Neither is listening for that matter.  Marketers love to talk and Researchers love to listen.  We find all kinds of ways to say things in oh-so-perfect fashion and a zillion ways to quantify and qualify consumer behavior.  But guess what?  It’s not enough anymore.  We can no longer research consumer behavior and then come up with a brilliant, slick campaign to get people to buy from us and expect these to work on their own.  It’s just not enough anymore.  Of course, we must continue to do these things, but not in lieu of ENGAGING with our audience!  Engagement is the missing piece of the puzzle for many brands out there in the world.  Some of the most well-known and most respected brands are still not fully engaged with their consumers.  Why?

I think one of the biggest problems that we are facing in the Marketing world is the lack of commitment to true, ongoing engagement with consumers.  Many executives are hesitant to engage because they see it as a big commitment and one that can be a bit scary or uncontrollable.  But why are they scared?  Isn’t this exactly what they want?  Don’t we as Marketers want to establish that connection between our brands and our consumers?  It is not the goal to get the attention of our target consumers and encourage them to spread the word amongst their own spheres of influence?  Surely we should be embracing this and becoming part of the dialog as much as possible.

Maybe they think this is all just a passing phase.  Well guess what – things are not going to go back to the way they were.  Nope – we’ve come too far.  Consumer engagement is not a fad that will be a thing of the past in 2 years.  Technology has allowed information and opinions to spread at an incredible pace, and there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle.  Can you imagine online customer reviews being a thing of the past?  What about blogging – can you envision 3 years from now blogs being a joke?  Next year, could people decide that they no longer want to share videos and photos with each other online or connect with each other on social networks?  Of course not!  So what is stopping so many brands from doing what they need to do to fully engage their audience?

The PR departments of forward-thinking companies get it.  They know that they have to get down in the trenches with consumers and interact with them consistently.  Putting out releases is part of the equation, but instead of directing them specifically at media outlets, they must now be geared toward everyday consumers and bloggers who can run with the ball.  Instead of magazine editors or newspaper writers contacting them for information, consumers now expect this kind of access.  Denying them the ability to engage is as foolish as ignoring an author that wants to write a story about your brand in a respected publication.  Sending out information is only the first step – participation in the conversation that occurs as a result is the key to effectiveness.

Check out one of our clients who has recently embraced Social Media.  Zoo Atlanta took the first step by engaging on MySpace.  Less than a month into the program, there have been 2 big announcements that the Zoo has been discussing with its MySpace community.  Check out the blog entries and note the volume of comments in response.  This is a great example of how Social Media can work when you have people who are open to new ideas and are willing to dedicate the time to talk directly with their audience.  If a local non-profit organization can ‘get it’ and run with the ball, then other brands can too.  They just need the guidance to help find their way.