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An explorative series on how & what engages people

What engages people? This is a question that anyone with a business, product or service to sell asks themselves. Hopefully, this question is asked before whatever they are trying to sell is finished, to make sure that what’s being sold is actually wanted. But more often than not this question is asked after the fact. Usually when what’s being sold doesn’t sell, then individuals in business start asking, how can we engage people? How can we engage our audience to acquire what we want them to?

And sometimes they bring people like me in to figure out how best to engage their audience after the fact. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we’re less so. And this isn’t necessarily because we’re very good or bad at our chosen profession, but because knowing what engages an audience is pretty elusive at times.

Unfortunately, we cannot read minds, at least not in a real-time way. We can however read minds in the past tense. If we look at what has engaged audiences before, see how their minds worked on previous occasions and then figure out a process, a methodology, for how to engage them or new audiences in the future. Then we’re more likely to be successful in that future.

And this is essentially what I would like to do. In a coming series of blog posts and hopefully as well a podcast, I will explore how various individuals and companies have managed to engage their audiences. Analysing and evaluating their methods and strategies, using the AEX design process, to see how they came out on top with a loyal following.

Each post and/or podcast will essentially be a case study of someone or some company. The aim is that these case studies will give you an insight into how to better engage your audiences, either with one or two of the tools as described in the posts or by utilising the AEX design methodology.

For those unfamiliar with the AEX design methodology, we have a post on it here, but in short, it’s a method for figuring out the objectives of both you and your audience and ensuring that they align. And from there we develop an action plan to tackle this challenge and learn exactly who your audience is how we can help them, and how we can customise their experience with you so that everyone leaves with a positive outcome.

The initial start

To start with, I thought we’d take a summarised example of an individual that we will look at more in-depth in the future, Steve Jobs.

So what are we looking for then in terms of the AEX design with a presentation of Steve Jobs, or anyone else?

With our series on audience engagement, I’ll be looking at each person and company with a list of questions and criteria. These are:

  • What is the goal of the message?
  • What actions are expected of the audience?
  • What psychological drivers is the message touching upon? What emotions does it provoke?
  • What mechanics, elements or triggers is the message using?
  • How is the message structured? Did it have a story, did it flow, was it relatable/interactive/understandable?
  • What is the outcome of the message?
  • How do we know the message was successful? Did it achieve an outcome?

For ease of comprehension, I’ve simply used the word ‘message’ to describe what it is that the individual or company is trying to get across to its audience. The message can be trying to sell a new iPhone or a soft drink, or trying to be sustainable or losing weight. Whatever the primary objective is of what is being delivered, that constitutes the message.

Let’s briefly look at a presentation from Steve Jobs, specifically the release of the very first iPhone, which many, especially Apple aficionados, would call his best presentation. 

We won’t go through the full video, nor the full gambit of questions and criteria, as we’ll do that in the post that is specifically dedicated to Steve Jobs. For now, I’ll simply give you a taster of what we’ll be looking at and how we’ll go about it when we evaluate an individual with the AEX design process.

What is the goal of the message? Well, this is fairly obvious; the presentation’s goal was to unveil the iPhone to the world. But more specifically the presentation was designed to create hype around the ‘idea’ of the iPhone. We can see this in the opening moments of the presentation, Steve Jobs doesn’t just say “Hey everyone here’s something you’ve never seen before, enjoy.” No, he frames it in terms that everyone understands, it’s a phone, it’s an iPod, it’s an internet device, and once he’s drilled this home repeatedly, only then does he unveil this magical device that can do everything, the iPhone.

How is the message structured? This method of framing leads to how the presentation is structured. Steve Jobs made the clear decision to repeat what people already comprehend, to allow them to easily transition to the thing they didn’t know yet. In essence, he slowly chipped away at removing the strangeness of the new object known as the iPhone. And he doesn’t just do this through repetition, but he does with humour and a narrative. He explains fully how and what the device is capable of, and each time he does this he triggers his audience.

What emotions does the message provoke? The narrative of depicting each feature and the capability of the smartphone provokes the emotions of surprise, mystery, curiosity in the audience. No one thought it possible that one device could do so much. People motivators of purpose, autonomy and mastery are being targeted with this, thanks to Steve Jobs example, the audience can imagine all the possibilities that apparently, they couldn’t achieve before the advent of this device. And naturally, as he brings on guests and what the device costs for what it offers, he touches upon the audience’s sense of esteem. Those who own this device will stand apart from everyone else.

