Recently my colleague and I walked into a restaurant, but it was not what we wanted. So we walked out.
Simple story, right?
Except it’s not. Walking out of a restaurant is actually really hard.
Especially a nice restaurant. And we walked out of a very nice restaurant.
Let’s look at it in detail…
We walked in not knowing what to expect. It was atmospheric with soft, romantic music and low lighting. There couldn’t have been more than eight people there, including us and the wait staff. Everybody saw us; we could feel their eyes on us. The host walked us literally across the restaurant to the opposite corner from the entrance.
But we were not the right customers. We were underdressed, and looking to spend at a different price point than the menu showed us.
It was quiet, and we had to whisper our exit strategy. My colleague put his phone to his ear and began muttering distress phrases. We stood up just as the waitress arrived. The look on her face changed instantly from hope to despair. I mumbled something about an emergency and we hurried out, past the host who had sat us at the table moments ago.
Just imagine how awkward it was. But we did it.
Now, imagine how easy it is to leave a web page. You don’t have to deal with feeling embarrassed or seeing the disappointment on someone else’s face. All it takes is a click. It’s really, really easy to leave a web page.
And really, are a restaurant and a website so very different? It takes a lot of effort to get customers to go to either one of those.
If you’re the restaurateur and you see two potential customers walk in, look at your menu and walk out again, well, that’s got to be frustrating.
But it’s the same feeling you should be getting when you see your landing page offer up a near-100% bounce rate and no conversions. You’re paying money to send traffic to your site, but they are not the right customers.
On top of that, you’re likely producing a negative impression of your brand, and very likely losing that potential customer for good.
And it happens extremely quickly.
In less time than it takes to inhale and exhale, you could pay for a click on an ad AND lose a customer forever. That’s a lot of money lost in just one breath.
So how do you stop wasting money on ads? How do you get the right customers?
That’s where engagement matters.
The High Five
It’s true, “engagement” is a nebulous marketing term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
It’s so important—marketers everywhere say it’s so important—but what is it, truly?
It can be summed up pretty easily. You raise your hand, and somebody slaps you a high five. That’s engagement. You raise your hand, and everybody stares blankly without moving. That’s NOT engagement.
You want the high five. The high five is the mutual agreement that what’s happening is good. The high five has as much value for the other party as it does for you. That’s engagement, and your advertising needs it in order to bring in business.
…How do you get the high five?
Start From the End
Some marketers stress the importance of understanding your customer persona as a simple diagram. What they tend to ignore is the time element. Over time, that customer persona has a story to tell. When you figure out your advertising, think of it as a story and start from the end.
What do you want your site visitor to do at the end of their customer journey? Start there.
Let’s say you want more leads, so you want your site visitor to fill out the form and give you their name and email address.
That’s one engagement point: filling out the form.
How do you get them to fill out the form? Communicate exactly what they’ll get if they do. If they give you something, you’ll give them something.
That’s another engagement point: understanding the trade and agreeing.
How are they going to find the form? PPC ads in search? Display ads?
That’s another engagement point: clicking to your site.
Why would they click to your site? They must be expecting something.
That’s another engagement point: messaging. (This might, in fact, be the first engagement point.)
So their journey looks like this: encounter ad for something they think they might want; click on ad; decide to accept the offer; fill out the form and click “submit.”
Simple story, right?
Except it’s not. Creating that journey is actually really hard.
But it can be done.
You want the right customers, right? Then target them.
It’s easier to engage a friend than a stranger. If your customers are strangers, that’s okay—they have things in common with your friends.
The right customer is familiar. And what is familiar can be engaged.
What would make the right customer take notice of your offer? Let your initial message be short and sweet. Don’t be intrusive, just get their attention. If you make yourself familiar, you’ll keep their attention. If they are the right customer, their curiosity will entice them to click.
Targeting customers produces engagement.
Of course, “targeting” is one of those catch-all marketing phrases, too.
What is it, exactly? Geography. Demographic. Psychographic. Sex. Age. Income. Market affinity. A lot else. Basically, anything that can distinguish one anonymous person from another.
The more specifically you can define “the right customer,” the easier it’ll be to target them.
Engagement is interest translated into action.
Action, then, is a sign of interest. Target the right customer with a call to action, they’ll respond with action. That’s how you know they’re interested.
Some visitors just won’t convert. But when you target the right customers, you improve your odds that they will.
Paid search comes in many forms—Pay Per Click on search engines, social media advertising, display advertising, remarketing, etc.
Once you’ve figured out what audience you want to target, the next thing you need to understand is where they are in their journey, and what they may be doing when they see your ad. The context of your ads is just as important as the content of your landing page.
For example, if you’re running PPC ads in a search network, you’re likely to encounter potential customers when they’re searching for something they want. They are highly interested and actively seeking something. If you create messaging based on what they want—and you create your offer to match it—you’ll find conversions come much more easily.
In search, you know it’s what they want because it’s what they’re searching for. Follow your everyday best practices for PPC and you should be well on your way to a solid connection.
However, if you use ad copy that says one thing but your offer is a different thing, that’s a bad user experience…and a lost customer. And lost money up front, too, because you paid for them to click over there.
Attracting visitors with display ads is harder, since they aren’t in a searching mode. Very likely, they are thinking about something totally unrelated when they come across your ad. But, again, if your messaging is enticing and your offer is clear, they will click over if it’s what they want. (Display also has a more lasting effect due to its visual nature, so the effect can be delayed.)
In other words: engagement is affected by context. What they’re doing before visiting your website is part of the customer journey, because their timeline is continuous.
If you’re working with an advertising agency, ask them about the context where your ads appear. You may need to change your strategy!
A Complete Story
Engagement—that wonderful, vague term—is not just one point on the customer journey. Engagement is about the entire journey.
If you have something to offer potential customers, you have to communicate that to them. They have to be receptive. They have to be interested. They have to want to trade with your business.
Marketers go on and on about the importance of storytelling. There’s a good reason for that. Stories are engaging. Strangers don’t tell stories—friends tell stories.
Stories activate the imagination. When our brains are lit up, we take actions.
The nice thing about digital marketing is that almost every single action is trackable.
There are hosts of data points and performance indicators one can use to measure engagement (bounce rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and so on). But every business is unique, and so every advertising campaign is unique. Every trackable metric should be specific to that business’s customer journey.
If you pay for online advertising, you’re going to get site visitors. Make it worth your while. Pay for interested visitors. Don’t pay for accidental visitors who’ll just leave right away.
Turn it into a story. Our brains are hardwired for stories.
Consider the customer journey as a series of trackable actions, and you can design their story for maximum engagement.
How did my colleague and I come to a restaurant that we immediately left?
Part of that was on us; we could have used Yelp more smartly. We should have done a more specific search than “Restaurants,” and we should have filtered results down by price. We could have looked at the organic search results on Yelp instead of the paid ads.
But at the end of the day, we clicked on their ad and we thought it would be one way, when in fact it was another way. They targeted the wrong customers. They paid for accidental visitors. Money lost because we clicked on their ads, customers lost forever because, wow, walking out of a restaurant is awkward and we are never going back there.
If you’re going to advertise online, you’ve got to target your customers specifically, advertise in the right context, and produce an effective customer story.
If you don’t do these things, you’ll pay for accidental traffic.
But if you do, you will see your business soar.
Talk to your digital marketing agency. Describe the right customers to them. Collaborate on a series of actions your customers would take to go from visitor to conversion.
Disclaimer: All images are provided by author.