Stop Trying to Talk AT Your Audience and Talk WITH Them Instead


Bryan Grover


Marketers don’t talk to customers and prospects enough (or at all), and that’s a problem.

Creating content and programs for customers and prospects without speaking to them is like trying to play catch in the dark.

You might get lucky and nail it on the first throw … but there’s an equal chance you may accidentally hit the other person in the face, or miss them entirely. 

The solution? Turn on the lights.

In the context of marketing, instead of blindly cranking out content based on funnel stages, personas, and quarterly goals, go directly to the source and talk to your customers and prospects using a planned engagement strategy.

The advantages of this approach are stark: According to Gallup, prioritizing customer engagement in your marketing can lead to a 66% higher sales growth, a 25% increase in customer loyalty, and a minimum 10% growth in net profit.

You can enjoy similar results, but where do you begin? How do you measure return on investment (ROI)? What tools are available?

In this post, we uncover the answers to these questions as we look at how to develop an engagement marketing strategy that speaks with your customers rather than at them.

What Is Engagement Marketing?

Engagement marketing, sometimes known as relationship marketing, may sound like the latest buzzword, joining the ranks of Web3, techlash, and pickleball. 

Our friends at Marketo define engagement marketing as “the use of strategic, resourceful content to engage people and create meaningful interactions over time.”

That’s a solid baseline, but it only covers part of the concept. We’d like to offer an alternative:

“Engagement marketing is a marketing model that focuses on building relationships through two-way communication channels. Instead of being guided through a funnel, the customer is at the center of their own buying experience, which is crafted around the emotional states that guide buyers toward their desired outcome.”

At Banzai, we call it The Movement

The goal is to place more emphasis on relationship building and what the customer is trying to accomplish (i.e., their desired outcome). This mindset is a huge shift from the “traditional” marketing funnels used in the last 30 years, and the gateway to more humanized marketing. 

According to Ashley Levesque, Banzai’s VP of Marketing, “Desired outcome is basically what your audience is trying to achieve. We’re not talking about the pain points or challenges of our audience. Those are words that marketers love to talk about quite a bit … but we think that definition is a bit more worn out and it doesn’t serve us anymore.”

Framing your marketing around positive emotions instead focuses on improving your audience’s circumstances, which shapes your conversation with them. To mimic a genuine conversation, your engagement strategy should pursue the right kinds of engagement.

The Right and Wrong Way To Engage

Be it email marketing or social media, marketers are adept at pushing content at audiences. Brands have relied on this method of one-way communication for the last few decades (especially since the beginning of 2020). 

Current research also supports this claim: In a survey of more than 600 marketers, Kickstand Communications found 98% invest in digital ads, but 97% are pursuing alternative channels, and 67% said digital returns have diminished even after scaling up programs. 

With so much digital noise, one-way communication is clearly the wrong way to build relationships and connect with your audience; it’s the antithesis of engagement marketing.

That’s why The Movement focuses on two-way communication channels.

At least one (if not more) of your channels should facilitate live, real-time dialogue with your audience. That could mean maintaining an active presence on a social media network, hosting regular webinars, or holding smaller, one-on-one “office hours.” 

The specific channel used will vary from organization to organization, but the goal should always be to help your audience move closer to their desired outcome.

Of equal importance is to use a format your audience actively seeks out and wants to consume.

Produce Content Your Audience Wants to Engage With

We may be a little biased about this topic, but webinar marketing is an effective way for marketing teams to generate leads and engage in two-way conversations. 

But office hours are also a viable avenue, as well as in-person/virtual events, social media networks … and more.

Which is the best? Where should your team focus on or invest its resources? 

The answer depends on the company and the audience. Each audience is unique and has different preferences. 

As you determine which channel is the best for creating and distributing your content, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Make content available in multiple formats. You invested dozens of hours creating your webinar — you shouldn’t limit it to the one format. Upcycle that content into various formats to expand your reach. You could decompose the webinar into a blog series for readers or short, five-minute videos for social media.
  • Experiment. Don’t be afraid to break with tradition. Try out something new and see if it works. The results may surprise you.
  • Just ask. Occam’s razor says when you have multiple options available, the simplest is often the best. Your prospect and client engagement should include reaching out directly and asking what kind of content they want. 
A marketer engages with her audience

Once you obtain the results you need, shift the emphasis to measuring and monitoring results. 

Programs must be analyzed regularly to stay relevant and useful. Not only do you need to educate stakeholders internally, you must also continually ask yourself, “Is this still working? Is it working well? If not, where are the gaps?”

See if you’re an engagement marketing pro. Take the assessment.

