User engagement is a hot term in digital marketing, and for good reason—it drives impressive ROI. In a 2016 Marketing Week survey, 78% of respondents reported using engagement as a metric for marketing returns. At the same time, however, 39% believed that business leaders fail to take this concept seriously.
The culprit behind this lack of attention? A general misunderstanding of how engagement impacts user behavior—and the myriad of benefits engagement provides in a crowded virtual marketplace.
What is user engagement?
Defining user engagement can be tricky, as the metrics used to track it vary from one business to the next. In general, however, this concept measures consumers' interest and investment in a brand.
Engaged users interact with businesses via social media, on company websites, or through the purchase of products or services. Some common metrics indicative of user engagement include:
Why is user engagement important?
Broadly speaking, user engagement helps companies understand whether their branding and messaging is effective. Low user engagement reflects poorly on a business, and could indicate larger issues, such as:
In this way, user engagement is finely interconnected with a company’s profitability, making it a priority for any organization looking to reel in more customers.
But beyond profitability alone, high user engagement can benefit your business tremendously, specifically through:
Find out more about each of these major benefits below.
1. Attract and maintain attention
Today's users are bombarded with all kinds of marketing.
In fact, estimates from Forbes suggest that the average American sees between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day. Yet most people aren’t consciously aware of the majority of these interactions, which only occasionally drive them to make purchases.
In such a competitive environment, there’s only so much of users’ attention to go around. To make matters worse, simply attracting attention isn’t enough; brands must also maintain it.
An engaging browsing or shopping experience is just the way to captivate users. When they encounter engaging online experiences, consumers spend more time and energy on a given website, giving these businesses an edge over their competitors.
2. A stronger emotional connection
Personalized content makes consumers feel valued and special, as opposed to just another face in the crowd. In fact, according to Epsilon Marketing, 80% of customers are more inclined to do business with companies that provide personalized experiences. This preference is particularly strong among millennial and Gen Z consumers, who express a bigger desire for customized content compared to other generations.
How does personalized content relate to user engagement?
One of the most effective ways to increase user engagement is to create personalized content. Here’s an example from Spotify, which curates musical recommendations based on users’ listening history.
Spotify isn’t the only major brand tailoring content to its users based on their actions—plenty of others, like Amazon, Netflix, and Goodreads, use the same tactic to personalize their own content.
And by doing so, these brands incite emotion. For instance, in Spotify’s case, users may look forward to discovering new music and happily make Spotify a regular part of their weekly or daily routine. The result: highly engaged users. After all, users who feel emotionally invested in a brand are more likely to invest in its products and services, even when presented with the opportunity to purchase lower-cost items elsewhere.
3. More repeat customers
Compared to bored, distracted users, highly engaged consumers are more likely to become loyal customers. After all, personalized content not only engages users but also leaves a stronger, lasting impression on them. Customers that find a brand more memorable will generally return to it.
Moreover, engagement helps to cultivate and strengthen customer-brand relationships. The more attached customers feel towards a particular brand, the less likely they are to seek out similar products or services from competitors.
The power of loyalty is apparent with major sports brand Nike, which uses interactive web content, pop-up shops, and even customizable shoes to drive user engagement.
According to a Gartner report, these marketing efforts allow Nike to go beyond traditional reward programs and get loyal customers willing to increase their activewear spending considerably for the sake of their favorite brand. Hence, Nike's impressive ranking on the MBLM top 10 list for customer intimacy—and skyrocketing profits since the brand first adopted this revolutionary approach.
4. Brand advocacy from loyal customers
Loyal customers aren’t just valuable for their repeat business. They benefit businesses tremendously by acting as brand advocates—enthusiasts that are happy to spread the word about a company because they’ve had such a pleasant experience.
While brand advocacy has made waves through influencer marketing in recent years, companies don’t need to shell out on major YouTube and Instagram celebrity endorsements to get this publicity. On a much smaller but just as effective scale, engaged customers spread the word to their own networks without the fuss of receiving free products or being entered in giveaways.
One great example: Southwest Airlines. The budget airline ranks number 7 in Forbes’ list of Most Engaged Companies, no doubt due to founder Herb Keller’s emphasis on customer service. Compared to just 26% of United flyers, 51% of Southwest’s customers report being highly engaged with the company.
And as a result of this high engagement, customers are eager to share their positive experiences flying with Southwest, as seen in the airline’s Trip Advisor reviews.
In today's age of social proof, most consumers look to user reviews or recommendations from loved ones before making even the smallest purchase. And the more users see brands mentioned by highly engaged customers, the more likely they’ll interact with them—and become engaged customers themselves.
5. Reduced sales cycles
Minimally engaged customers may eventually convert, but it generally takes time. In other words, the less engagement companies see in their customers, the longer their sales cycles are—even among customers who claim to be loyal to specific brands.
Engagement can ignite strong interest, however, and lead to faster sales.
Rather than pester consumers with repeated ads, brands benefit from offering a smaller number of highly resonant interactions that leave prospective customers eager to make their way through the sales funnel. Examples of these engaging marketing campaigns include:
The shorter the sales cycle, the lower the cost-per-acquisition. As a result, brands that cultivate the most engaged customers ultimately spend less on marketing per converted consumer.
Faster lead generation and stronger customer-brand relationships—there’s plenty to gain from investing in user engagement. And as more businesses move online, it’ll only become more important as a way to stick out. Building a community of engaged users is no easy feat, but the ensuing ROI is well worth the time and effort.
About the Author
Joyce Chou is a Content Marketing Strategist at Compose.ly, a content platform that matches businesses with seasoned freelance writers. Apart from writing for Compose.ly’s blog, Joyce also contributes to other publications about digital marketing, personal finance, and business and ecommerce.