With omnipresent WiFi and 3G, increased use of mobile devices and the rootedness of social media in everyday life, today's businesses have a golden opportunity to use these new channels to unlock growth.

But the shift in relationships that the new technology makes possible--the evolution from a one-way to two-way conversation between marketer and customer--may be too much to handle for less-than-savvy marketers.

Owning the Engagement Space

Unlike older marketing methods, today's engagement calls for a level of openness and responsiveness that less savvy marketers simply aren't equipped to do, much to the detriment of their relationship with their target market. On the flipside, more engaged marketing departments are using the new channels to conduct conversations with their prospects and are, consequently, owning the engagement space.

For an example of on-point engagement, check out Xtrade.com and its recent deal with football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. As their official ambassador, Ronaldo connects the brand with a vibrant and outspoken community of online followers.

Ronaldo's online reach is nothing short of phenomenal: he boasts of 200 million social media followers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. A significant segment of these followers are prime Xtrade.com prospects: young, millennial-age decision-makers looking to make significant inroads into finance and investments.

Xtrade's Head of Operations Mark Leigh elaborated on the strategic partnership: "This partnership signifies an opportunity to support one of the world's most exciting talents while promoting our market-leading and innovative online CFD trading products globally, increasing our international presence."

Older marketers might be put off by Ronaldo's football fame, but savvier marketers know better: identification with the famous footballer helps Xtrade reach an untapped market that lines up with many of their core objectives. Football is "... a sport that transcends cultures and social status," says Christina Teo, CEO of investment holdings company CATPITAL, which manages the image rights of the football star.

Consumers are Now Squarely in Control

The social approach underscores the importance of the increasingly connected, interactive and vocal audience dominant in social networks. With increasing power over the kind of content they produce and consume, users are becoming more discerning. The mass market approach is thus no longer as relevant as before.

"The blast approach--rooted in mass marketing print and online ads, email and direct mail--is marketing comfort food: familiar, cost-contained, and easy to digest," explains Carol Wolicki, vice president of marketing for data management company RedPoint Global. "But it's also easily dismissed by consumers who, in today's digital world, are squarely in control of message and information consumption."

"Engagement signals a level of connection beyond a passive impression," Adam Schoenfeld, cofounder of social media analytics enterprise Simply Measured, tells us. "In traditional media, consumers are stuck as consumers. The ability for consumers to interact, participate, and respond in a way that marketers can quantify is one of the things that makes social media unique.

"It's unlikely that I could share a TV ad with a phone call or in-person conversation, but on Facebook or Twitter I can instantly distribute and discuss a brand's content with my 500 closest friends," says Schoenfeld.

Bringing the Brand to the Customers

Going back to Ronaldo, here's another company that's taking advantage of celebrity and brand presence. Kibo has also partnered with the football star, but instead of a direct endorsement, the mobile platform takes a different tack. The main goal is to connect users to their favorite brands and personalities via something they use hundreds of times a day: their mobile keyboard app.

"Until now, a fan had to head to Facebook, Twitter or the club's website every time he or she wanted to be updated," Founder and CEO Oron Zell explains. "With this app, everything is centered to the smartphone and mobile keyboard in real time ... It's the perfect combination of team spirit, advanced technology and real time updates to keep the fans connected to the team 24/7."

Kibo's brand-focused keyboards are a win-win opportunity for marketers and users. Users advertise their loyalties and engage with brands using the app's built-in dedicated news feed and content delivery channels. On the other side of the table, marketers can access a data and analytics platform that reports usage data across the entire network: this data can help marketers tweak their efforts for better engagement down the road.

Kibo's engagement appeal is so strong, that even famous rival brands, such as Barcelona and Real Madrid football clubs, are both connecting with their respective communities with the Kibo app!

Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

What do these marketing engagement efforts have in common? First, their engagement is channel-agnostic: it's not about following followers on Facebook or Snapchat or the latest trendy social media site. It's about going to where their publics go and beginning a conversation where they are.

Second, their engagement efforts subvert conventional expectations: using unusual celebrity endorsements, or engaging with an always-on keyboard app, demonstrates the benefits of "zigging" where others are "zagging". In such unusual spaces, brands and individual users can engage without being crowded out by competition, with neither side having their defenses up.

Through innovative social engagement channels, today's marketers are being given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage customers, know their preferences, and join the conversation. Let's hope they don't blow it.

Published on: Apr 20, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.