by William Ng | November 14, 2011
Apple is perhaps the greatest, most visible example of a fully engaged company, with hyper-loyal employees and millions of worldwide customers and fans who live and breathe the Cult of Mac—not to mention iPhone, iPad, and iPod. The world’s most famous tech company virtually wrote the book on 360-degree enterprise engagement, and companies strive for its success. 

The most pioneering and special companies notwithstanding, corporations are putting more holistic engagement and marketing strategies into action, looking to reignite employee dedication while sparking customer satisfaction in the challenging hiring and business environment. Many are concentrating on the influence of employee impact on consumer and channel partner relationships and linking it to financial results. Read Incentive’s November/December cover story on 360-degree enterprise engagement here.

The potential of enterprise engagement is also causing industry suppliers to remake and reposition themselves. “The challenge of our industry is that we’ve become specialists in so many niches,” notes Dave Peer, executive vice president of Chicago-based Hinda Incentives. “There are companies focused on employee recognition and others on just the rewards. Another supplier might be focused on wellness, yet another on safety. It’s difficult to pull out of niches.”

But industry houses like Des Moines, IA-based ITAGroup and Minneapolis-based MotivAction now intend to serve clients as engagement companies. “We went through a rebranding about a year ago, when we decided to position ourselves as a company that helps clients drive loyalty among employees, the sales channel, and customers,” says ITAGroup’s Beth Schelske, vice president of client services. “We feel if a company stays focused on all these three areas, it will be more successful in an economy like this.”

“We’re now focused on changing behavior across an organization—employees, channel, consumers—providing clients with strategies that impact all three,” says Beau Ballin, director of marketing at MotivAction, which now bills itself as a performance improvement company. “We’re taking a holistic approach.” The technology products MotivAction has recently introduced in support of its engagement services is based on an enterprise-capable platform so that the firm can collate data from employee, channel, and end-user programs, analyze the streams as a whole, and steer organizational decisions for its clients. 

New York-based EGR International has undergone an even more radical transformation, focusing on relationship-building campaigns with its clients’ customers, employees, and channel partners over engaging them through the conventional reward-recognition model. “To engage someone, it takes more than awards,” President Jeff Grisamore asserts, noting, “it’s asking to be partners and providing ideas, resources, and tools for them to work more effectively.”

Grismore says an EGR International-designed engagement program for a plumbing supply sales channel, for example, might not necessarily use awards but instead might give salespeople intelligence on housing starts and renovation trends so that they can sell more innovatively. “Our programs are ‘intimacy campaigns’ based on communications rather than on the incentive mindset.”

Along a similar vein, Patty Saari, vice president of clients services at Minneapolis-based Aimia (formerly known as Carlson Marketing), says the company has a manufacturing client that has been engaging its channel partners, which are small-business owners, by providing business and networking tools in addition to improved product training. “The distributors realize that the manufacturer is looking out for them in a holistic sense and not just for them to sell more products,” she says. “The client is strengthening relationships with its distribution channel.”

To that end, Aimia has expanded its proprietary Event RSx (Relationship Strength Index), which had been a customer-loyalty metric. A tool to help clients gauge employee and channel relationships, Event RSx is applied with Aimia-designed marketing programs and recognition and incentive events, and it is based on a 12-question survey to determine trust, alignment, and commitment. “The heads of HR, sales, and marketing are looking at their own indices, but at the board table, I speculate they’re looking in aggregate—identifying trends—to move the needle in the right direction across the board,” says Saari.

Hinda’s Peer is encouraged by various efforts in the industry but cautions against enterprise engagement turning into another flavor-of-the-month strategy offered by suppliers. But he says it is a logical concept that is gaining corporate backing and may be entering its time and deserves more analyses. “It will take a concerted effort among suppliers in the industry to prove its benefits, or we will go on to the next flavor of the day,” Saari agrees.

But Jim Dittman, president of New Brunswick, NJ-based Dittman Incentive Marketing, notes, “We’ve been practicing things for years that are now being called engagement. It shouldn’t affect us except for just how we think of ourselves.” To which Saari also agrees: “The constituents of enterprise engagement have always been with us.”

“We have to go in at the CEO or CFO level and make a compelling argument. We can’t go in talking about fulfilling merchandise,” says ITAGroup’s Schelske, who adds, “but there’s much research on it, and the [Enterprise Engagement Alliance] is at the forefront.”

Dittman adds: “If you go into a company and talk to senior management about engagement, the one challenge for them is pulling together their inventory of programs from different divisions and business units. They’re always astonished by the ways they’re spending money with little accountability. The stumbling block is who is going to be the owner of all this.”