For many, just sending email to subscribers is missing the point. There is a person behind every email address and that is an important fact which cannot be forgotten. Email marketing is not the blasters of the world who may find ROI in the short term with low open rates, but a few big sales. Deliverability may start to fail that marketer. It’s the long-term game of creating sustainable success by having a conversation with your subscribers.

Let’s work backward for a second. When talking to Millennials, have you ever stopped to count the number of social media accounts they’re using let alone actively using? Listen more closely and you’ll see how many times in passing conversation they’ll say they didn’t get a notification or the notification was buried in dozens of other notifications that are piling up with each point of contact across their network. The fact is, Millennials are overwhelmed with social media data. The email account they have however is now one of the most competitive places you can go to get their attention and engage them. Hardly anyone else is there vying for their attention.

For the rest of you – the older generations – email sounds outdated because of how this group specifically sees email. They see it as a chore rather than the opportunity it is: a direct, uninterrupted one-on-one time where you get to say more than 120 characters. It’s the place where once they’ve clicked, they’re in your world. There are no other comments or advertisements or scrolling sidebars competing for their attention. They’re yours.

This is where customer engagement begins. It begins with realizing that emails aren’t a memo shoot, a black hole vacuum where messages go in one direction into an abysmal void of no return. In truth, email is the most real time digital space you’re going to get where YOU get to focus on the audience.

That’s a mindset shift and it starts with eliminating the word email and replacing it with “customer engagement.” So while your competitors are still doing email marketing, you’re at the frontier of communications. You’re engaging.

This isn’t a totally new concept to be asking a lot of you to get your head around. Your business is probably already in the engagement gear. Let’s take a look at how that’s the case: you’ve just gotten done reaching out to your audience for the holiday season. Maybe you’ve thrown real time events to bring brand and customer together. Or you get on the phone and hear the latest concerns from your subscribers and readers. You’re ALREADY engaged. You’re just now stretching that to make sure your email campaigns reflect the same value in your direct brand to user contact.

The question you invariably end up at is how to measure engagement? Is it the number of clicks, open rates, or the follow throughs? Maybe it’s a combination of all three, but per campaign, it will depend on the desired call to action. So for that reason, don’t stick to a hard and fast rule about how engagement is measured. It is a moveable goal.

That said, customer engagement means you’re also measuring success by engaged customers versus just the numbers and analytics. For example, a 100% open rate is wonderful for any company. Yet, even with stunning return rates like that you can’t guarantee there was any engagement. Engagement might look more like 35% open rate mixed with 3 reader responses directly to you and 2 shares on social media. That’s how you measure customer engagement.

In simpler terms think of throwing a dinner party. Everyone on your guest list attended, but no one engaged you. No one laughed, had a drink or shared stories. How much more ‘real’ is your event if just 5 out of 55 people showed up but everyone had a really great time and talked about your stellar party with their brunch pack the next day?

That right there is what customer engagement should look like. It’s not about who is on your list or who pops in the door. It’s about who stayed to play and walked away with a shareable experience.