The battle for engagement is on

January 27, 2012: 2:38 PM ET

By Christopher Lochhead, contributor

FORTUNE -- Have you noticed how everyone seems to have contracted Attention Deficit Disorder? We are so distracted that we actually text while driving. Piloting a four thousand pound vehicle isn't important enough to command our full attention. Notice how hard is it to pry people from their devices in meetings? It has never been harder to get peoples' attention. As a result, your enterprise has to develop a black-belt in engagement.

The new battle for engagement is driving a seminal change in business models, processes and technologies. Employees have to be enticed to work. Offices are becoming amusement parks. Companies offer everything from free food and massages, to video games, volleyball courts, pools, hammocks, and tree houses. Zynga's new office has beds for animals, neon lights, and a Winnebago in the lobby. Red Bull's offices in London have a slide so you can glide downstairs on your butt.

Engagement is becoming the buzzword in software. A recent report by Jason Maynard, lead tech analyst at Wells Fargo, says there is a shift to "engagement applications." He writes:

"Business applications are moving beyond merely transactional activity and are becoming critical tools to engage with customers, to improve internal productivity, and to facilitate collaboration within the enterprise and throughout the entire value chain. Collectively this migration represents a new engagement system of record for the social, collaborative, and mobile era."

The rise of social gaming firms like Zynga and the success of Apple and Facebook, are causing business software developers to re-think their user experience approach. They are embracing "gamification" strategies to make their software applications and business processes more engaging. Leading companies are embracing fun as a way to get work done.

Enterprises are being forced to replace or supplement their decade or older intranets and email systems with new social business applications. Business productivity and communication apps are increasingly incorporating social features, analytics-based recommendations and discovery tools to drive productivity and user engagement.

"Engagement marketing" is now all the rage. It is rapidly becoming a higher priority than internal social business because it drives revenue. Engagement marketing uses digital channels to gain attention, build brands, drive customer collaboration and most importantly acquire new revenue.

It is grounded in the modern reality that most customers begin their buying cycle electronically. The online experience is often the first step used by both consumer and enterprise buyers of almost everything. This new paradigm is making engagement marketing the most critical vehicle for driving sales.

Smart Chief Marketing Officers are re-thinking their entire marketing point-of-view. It is time to use technology to design a new digital revenue acquisition strategy. Engagement marketers are exploring how technology can help:

- Gain attention
- Build audience
- Drive enterprise-to-customer and customer-to-customer collaboration

Engagement marketing integrates search engine optimization, Web ads, search ads and your entire Web presence - from Facebook and Twitter, to blogs, micro-sites, and private social networks. The goal is to go beyond traditional one-way communication to stimulating attention and enticing interaction.

Engagement marketers are exploring new ways to encourage customers to collaborate in everything from designing marketing campaigns, developing new products, and becoming brand ambassadors. You could say Yelp has an engagement business model. If people weren't willing to write reviews for free, Yelp wouldn't have a business. Clif Bar launched the "Meet The Moment" campaign by encouraging people to share photos of "awesome moments" that they curated into a "moment gallery". Thus getting customers to create Clif Bar ads. All of these engagement strategies are predicated on the idea that the more things a customer does with you, the more loyal they will be.

Whether it is driving employee collaboration or customer interaction, in this new world the more engaged people are with your business the more value you can create. So prepare to get engaged or get lost.

Christopher is a veteran CMO turned strategy advisor who is a co-founder & partner at Play Bigger Advisors.

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