Brand Engagement

The Engagement Word Muddle


 The Work Human movement…B Corporations…the Engagement movement…Conscious  Capitalism…Emotional Connectivity.

These are phrases used by various organizations to promote a common theme: the importance of people in business.

The WorkHuman movement was launched recently by Globoforce, a leading recognition company, which is now holding an annual conference under that theme. B Corporations is a concept developed by a company known as B Lab, promoting businesses that are good for people and society. Conscious Capitalism is the term used by the organization of the same name at, co-founded by John Mackey of Whole Foods. These efforts speak to broad concepts that go beyond to engagement to connect business with good works.

The Engagement Movement is narrower in focus. Because while engagement benefits customers, employees, vendors and society as a whole, it focuses more specifically on how companies can connect engagement with performance. A growing number of organizations, while not actually working together in most cases, have gathered under this umbrella.

In addition to the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, founded in 2008 and the parent of ESM (Engagement Strategies Media); there’s the Conference Board’s Engagement Institute the Human Capital Institute with its employee engagement conferences and forums; companies such as Gallup, Deloitte, BI, EGR International and Inward Strategic Consulting as well as a growing number of authors and business experts from Chester Elton and Bob Kelleher to Kevin Sheridan and Dr. Bob Nelson. In the U.K., there’s the U.K. government’s Engage for Success initiative, the new Employee Engagement Alliance and multiple conferences on the subject of employee engagement.

Despite this broad consensus around the term engagement in the human capital arena, the concept of engagement has a longer way to go in marketing itself. The reason the EEA focuses on the concept of enterprise-wide engagement is because that’s where organizations can get the biggest ROI – by connecting employee and customer engagement. In a recent article on the importance of customer emotional connectivity in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review, the authors use the word “connectivity” instead of “engagement” to say essentially the same thing, (see the ESM discussion of the article here), while at the same time completely overlooking the role employees play in making emotional connections between organizations and customers. This is ironic, because HBR was among the first of the leading business magazines to feature articles on this subject.

On the one hand, the growing roster of proponents of what we call engagement is impressive, so much so that it’s at first surprising that the general media hasn’t yet awoken to this new field – how often does a major field unfold with so many proponents? Upon closer examination, it’s actually not that surprising when you consider that few of these proponents of engagement have so far joined forces, which means it will take longer for their impact to be felt. In fact, various proponents of the emerging emphasis on people in business have neither agreed upon a name for this new discipline, or are strategically seeking to create their own terminology in an attempt to create a unique selling proposition.

The major condition for the emergence of a field is to have a common name – i.e., advertising, accounting, marketing, analytics, etc., and a clear definition. No business can own this new field we call engagement, certainly not by creating a “proprietary” name or definition. And this discipline will not have fully emerged until it has a commonly accepted name and definition, whatever that might be.

The Enterprise Engagement Alliance focused on the word “engagement” primarily because of the research highlighting the importance of fostering the proactive involvement of people to achieve businesses objectives. A 2014 Deloitte global survey of Chief Executives found that the topics of customer and employee engagement are now top executive priorities. But an Incentive Research Foundation study, The Roles of Engagement, found little agreement around the definition of engagement, or even around an effective implementation framework and roadmap.

It’s a field still in a state similar to that of the solar system after its creation – a mass of gas and rock that has yet to fully take shape.


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