Ready, Set, Engage: Part II of "40 Ways to Engage"
In a previous post I described how a team of researchers at Northwestern have developed a set of 40 “experiences” that define how audiences engage with content. In that post, I explained how the experience lens helps to focus your organization on the audience (as opposed to your product).
In their book, Medill on Media Engagement, Medill staff delve into engagement techniques involving many of the experiences they identified. (Some of the experiences include community connection, co-producing, entertainment and diversion, feel-good, identity, inspiration, makes me smarter, talk about and share, and utilitarian.)
Once you’ve identified the experiences you want to provide for your audiences, they should guide virtually all your content decisions, in any platform. So how do you start to adopt this model?
Develop your concept. The concept is similar to a positioning statement, writes Bobby Calder, one of the contributors to Medill on Media Engagement. Ultimately the concept must be based on consumer research, but the first draft can be produced without it. Check out the catalog of experiences developed by Medill (in the appendix of their book or in this article) and think about what experiences fit well with your brand. A few tips on building your concept:
The concept should reach for “a handful of targeted experiences,” the Medill team says, not just one. For example, Harvard Business Review is an “Identity” experience in that it identifies the reader as a business leader, but it’s also Utilitarian. Another: A lot of “lad mags” combine entertainment and utility.
The concept should be strongly differentiated from competing brands’ content in much the same way that, say Rolling Stone is distinct from Spin.
The concept should broad enough that it doesn’t pin your content to a particular platform or design style.
Do your research. This is about subjective experiences, so you’ll want to go face-to-face, at least in the early stages. In an interview, Medill Professor Edward C. Malthouse suggested doing in-depth interviews with your audience. As you refine your concept, you can move on to focus groups and surveys. What experiences is your desired audience seeking? How does this jibe with what experiences you are providing, or attempting to provide? (Though I enjoyed the book, it was a bit scant on the question of how to conduct research.)
Refine your concept, shape your content, and repeat. Finalize your concept. Use it to shape your content in every incarnation. Then go back to your audience to see if your content is doing a good (or better) job at evoking the experiences desired.
Meanwhile, of course, you’ll be tracking whether this approach is effective at growing an audience and achieving conversions. A study by Malthouse and Calder found that stronger experiences were associated with more effective advertising, and Malthouse told me it’s also correlated with other behavioral outcomes, like viewing frequency.
The Medill research focused on consumer media (and especially newspapers), but there’s much to be learned here from brands. In a world where branded content must increasingly compete with the consumer (and user-generated) kind, audience-centered approaches are the way to go.
Richard Sine writes about business, personal finance and health for magazines and content marketers. He writes regularly for Men’s Health magazine and for brands such as Fidelity Investments, UPS and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.