Our Blog

Edicts of Engagement Marketing, Part I

By Snap Agency May 15, 2014

A shared journey towards engagement marketing. Part 1.


Of all the marketing books I’ve thrown out over the last few decades, Ries & Trout’s 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing was the last to go. In fact, I’ve still got an electronic copy of it on my phone. It’s one of those few business books that actually connected, and more importantly –engaged me. That particular book was full of clear reasoning and backed-up each ‘law’ with plenty of interesting, real-world examples.

Having just reread it recently, and the follow-up 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, I began to compare the tone of these titles with other business books that have kept my attention over the years. Many of the titles I have read usually claim that traditional ways of doing business are dead, and thus the need to buy their book and adapt to the topic at hand and new slew of acronyms and catchphrases. Some of the books I’ve been recommended over time, others were mandatory reads: ReworkThe Tipping PointFull-frontal PRand Creating Customer Evangelists.

rework sketch notes
Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

While all of  these popular books had useful advice, it’s the philosophy of 22 Immutable Laws that lasted beyond the latest trends and technology buzzwords. Even with the now dated examples, I think the laws still stand the test of time. The purpose of this and future blogs is to codify a few of my thoughts on marketing engagement, and hopefully provide some fun, engaging examples.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, and in typical business-book fashion, the 22 Laws of Internet Branding claim that the traditional marketing methods no longer work, and all the world is now branding. A similar statement comes from Gamification by Design: as engagement scores “…move toward more peer-to-peer , viral, and social marketing environment, traditional brand marketing isn’t working anymore.” Engagement, User Experience, and Loyalty strategies now seem to be one of the key pursuits of businesses.

If the landscape of marketing in general is truly changing towards user experience and engagement philosophies, it made me yearn for an “Immutable Laws of Engagement”. If there was such a work, what would these ‘laws’ be? I started flipping through some of those business books that engaged me, primarily “Rework”, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. This particular book was incredibly engaging to me and authored by proven, successful pioneers in the new digital age.

However, while I really wanted to believe I could make a dent in the universe by ignoring the real world and working 10 hours a week from a bean-bag chair, it simply wasn’t in the cards. Incidentally, one of the chapters that stuck with me was the chapter of the book titled “Reasons to Quit”. This particular chapter asks a few basic questions: Why are you doing this? What problem are you solving? Is this actually useful?

Deep stuff. Take a step outside the monotony of work-tasks you perform on a daily basis and ask yourself a few of these questions. Those simple questions always remind me of my better college classes that referenced Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”. If you’re not familiar with the hierarchy, I’ll save you a Google search. Basically, after we have food and clothing, a safe environment, and surround ourselves with people that don’t drive us nuts, there comes a top-level of “self-actualization”. This is the “deep stuff’ I was mentioning. The relevance always changed a bit, depending how you ended up in the class, be it to psychology, marketing, or project management. Ultimately, what I took from it has always been: Did my life have meaning?

When I started thinking about if my life had meaning, as far as work was concerned, I thought a bit about my current situation and past jobs. I feel I’m one of the lucky ones. My marriage, 401K, and mortgage survived the latest recession. My jobs, however, have been a different story. I spent a long, wonderful time in the video game industry. It was fantastic. It wasn’t work. I would come in on my days off. My bank account starting having thousands rather than hundreds of dollars, I no longer needed roommates, and I bought my first house in a beautiful suburb less than a mile from work. Everyone was interested in what I did, and how I did it. I felt like a rock star in an industry that provided meaningful entertainment for millions.

Then it ended.

I was lucky enough to get a job teaching college courses focusing on interactive media, even without a master’s degree, due to my industry experience. If you are trying out to figure out if your life has meaning, I recommend teaching. You will find out quickly if you care, and how to care. Ultimately, teaching (more importantly, sharing, as we will see) is a position that can give your life meaning, even if you reach a only few students.

Then it ended again.

When I look back on my career choices, I wonder if it’s better to have had it all and lost it, or to never have had it at all. Perhaps I should have taken a more responsible career path, something more recession-proof. After 400+ resumes were sent into the black-hole of web space, I finally feel like my life is back on track to being meaningful. Even before my first day at Snap, I remember reading through my manager’s email, outlining the goals of our first meeting. Could it be here was an individual like myself that had wasted too many hours in meetings and finally decided to do something about it by defining something as simple as a goal? Another kindred spirit asking: Why we are doing this? What problems we are solving? I was engaged. All because of defining a goal – a traditional game mechanic used to engage players interestingly enough.

Enough about whether my life was meaningful. It’s not over yet! Back to engagement marketing…


Everything is marketing.

According to ReWork, everyone is in the marketing department. I love that concept, because I’ve always believed it’s the way it is. Every image, word, email, logo, phone call, hair cut, pair of shoes, and the clothing of your team wears is marketing and branding your company -like it or not. These impressions represent both you and the culture of your company. I’ve seen a lot of companies that talk culture, but have learned company culture is action, not words. Even though we have a Foosball and ping-pong table at the Snap offices, inevitably, it ended up being at the local bar where I discovered a bit of real culture – and that it comes from engaged sharing.