Was the message successful? With the benefit of time, we can say that the message was successful. The world changed forever due to the smartphone, but the success of the iPhone is in part due to the overall audience experience that Steve Jobs had crafted with Apple. The presentation exudes every aspect of what the brand offers – status, one of kind, multi-functioning, quality and so on.  

But as I said, we’ll leave the in-depth analysis to the piece dedicated to Steve Jobs.

Expanding on the process

The AEX design methodology isn’t just a new name for something. It’s simply a catchall term that I’ve decided to start using to describe all the various aspects needed to properly engage an audience. I’ve written a book on gamification and marketing. And within that, we also explored various aspects of behavioural psychology and business strategy. In the end, I realised that each aspect is inextricably linked with the other. And to simply say that I am a gamification consultant was too limiting for what it was that I, and others, were trying to do, and that was engaging audiences of all shapes and forms.

Therefore Audience Engagement and Experience design seeks to utilise and combine the disciplines of gamification, marketing, behaviourism and strategy, into a framework and methodology that will always have as its aim a positive outcome for both sides, provider and audience.

To offer a better look overall at the methodology, we should probably also look at a company as well, and not just individuals such as Steve Jobs. I thought we’d go for that tried-and-true example that we’ve all seen in every marketing, gamification and so on book, article, and more, Nike.

Yes, I know, if you ever looked up an example of the above named disciplines, you’ll likely come across Nike. And specifically, I imagine Nike+. But that is precisely why I want to use them again, because by the sheer fact that I’ve decided to use them again, and by the fact that if any of you search for something that they appear, means that they are incredibly successful at engaging their audience, or any audience for that matter.

And just for ease of comprehension again, we’ll use the example of Nike+ to illustrate the effectiveness of this campaign.

What is the goal of the message? To promote health and wellbeing by giving their customers a way to track how well they are doing in staying healthy. Additionally, it was a continuation of the emphasis of the company branding for activity and sports. The primary goal, therefore, was to create brand loyalty among current and new audience members. The Nike+ Fuelband allow its users to track their activities, but also to share and compare with others, thus creating an organic community of fitness enthusiasts.

What actions are expected of the audience? For the audience to be able to achieve their fitness goals and be part of the community, they needed to cross the low-effort barriers of getting the fuelband and downloading the app. After that, they could choose how and what they wanted to do. To bring in a psychological motivator here, they were given full autonomy to choose their experience path. Along with this autonomy, Nike would also promote its brand, so to be able to fully achieve your goals with Nike+, you would like to need Nike gear to give you the best chance possible.

What is the outcome of the message? The outcome of Nike’s campaign was that everyone would forever associate a can-do attitude and healthy living with the Nike brand. If you wanted to improve your wellbeing then a whole community would attest to the fact that Nike is the one that helped them achieve just that. And as I said before, the fact that we are still talking about it and that Nike is as popular as ever is a testament to the effectiveness of this goal alignment between them wanting to promote their brand and wanting their audience to stay healthy.

Naturally of course a customer base or audience that is healthy will stay alive longer, meaning you have people who buy your stuff for longer. The paradox with some companies, such as cigarette sellers and unhealthy fast foods, is that they are essentially trying to engage their audience quickly enough and get to buy enough before they keel over. This is not what AEX design is about.

What AEX design series hopes to offer

What I aim to offer with my series is an insight into what AEX design can offer you as an individual or as a business. As I’ve stated before and will continue to state, aeStranger’s AEX Design methodology is about aligning the objectives of both the producer and the audience so that both walk away with something of value and a positive experience.

As I continue my series of breaking down and analysing various successful individuals and companies, I will be able to offer you a type of guide on how to use the various tools and elements that constitute a good audience engagement process. And with that I’ll be able to help others in ensuring the dream that everyone walks away with something beneficial from their experiences.

Should you have any queries or have interest in using the AEX Design process within your own business, then please don’t hesitate to send us a message on our website:

And until the next analysis, happy crafting!

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and if you know of someone who would it find it helpful as well. 


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