Eagerly anticipating the copious food and endlessly flowing wine at the recent European Marketing Academy (EMAC) conference in Ljubljana, I knew I was in trouble when they first shuttled everyone into an auditorium and presented some local flavor in the form of a Slovenian playing what was proclaimed as a '6,000 year old whistle.'  Miles Davis he was not, but then I imagine there's not much you can do with a 6,000 year old whistle except to marvel that anything 6,000 years old can still carry a tune.  The whistler was followed by a representative of the global management consulting firm, McKinsey&Company, who began with a breakthrough discovery:  "Consumers are more connected than ever before in history."  Really?  I didn't know that.  For the next 20 minutes, the audience was presented with an oratory about what a great company McKinsey is, which I am sure is very, very true.  But as stomachs started growling, I think quite a few attendees had come to the conclusion that if we weren't yet going to be fed, then it would be better to get that 6,000 year old whistle back on the stage.  Anything but more McKinsey self-plaudits.  Better to get off the stage and get back to issuing pithy and terse reports, like its May 2011 Consumer and Shopper Insights paper on consumer engagement, penned by David Edelman, Patricia Ellen, and Christoph Erbenich, available at this link.  

To make a long story short, McKinsey developed a "Consumer Decision Journey" (CDJ) model in 2009, which incorporates four steps that organizations can follow to engage consumers at each step of the consumer journey from the initial purchasing consideration to the creation of brand loyals: Align, Link, Lock, and Loop.

ALIGN:  Invest marketing resources where consumers spend their time.  This likely will involve shifting resources from the 'consider' and 'buy' stages of the CDJ to the 'evaluate' and 'advocate' stages.  For many companies, investments will have to shift from paid media (channels owned by other companies, like print or online newspapers) to self-owned media (like the brand's Web sites) and earned media (such as customer-created channels like brand communities).

LINK:  Messages must reinforce each other, a daunting task in light of the proliferation of channels.  This doesn't only pertain to promotions, but also to product model numbers and descriptions, images, etc.  Edelman et al.  point to Apple's effort to eliminate jargon and maintain consistency in its product descriptions, creating a rich library of explanatory videos, etc.  Consistency, accuracy, and accuracy across touchpoints is critical.

LOCK:  Keep customers attention.  This requires the development of direct, opt-in channels, including email promotions, Twitter and Facebook feeds, and apps.  For example, McDonald's targeted millions of Japan's mobile-savvy consumers to sign up for mobile alerts with discount coupons, opportunities to participate in contests, special-event invitations, and other brand-specific content.  Keep it coming, keep it fresh, and offer consumers something they value, and I bet you don't lose their attention.

LOOP: Focus on consumer and expert created content for insights into customers and the brand, and use data collected about customers to create content that will engage them.  As I emphasize in my book Connecting With Consumers, it is critical to listen to consumers, but if you don't then apply those insights to better connect with customers, what's the point?  Edelman et al. give kudos to Amazon in this regard - the company invites customers to rate products and then makes the ratings available to shoppers.  But Amazon goes further - it also uses the data to decide how it presents its products.  This is what is meant by an information-rich loop, which goes from data to content and back to data, all contributing to product development, customer support, and personalized communications.