Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

Gary Shandling once observed, “I’m dating a woman who evidently is unaware of it.” Is this happening to your business or organization? It could be.

Among certain circles I’m known as a matchmaker. While I don’t set people up on dates, and I’m certainly not responsible for any marriages that I’m aware of, I do know how to facilitate meaningful engagements.

Did you know that one of the most effective ways to market your business or organization is to focus on engagement? Seems simple, but many overlook the importance of relationship building, or building engagement. Sure, it takes time, but the benefits are worth the effort.

I frequently use the metaphor of dating, and eventually marrying your true love, when discussing this topic. Most people don’t just wake up one day and decide to propose to someone. If they do, they will likely experience a rude awakening. Courtship, like any worthwhile relationship building activity, depends upon learning what makes the object of your desire tick. What do they like? What are their dislikes, their favorite foods, or movies? What do you have in common? What may be potential deal breakers? All of this predicts how likely you are to form a bond that will last over time. Failure to lay the groundwork will likely result in a broken heart.

The same holds true in business. Marketing communication, at its heart, it about connecting with others and forming a lasting attachment. Customers and clients who appreciate and get what you are about will be loyal and enthusiastic about doing business with you. They are more likely to tell others about you and their experiences with you. This results in success for both you and your key target audiences, or a match made in heaven.

Effective engagement is when a brand or business and a consumer connect. It’s a marketing strategy that directly engages consumers and invites and encourages them to participate in the evolution of business or organization’s experience. It’s somewhat aspirational and rather than looking at consumers as passive receivers of messages, engagement marketers believe that consumers should be actively involved in the development and creation of marketing programs, thus developing a relationship and forming a bond. It’s completely collaborative in nature.

Begin by considering your goals and resources. Next add a big dose of creativity. Then visualize what you provide, and why others need it. This is what you bring to the table. What does your target want and value? Why? What will make them come back for more? Don’t assume that you know the answers without listening and involvement. That is what brings them to the table.

I see this commonly when working with clients who wish to raise capital. Knowing why someone may wish to make a donation is required when building the mutual trust necessary to be successful in this arena. Not every potential contributor will be interested in every organization. You must understand what they desire from the relationship. The same factors are at play when approaching potential customers or clients. A keen understanding of these dynamics leads to greater success in the long run.

What do know about your customers, clients or donors? How can you play a valuable role in their lives? Knowing the answer to these, and many other insightful questions, will get you started. Now, more than ever, people want to associate with those that are making a meaningful impact. But remember, what that looks like is different for different people. Therefore, blanket approaches won’t work.

Don’t assume you’re in a relationship without doing the homework. The goal is to be engaged.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising.  She may be reached at 303-651-6612; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or LinkedIn.

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