Most of us in marketing associate the term “cluster” with a demographic or psychographic segment of consumers. But there is another kind of cluster that gets little discussed even though it can be much more determinative of a marketing effort’s success: engagement clusters.
Marketing doesn’t really revolve around demographic or psychographic clusters despite the considerable sums that companies spend to figure them out. They would likely get a better ROI from making larger investments in engagement cluster research.
So what is an information exchange cluster? It’s a micro environment within a total marketing program where providers and consumers engage in product-related communications.
The term “engagement” signifies what engagement clusters are all about. The first step in the marketplace for marketing to succeed is to secure the conscious, active engagement of customers – prospective and otherwise – in the product information stream. No sale is possible without this first step.
Information exchanges in engagement clusters take place at three information transfer points or nodes: people, places and things:
- · People
- · Places
- · Things (or means)
People. Information exchanges in engagement clusters occur between consumers, between consumers and product providers and between agencies of both consumers and companies. Consumer agencies include direct representatives of a consumer, such as an attorney, financial planner or concerned family member. Also, governmental regulatory bodies and news organizations function as agencies of consumers.
Places. Like Einstein’s special theory of relativity, engagement clusters have time-space elements that need to be taken into account. Places can be in three-dimensional reality, such as a point-of-sale environment in a commercial setting like a mall or in a person’s home. Places can also be virtual in the sense that they have no corporeal substance. Websites, blogs, social networking sites and forums are examples of virtual places that can exist within an engagement cluster.
The timing of invitations to consumers to participate in an engagement cluster can be critical. To express this idea in caricature, it certainly makes no sense to run an ad for Christmas just as Easter is just over the time horizon, or to have characters in a summertime ad in wintry dress.
Time also needs to be considered in the abstract. For example, in marketing housing and care services to seniors, any sense on the part of consumers that they have a need for such typically lies dormant until they experience a health set-back.
Things. These nodes facilitate or catalyze information exchanges. They include advertisements, news articles, and consumer rating systems such as Amazon’s product reviews by consumers. They also include technological artifacts as simple as a “FORWARD” command on an email client or a hot link to a website.
Marketing has traditionally been mostly executed in the format of a monologue which renders consumers as passive participants in the information exchange process. In fact, most marketing still remains a unidirectional information delivery process despite consumers’ growing perceptions that one-way marketing communications reflect marketers’ desires to manipulate consumers’ minds.
The need to accommodate consumers’ growing resistance to the unidirectional information streams of traditional marketing has magnified the importance of giving attention to engagement clusters because this is where buying decisions are conceived, gestate and are born.
In the next post I will give attention to what you can do to increase the intensity of the dialogue that takes place within engagement clusters that form around your product.