Applying Anna Karenina to Customer Engagement

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”—Leo Tolstoy

Have you heard of the Anna Karenina principle? In essence, it states that a successful endeavor is one where several key aspects all happen right and come together—and that deficiencies in each of these have been avoided.

I don’t buy that the principle is applicable in every possible situation and context, but I do believe there is some truth to it—in life, at work, in building products, and in building valuable relationships with your customers. Getting customer engagement right involves lining up all your ducks right—a so-called “perfect storm” of contributing factors:

  • A vision into the end-state and the value of the desired engagement—both to the company and to the customer—by defining a result-oriented goal
  • Understanding how to persuade your customers into behaviors that are mutually beneficial by understanding the psychology behind human motivation
  • Using that knowledge to artfully but authentically wield the power of words and pictures to have a dialogue with your customers via relatable and relevant content
  • Detecting opportunities for triggers by monitoring what your audience is reacting to through customer listening models
  • Taking your triggers and your content to your customer base’s spectrum of virtual spaces by being multichannel
  • Propel the customer’s inclination and ability to take action on the trigger by providing compelling user experiences

(With due credits to BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model, the motivation-trigger-ability elements need to converge at the same time for a behavior to happen.)

  • Continuously tweak and optimize your approach using analytics to hit business goals
  • Applying the above to scale (and repeating) by tapping marketing automation
  • Preventing any of the above from failing—in other words setting up a moat around each step—by implementing a risk management and governance structure

The above is a good starting list of the elements that need to inform the customer engagement ecosystem, but it’s certainly not exhaustive. Moreover, bulleting these items should not give the impression that each of these elements can be approached or solved for individually and sequentially—though they are, of course, interconnected. For example, the type and structure of content that makes sense is dependent upon the channel of delivery, which in turn is determined by where your users are. At the same time, your content can act as a trigger that generates user reactions and responses in multiple channels—even those that did not carry your original content in the first place—that will now form the basis of new content creation for you.

Sounds much like the Web that Tolstoy weaves in his stories as he brings out the interconnectedness of the problems and relationships between friends and families, does it not?


1. Businesses and agencies are often asked: ‘What is the single most important engagement element to focus on?’; ‘Which aspect of customer engagement should I invest in?’; ‘What are the five steps to customer engagement?’ etc. And that’s good, because it helps provide a much-needed pivot and a starting point. But, ultimately, success involves avoiding the pitfalls in all of the areas that make up customer engagement.

2. A big challenge in a building a great story or a well-oiled customer engagement strategy is methodical non-linearity of execution. There is a lot of creativity involved—but you also need to apply a method to the madness.

Harini Sridharan is a digital and customer engagement strategist and technology lead at Rosetta.

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