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Engagement is NOT a New Construct
In preparing my publication, the Marketing Scales Handbook: Top 20, I confirmed something to myself that I had long guessed was true: Involvement is one of the most measured constructs in scholarly consumer behavior research. There are over 150 scales in the markertingscales.com library that have something to do with involvement. The one with the most use was developed by Zaichkowsky (1986) and is called enduring involvement. It and the permutations used by other researchers put it in the top ten of the thousands of multi-item rating scales that have been reported in published, academic, consumer-related research. That and the other measures of the construct show just how much consumer researchers believe involvement is important to understanding consumer behavior.
That, of course, is not my pet-peeve. Instead, I have been bothered for several years since hearing about the new darling of many industry marketers called "engagement." When it came on the scene it quickly was linked with all sorts of things, particularly ads and brands. I was bit puzzled at first about how this "new" construct could be so important and powerful yet had been over-looked by the consumer specialists in academia. It did not take me long to figure out, however, that what was referred to as "engagement" was probably a form of what we had long known as involvement.
The study of involvement in academia goes back at least to Krugman's work in the 1960s (e.g., 1967) with advertising but, the flood gates really opened up in the 1980s. That is when better measures were being used as well as the realization that there wree different types of involvement and they could be applied in a variety of contexts . My guess is that engagement is most like what is called enduring involvement, referred to above, with the emphasis on either affective or behavioral facets. I am concerned about the lack of knowledge by so many in industry that this construct has been studied for so long. There is a treasure trove of results available to be applied!
This maybe a symptom of a larger problem. Often I read articles in industry magazines or posts in social media and wonder why certain questions are being asked. Don't the questioners realize that the answers are available in the published results of scholarly research? I suspect that the answer in many if not most cases is "no," they do not know the answers are there. Scholars are doing research that is largely ignored by many industry marketers and researchers. I won't speculate here about the reasons for this nor will I place blame but, I can say that what is needed is a greater transparency and flow of knowledge from academia to industry. The potential exists for practitioners to apply these findings and solve problems more effectively and efficiently than they otherwise would.
The bottom line is that the importance of "engagement" was not just discovered in the last decade; instead, there are several decades worth of relevant consumer insight research that help in understanding what it is and how it works. How many other constructs and relationships are well-known among scholars but are being overlooked or under-utilized right now in industry? Admittedly, there are always going to be issues that are so company- or brand-specific that academic research will not provide sufficient answers. But, when issues and questions cut across companies and/or brands, they are likely to have been studied in academia already. Indeed, industry needs to be more "engaged" in the results of academic research.
Krugman, Herbert E. (1967), "The Measurement of Advertising Involvement," Public Opinion Quarterly, 30 (Winter), 583-596.
Zaichkowsky, Judith L. (1986), "Conceptualizing Involvement," Journal of Advertising, 15 (2), 4-14.