Turn it up to 11


The subjective state of engagement has three main properties (Andrews, Durvasula et al. 1990; Lawson and Loudon 1996; Wirth 2006): intensity, persistence, and duration. This post discusses Intensity.
Simon leans forward, rapt in the documentary on the Falklands conflict, where he served with the Guards. His engagement with the content is high. Beside him on the sofa, Ganesh browses the TV schedule on his Tablet, he doesn’t really know much about the Falklands; he still lived in India at the time. His engagement is low.
Intensity: the level of Engagement, usually expressed simply as High or Low.

In addition to Personal Relevance (discussed in earlier posts), there are at least three factors that increase or reduce intensity of engagement:
  • Expectancy Disconfirmation
  • Responsibility for Message Evaluation
  • Accountability

Expectancy Disconfirmation

Expectancy Disconfirmation is the extent to which a message fails to conform with expected information. For example, a person is more likely to think about a weather forecast for snow in the summer than in the winter.

Expectancy disconfirmation is why we experience bugs, breakdowns, failures, and other disappointments intensely. Positive expectancy is experienced as surprise, delight, or amusement. Examples of positive expectancy disconfirmation include pop-up shops and flash mob marketing; unusual (and pleasant or amusing) sounds confirming your SMS message has been sent; or an unexpected gift, perhaps a sticker, during the unboxing of a new product.

The Tesla Model S automobile's music volume controls go up to 11.

Responsibility for Message Evaluation

The presence of others who share the task of evaluating a message decreases any one person’s perceived responsibility for the task and, hence, that person’s motivation to think about the message. For example, a person may be more motivated to think about emergency exit instructions if they are the sole passenger in an airplane than if they are in a full airplane.

A common tactic to make a customer feel as if they are personally responsible for message evaluation is to address them by name. For example, an email with the subject, "Ludwig, have you checked the bottom of your shoes lately?" will be experienced with greater intensity than one without the personal name, by Ludwig.


Accountability is the extent to which a person believes they will be called upon to recall the message. For example, a weather reporter is more likely to think about the weather forecast than a bartender.

The first implication of the Accountability principle is that, for high engagement, you should design your proposition for the person accountable for the job it does. Often, however, there is no clear line of accountability. The bartender wants to know the weather forecast, even if he is not accountable.

Nike+ metrics raise intensity.
In cases where there is no clear accountability for the job your proposition does, it may still be possible to raise the intensity of engagement by designing for accountability. This means providing the tools or outputs of accountability, such as metrics, dashboards, logs, etc. For example, Nike+ increases the intensity of the running experience by adding metrics.

Bottom line

  • Look for moments to surprise, delight, intrigue or amuse your customer; but be mindful that intensity can be positive or negative, depending on the situation and customer.
  • Address your customer personally to heighten intensity.
  • Add performance metrics, and displays to foster a sense of accountability.

Do you recognize the title of this post? Prove it. Leave a comment below. Please engage.

This post is part of a series on Design for Customer Engagement.

If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.


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