Nick Morris, founder of behavioural insights agency Canvas8, gives an exclusive insight into the ultimate definition of engagement

Over the past 12 months, engagement has become shorthand for the broader concept of deep audience connection. But exactly what that is and what causes it hasn’t been analysed – until now.

We were contacted by Weber Shandwick, who were putting together a multi-faceted initiative to unravel the DNA of engagement to better understand the ‘engagement footprints’ left by businesses and brands on their audiences. With this information, they could then start to optimise their clients’ communications to reflect that.

To investigate, we brought together a panel of world-class experts – the anthropologist Dr Grant McCracken, the psychologist Dr Olivier Oullier and the neuroscientist Dr Thomas Ramsøy. During the research, we decoded their insights into ten Principles of Engagement. These Principles are incredibly important for brands and businesses as they underpin engagement across all industries, regardless of sector or geography.
For the first time, we have a report that brings a level of science to communications strategy. We now have the capability to start to apply sociological, psychological and neurological lessons and understandings to businesses – and, looking forward, it can
become the basis of a scientific diagnostic tool.

Here are the first two of the ten Principles of Engagement. For the complete article, read the new issue of ‘Open’, the magazine from the CMA, or download the full report here.

1. Engagement is a finite resource, not an infinite commodity
Engagement with one thing is always at the expense of another. Attention and effort are limited. Paying attention requires a small cost, while interaction or participation demand a much higher cost. Brands must be realistic about what they want from people and clear in communicating what people can expect in return.
Different environments pose different challenges for engagement – whether at home or on-the-go, alone or with friends, at night or in the morning. Knowledge of these factors will help brands identify the most relevant and opportune moments for engagement.

2. Engagement requires reciprocity
Engagement costs people time, effort and energy. The brain processes this cost in relation to the expected reward. Those seeking a suitably high engagement must offer a high return. This can be a tangible reward, such as a voucher, but can also be a softer, more long-term one, such as a sense of belonging, self-actualisation or status.
Softer rewards are adaptable, allowing audiences to serve their personal needs. This requires an understanding of the common ground between the individual’s goals and the brand’s goals.

• For the full article, outlining the 10 Principles of Engagement, read the new issue of ‘Open', the magazine from the CMA. To request a copy email

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Posted in CMA blog
8thNov 2012

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