You can’t engineer engagement.

“I would raise up an effigy of the term brand alignment and burn it”.

This quote by Ian was featured on Interbrand’s website around the time that Brand Engagement was first published. A fairly provocative, but as it turned out, game changing statement.

Ian was reacting to what had, up to that point, been an accepted practice of developing brands in a so-called creative ivory tower and then policing them internally and externally by attempting to enforce employee and supplier compliance with the brand standards. It wasn’t very effective.

We’ve recently seen theoretical models, two by academics and a third by a lapsed engineer, professing to have reduced the creative brand management process to a sequence of clever models, thereby alleging to have bottled the behavioural brand magic. Again, nice try. But as anyone who has worked in the field for long enough knows, you can’t “manage” brand development in that way as you simply can’t engineer engagement.

Between us, we’ve had the pleasure of working with at least half of Interbrand’s Top 100 brands at one stage or another and, perhaps more importantly, have partnered with many more challenger brands down the years. We know that any brand engagement programme clearly needs to ensure that people processes like communication, performance management, recruitment et al are included and appropriately focused. But the involvement of people, two-way communication and consultation are absolutely vital.

Theories are often interesting, sometimes thought-provoking and occasionally useful. But as a battle-hardened general once said, the theories, models, plans and strategies “only last as long as the first engagement”. What is most important is flexibility, openness, actively seeking multiple stakeholder involvement and keeping an open mind. It requires confidence and maturity. But you can’t take a shortcut to experience.


8 thoughts on “You can’t engineer engagement.

  1. well, no, you can’t take a shortcut to experience, but having taken note of a path travelled unsuccessfully before can save a great deal of money and time. Not to mention prevent “initiative–itus” from bored and frusted employees who have seen it all before.
    I agree that flexibility is key – but presumably you have to have at least a general direction before you set off, and this is where all these tired old theories come in. I also agree that “alignment” in ANY connection with people should be consigned to the dustbin. Who in their right mind, other than managers who can’t manage people, would want all of their employees “aligned” – uniform, all the same?

    As for academics “bottling it” – you might try John Purcell at the University of Bath (or at least, he was), who’s done some pretty compelling work with financial institutions.

  2. I’m tired of people “theorising”. We need to see more action.
    Karen makes some good points…but I woudn’t look to an academic personally. FS clearly needs a revolution not a boffin, for example.
    I downloaded Brand Engagement on Kindle and it has some very useful case studies and it’s clear the author has been the at the front developing them. I’m afraid the “industry” of events etc that has sprung up around this space doesn’t do it any favours as it leaves an impression that the bar has been lowered, especially within I Comms.

    • Unless you’ve actually read some of the ground-breaking work of “boffin” John Purcell, whose ideas are being used in at least one large UK-based financial services institution, perhaps you shouldn’t be so hasty to dismiss?

      I also think that when the academics are invited in to organisations, this may well mean that the answers provided by others – including people who have suggested action first and thinking later – may not be enough.

  3. You’re as entitled to your opinion as the next person, Karen. But how’s your in-depth FS experience? Can you point to any positives?
    Speaking as someone who works for an FS co in fact one of those named by the US regulators today and has first hand experience of working with practiioners as well as a very well known academic, I’ll take the hands on experience before the theorising every time.
    The problems within FS cos don’t require rocket science to fix. Sadly, academics are sometimes invited by leaders too afraid to take the action required which is usually patently obvious after round after round of surveys and focus grps. But who said “action first and thinking later”? The point is we know what the issues are, we know how to put them right but are getting a little tired of the procrastination which is hurting the “little people” the most

  4. We set up this site to encourage healthy debate about the controversial issues of the day in the engagement space.
    So thanks for your contributions Jason, Karen and Richard.
    Good to see people taking the time and effort to put themselves and their opinions “out there”.
    Long may the dialogue continue.


    PS – the latest blog plays to your banking theme (see home page). Got a bit carried away with the Vietnam metaphors, but constantly stunned by “the horror”! Interested in your views.

  5. Pingback: You can’t engineer engagement. « Brand Engaged

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