’ll shout about it, and purchase from you more often.

Power ups. Last year I devised a ‘kudos’ algorithm for measuring and rewarding engagement, and to learn from users. ‘Kudos’ helps spot and reward high levels of engagement. Not all interactions / customers are equal. The most active users can become the most influential, not by volume of interaction, but because their interactions are weighted and count for more than first time users.

Prestige. Status. Badges. People like to stand out from the crowd. Power users should be recognised. Think about Wikipedia Editors. And as mentioned, Naked Wines calls its most active customers ‘archangels’. Econsultancy’s users are displayed in the comments area with various labels: ‘bronze’, ‘silver’, gold’, ‘platinum’ or ‘diamond’, depending on subscription status (bronze is free, diamond is the most bling…).

A courtesy call. Sometimes these can be bothersome and are little more than an excuse to sell something, but a genuine ‘how are you getting on?’ call out of the blue (or at an opportune moment) can be well received.

Print. Despite the well-documented woes of print-orientated publishers, we are strong believers in print. It can work extremely well as a content-based marketing tool. Econsultancy is on the verge of launching JUMP magazine, to support a multichannel marketing event by the same name (it takes place in London on 13 October: keep the date free if you’re as into the idea of multichannel business as we are). We’re using JUMP magazine to spread word while evangelising about multichannel marketing and joined-up business ops. It has primarily been created for a select audience… some of our most engaged users, and they’ll receive it first. Magazines, brochures and catalogues don't need to be mailed to everbody.

Remove ads. There could be an incentive to remove the ads from your content in exchange for some form of engagement, which could be as simple as a new registered user account. Data may be more worth more to you than low-rent CPM ads, and it provides a strong incentive to sign up.

Private shopping. High street retailer Debenhams allowed its Twitter followers to book private shopping sessions, thereby using social media to drive customers into offline stores. Again, this kind of thing potentially has the wow factor if you get it right.

Preferential terms. For your long-term customers it could be that you can provide compelling payment terms. This might be best suited to B2B companies.

Add ons. Free insurance, or an extended warranty thrown in gratis, for example…

Gold card. Send them some kind of discount / loyalty card. A gold card!

Birthdays. Is it cheesy, spammy or weird to be wished a happy birthday from your broadband provider?

Vouchers and coupons. Again, this amounts to a discount, but there are some creative ways of using coupons. These can be posted or printed, or if you’re riding the wave, delivered via mobile (surely a massive consumer trend in waiting). They should be personalised as much as possible.

Exclusives. What do you do if you are a consumer electronics retailers and have a limited supply of the new iPad? I’d suggest that VIP customers skip the queue and are offered first dibs. This could extend to priority discounts, if you were feeling mighty generous (though you’d be mad to discount an iPad). It pays to play. The most engaged should be placed at the front of the queue, when you launch a sale. These people are the most likely to shout about your awesomeness.

Follow them. Tune into the most influential via Twitter etc.

Ad campaigns. Some are scathing about consumer-generated ads, but an ad featuring - or in some way crowdsourced from - your key customers cannot be any worse than 99% of TV advertising, which is largely expensive, annoying and devoid of any creative merit whatsoever. The quality bar is so low in advertisingland that I don't see any problem with exploring this kind of thing. T-Mobile's flashmob ads go viral before they've been created, so word of mouth could be excellent if you get it right (and use lots of people!).

Product packaging. Innocent Drinks crowdsourced messages to put on the bottom of its smoothies. Hundreds of Twitter followers duly suggested a range of messages, and a half dozen were selected and are now found on the packaging. There’s something of the feelgood factor in this kind of thing, and it helps consumers and brands move closer to one another.

Hire them. Some customers / users are so active, influential and into your brand that it might make sense to actually hire them!

What do you do to incentivise engagement? What kind of rewards work best, and how do you measure performance?

Chris Lake

Published 18 May, 2010 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Fantastic post. It's all so obvious but so rarely practiced. If you value engagement, reward it. D'oh! Nice one.

over 6 years ago


Harry Klein

I would like to propose one important addition to the list and one that works in both B2B and B2C. "Value Co-Creation" is a compelling way to engage customers. Many have great insight into needed innovation that can open new markets or niches for a company. A simple example is the software user who needs a vertical market version of a tool and works with the software company to develop the new tool and gets to deploy the tool at a discount. The client may even get to use the tool exclusively for some brief time period and then the software company has a new tool to take to market. The key to value co-creation is "co-" - the effort and value must be somewhat mutual or it doesn't work.

over 6 years ago


David Newberry

Chris, this is a great post – certainly all things which are thought about, yet so many of them are rarely well-executed. As you touched upon, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to engaging with customers and the key here is to consider each customer as an individual.

Rather than trying to bombard every customer with each of these tactics, it is important to remember that some may actually respond negatively to a company’s approaches and would have been better left alone. Organisations need to consider two things; firstly, make sure that each of these methods are aligned - with coherent messages being used across all digital and more traditional channels. Secondly, make the most of data - use the information held on customers to employ intelligent analytics, getting a solid understanding of which customers will respond most favourably to which incentives and at which time.

over 6 years ago


Harry Rothford

Before enacting these (or any) ideas, it's smart to actually figure out what your customers want. Customer Engagement can be measured! Here's a site that explains one way to quantify Customer Engagement, thereby boosting profits: http://www.peoplemetrics.com/practices/ce/

over 6 years ago


Stephan Friend

Exciting post Cris! Looking forward to hearing from you about the best tools which are able to help to encourage and reward customer engagement!

over 4 years ago

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