Recently, I’m reading more and more that we need to move from experiences to engagement. According to some folks, experiences are passive while engagements are active and therefore better. I believe that this notion is fundamentally flawed and suggests some confusion about what those two actually do.
On its face, engagement doesn’t mean much. We can engage all day long, but does anything actually happen? The gold standard for engagement are still online communities and comment sections. Have you recently looked at a typical CNN comment section? Shouting, insults and hatemongering; everything but a thoughtful discourse. I’m certainly engaged, but I’m also stressed the hell out once I’m done. Of course, there are plenty of positive examples, like Coke’s amazing Chok! Chok! Chok! campaign in Hong Kong. But what made the campaign so successful? Was it engagement or experience? Probably both. People could have engaged by simply shaking their phone. But what made the campaign so successful was all the other stuff: Kids met with their friends to shake phones together. Families hosted parties leading up to the 10pm TV ads. And most importantly, it was a completely novel, well, experience.
So, what exactly is an experience? In theory, it’s simply an event we encounter. But in reality, experiences are events that create emotional reactions, events that create memories. From a branding perspective, we can assume that, maybe with the exception of Ryanair, we all strive to create positive experiences. In other words, we are creating positive memories associated with our brand. In doing so, brands become active agents in people’s lives. On a philosophical level, this means a lot to me, since I usually care about the products I’m working on. Conveniently, it also means that people want to come back to your product.
To sum things up, I’m not arguing that engagement is bad. Nope, it’s great! But in order to be effective, the engagement should be a positive experience. For me, the goal is always that customers walk away with a smile. It’s like the frosting on top of the cake. Or in my case, the oh so delicious spicy sauce on top of the chicken.