When we really sit down and start to think about digital engagement, it probably feels like a complex and daunting exercise. But when consumers are using more devices than ever before, across more channels than we could even fathom just a short 10 years ago, it's critical that marketers pause and ask themselves and their teams one simple question: How can we better engage our customers? There's no magical solution to engagement, but you can take concrete steps to crafting a strategy that works. Here are five actions that brands and companies can take to create an engagement strategy that not only aligns with business objectives but also provides a willing marketing team with a road map for success. 1. Write a customer-engagement manifesto Marketers have heard the message loud and clear that using Big Data and creating personalized experiences is an imperative. But many struggle to articulate their goals. A critical step for any champion, thought leader, or tiger team is to sit down and agree on a series of principles by which they'll govern and build an engagement strategy. Coca-Cola's Content 2020 Manifesto remains a standout example. Check out Part 1 and Part 2, bearing in mind that you need not strive to those production levels in order to be successful. The path won't be the same for every business, but make sure you answer this question: What does customer engagement mean to our business? "Engagement" is not another checkbox, and brands do well when they define, in advance, the types of interaction they want to have with their customers. What works for one brand may not work for another, and different verticals and demographics present even more variables for how customers may interact. 2. Define your key use cases and determine a starting point When you're building an engagement strategy, it must start with business impacts. First ask, "If we knew more about our customers, what could we do better than we do today?" Then ask, "What exactly do we need to do to get that data, so we can start doing those things better?" Make a list and prioritize it. Even if your list is long—which it will likely be—start by selecting a few key use cases to start in order to keep the project manageable and clear-cut. Do you need to overhaul a key digital experience? Find ways to get your customers to create content and provide feedback? Auditing the landscape of possibilities is the first step in creating a plan, and this exercise is also useful for gaining alignment internally and setting expectations for higher-ups. 3. Define the path to value over 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months As with any initiative that affects how you interact with customers, you must have a clear plan for how and when the organization—and your customers—will see value from the efforts. This step is important not only for internal evangelism but also for getting customer buy-in. For example, if your engagement strategy includes deploying a new technology on a digital property—such as social login and registration for collecting richer data—be prepared to explain to your customers what the benefits are for them (in this case, the benefits of sharing their data with you). Organizations must also look at value as something that evolves and grows over time. Consider how engagement makes an immediate, short-term, and long-term impact on your business, and define metrics that make sense to the broader organization. 4. Map your engagement ecosystem The marketing technology landscape is simply huge. Real engagement often requires a few tools, and both technology and marketing leadership must work together to define an ecosystem for engagement that is sustainable, scalable, and, ultimately, cost-effective. Use your key use cases to support this process. You may even discover a few scenarios where you might retire legacy tools in favor of newer technologies with broader capabilities. You may also discover new ways to use existing tools, such as email marketing platforms or content management systems, now that you've developed a strategy for obtaining useful customer data. 5. Engage the internal organization At this point, we should have enough information to begin the process of building internal evangelism for prioritizing customer engagement. Don't leave objection-handling to your vendors, and certainly don't slow your project in the middle of execution by having to explain to stakeholders why you're even doing it in the first place. * * * Let's also not pretend all this work is easy. These actions, however, are achievable: We have plenty of brands to look to that are in various stages of this journey. Look to My Coke Rewards, Kraft Recipes, Starbucks Rewards, Marsh Supermarket's App, and Smart Furniture's Furniture Genius for examples of brands large and small that are delivering on the promise of better customer engagement.