My first day at Snap ended around 4:00pm and we went to the local bar. I was intrigued. Here was a company that actually stood behind one of the bullet points on the wall about “balancing work and life”. I was fortunate enough to meet some great coworkers, hear about their interests outside of work, and feel like a human being connected with creative people again. That night, I had a discussion with my coworker Brooks who said the most important asset he had when meeting with potential clients is clarity. Again, I’m engaged. I’ve spent half my life translating “nerd-speak” to people. Technical jargon quickly becomes lost on people. Maintaining clarity and defining goals are good places to start when you are trying to engage your clients. I’ll use this blog as a chance for me to develop some very simple engagement techniques to the more complex. In an era of information overload and fatigue, let’s hope I can maintain some clarity and provide an engaging tidbit or two.

A quick overview before my first example. When I was a marketing manager, during the early days of the World Wide Web, my boss was under the impression we did not need a marketing budget and that PR and our website’s forums would do a more effective job, and for ‘free’. He wanted an engaging campaign for the game Tropico, where you play a pirate king on an island. Finding treasure was a big part of that game. So, for the marketing, what I came up with was a simple word-hunt on the webpage. Be the first to find the hidden message and get a free game. Site visits and forum participation skyrocketed to over 2000%. All because of a little hide & seek game theory. You’ll need a mouse, but let’s see if you can find the hidden word in this sentence:

Your customers will love trying to find the hidden word in this sentence for super coupon deals!

Did you find it?

Were you motivated to try the word-hunt? Was the challenge clear? Was it mildly engaging? How about fun? Before I delve into discussing fun, I think I would like to nail down a couple of edicts of my own.

Clarity is necessary for engagement. Your customers typically need to know what they are doing as defined by rules & procedures. Is it meaningful? I suppose if it accomplishes some pre-defined goal. I could pretend to be an expert, outline a cool-looking info-graphic and categorize human motivational concepts and how they are related to game-mechanics. I could quote the numerous books written by academics and industry insiders who have never made fun games, but my first rule of game design wouldn’t like that very much, since my first rule is to throw all that stuff out. I believe that fun interaction always comes from the same place: boredom.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type=”in_container” bg_position=”left top” bg_repeat=”no-repeat” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” top_padding=”20″ bottom_padding=”20″][vc_column width=”1/1″ enable_animation=”true” animation=”fade-in-from-left” delay=”50″ centered_text=”true” column_padding=”padding-2-percent” background_color=”#69c9ce” background_color_opacity=”0.4″][vc_column_text]Edict 1: Clarity. Your clients have to know what’s expected of them, and…[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type=”in_container” bg_position=”left top” bg_repeat=”no-repeat” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” top_padding=”20″ bottom_padding=”20″][vc_column width=”1/1″ enable_animation=”true” animation=”fade-in-from-right” delay=”150″ centered_text=”true” column_padding=”padding-2-percent” background_color=”#69c9ce” background_color_opacity=”0.4″][vc_column_text]Edict 2: Meaningful. What they hope to gain from the experience.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Ralph Koster has an interesting view on defining what activities we consider fun in his book: A Theory of Fun. Basically, we need an element of recognizable pattern recognition to make our activities fun, or at least interesting. Once we find that hidden word, or meaning, we quit. The game becomes boring, and it’s time for new designs. But who’s qualified to design? And furthermore, does the demographic matter?

Things that were fun to me may not be so fun to this Millennial crowd. Younger generations, it seems, prefer young generations to entertain them. I used to be a funny guy people liked being around. Then I got older, balder, and a bit wider. I wonder if I could entertain or even still make sense, to people in their young 20s. I’ve spent a lot of classroom time with the millennial generation while I was in my 30s. I was consistently liked and well-reviewed -so there is hope! I’ve even read through a plethora of articles about this demographic ranging from “The Teamwork Generation” to the “Me Me Me Generation” just to see what marketing attributes were being tagged on this group as a whole. During my lectures on interactive design, I would always state that students will be designing for the market, not themselves. Now, I’m not so sure this is good advice. In fact, this attitude is antithetical to Rewrites’ “scratch your own itch” mentality of designing for your needs, rather than your clients, and learning to say no to your clients.

As a child from the 80s, I understand the pursuit of wealth. Movies like Wall Street pinned Gordon Gekko as a hero, not a villain, to the new yuppie contingent. We were also surrounded by plenty of teen disillusionment and angst. Until computers came, not much outside games and music interested me. I was willing to do whatever it took to get my hands on them, including taking physics a year early since that was the only department that had a computer. As life moved on, my interests in computers only grew – and my pursuit of money dwindled. I found myself working pro-bono many times just because I was a nice guy that was helping people figure out email and the internet. My god, I even got paid once!

The last two paragraphs tie in to the design of “fun & free for all”. One of the more shocking chapters of Rewrite is the advice on emulating drug dealers and giving away your product. We have seen an explosion of this mentality in the ‘freemium’ model of games out there now as well as the open-source philosophy of software design. In the freemium model, there are a large pool of non-paying players at the top, followed by an increasing engaged level of players that may pay thousands per month for the experience. A philosophy that aligns a player’s interests, using game mechanics and rewards will lead to customer loyalty -and ultimately, long-term revenue. I would be curious to how some of the musicians that adopted this model are faring -many of whom are giving entire albums (or whatever you call them now) of music away for free.

Now who’s qualified? You are. Any parent that has made a game to get their child to behave or eat yucky food is qualified. Anyone bored or creative enough can make an engaging activity.

For engagement, we are looking for a connection across any demographic. For fun, we are looking for pattern recognition. And using our new edicts on clarity and meaning, maybe we can even discover some techniques for building a loyal, engaged customer base for free. Please share some ideas. After all, writing is today’s currency for good ideas!

Tell us what you think about part one of Edicts of Engagement Marketing in the comments section, and make sure to stay tuned for part two!