Question and revise your procedures constantly to ensure you provide the best experience possible for your audience in a way that’s sustainable for your team.

Create an Awesome Experience

Once you’ve chosen your engagement format(s), you need to ensure your experience is seamless.

There’s a concept in eCommerce known as the Amazon Effect. In short, any action or service Amazon takes or implements becomes the new norm and consumer expectation, whether it involves content delivery, UX, shipping rates, or something else. This effect has since stretched beyond online shopping; with many companies shifting to a digital model, consumers expect a digital experience that works without hassle (like Amazon). 

As an engagement marketing example, consider webinars: The market is flush with webinar platforms. You want a platform that handles everything, from registration to branding to joining the event. Webinar platforms like Demio can switch the focus from “I can’t hear it. Has the event started yet?” to providing an engaging user experience.

Demio's engaging user experience in the webinar room

If your audience encounters too much difficulty with your brand, they’ll abandon their efforts and leave (who wants to fill out a lead gen form with three dozen fields?).

Knowing what will cause your audience to give up helps you understand them so you can strategize based on their behavior.

Understand Your Audience as a Whole

Buyer personas are great starting points and references, but they rarely give you enough insight to understand your audience as a whole. Engineer Earl and Director Diana might tell you the problems they face in their work, but there’s much more to learn as you dig into their desired outcomes. This understanding requires interviews, conversations with customers and prospects, and hands-on interactions.

A marketer interviews a customer to learn about their desired outcome

As you begin to understand the people you’re trying to reach, you’ll be able to fine-tune your content and overall shopping experience. For instance, let’s say you’re studying how your group approaches technology buying.

Ashley Ryall, Founder of UnTapSocial, said it’s important to think of your audience as a whole person. She noted that, regardless of what part of the organization you’re in, “It’s important for leaders to understand their customer's whole self and have a holistic view of their customers' buying behaviors.” 

Understanding their particular views, behaviors, and preferences transforms content creation into an exercise in identifying what’s missing and what you should focus on first rather than what you want to make. 

So, if a segment of your audience prefers to watch short demos of products they’re comparing, offer bite-sized chunks for that audience to consume while keeping the longer-form demonstrations available for those who want a deep dive.

Focus on Bringing People Together

When marketing teams discuss the topic of community, it's usually whether or not they should create one. However, your customers and prospects are already having conversations about your product in other communities.

Monitoring these conversations, where they happen, in what context, and which customer persona facilitated and participated in those conversations can yield valuable insights for your brand.

Two marketers monitor online conversations in the communities where their audience spends time

That doesn’t mean you need to build your own community though.

Running an internal community is a major investment. One community manager we spoke to said, “Building a community takes a lot of time, a lot of manual work, and conversations and relationship building.” 

Continuing on the topic of resources, she expressed the need for appropriate people whose sole focus is to manage the community: “Your social media manager isn't a community manager. Your demand gen manager isn't a community manager. Your customer marketing manager isn't a community manager.”

Before you think about building a community for your brand, it’s important to identify whether there’s a need or gap to fill. If your motivation is simply to dictate the conversation, then the answer is probably no.

Alternatives to Building a Community 

If you’ve decided there’s no need to build a community, or you lack the resources to do so, you can still get involved in the conversation.

First, shift your focus to bringing your audience together. This means networking events, live marketing, webinars with chat functionality, office hours, or other social avenues.

By listening in on the conversations between your audience and your team members and between each other, you can glean invaluable information.

This process requires input from more than the people involved in engagement marketing. Make sure employees across the organization understand the marketing department’s goals concerning its presence on social media. 

This involves proper training for everyone in the organization so they embody the company’s mission and values. All employees should feel comfortable encouraging customer engagement and speaking to prospects in their networks.

Employees receive training on how to engage with their audience

To recap, here are a few do’s and don’ts to guide you as you build your engagement strategy:

DO meet your audience where they’re at

If customers like using Discord, be present on discord; if Twitter, post on Twitter. Wherever they’re active, join them.

DON’T just push content

Have at least one or more channels where you actively facilitate open, two-way communication.

DO use the tools at your disposal to foster genuine conversations

Investing in tech is expensive, so it should serve a purpose — namely, reaching your audience and nurturing your relationship with them. Leverage and monitor all the platforms and accounts where your company engages with its audience. Ensure you use your tools strategically rather than simply adding pieces without a plan.

DON’T think you have to create a community to engage your audience

Running a community is a full-time job, so consider carefully before you pursue this tactic. If it seems like the right option for your organization, invest in the people and resources necessary to build and scale an active, thriving community.

Curious how well your team handles engagement marketing? Find out by taking our short quiz.

See if you’re an engagement marketing pro. Take the assessment.

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