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Shaping Brand Perception with Customer Participation

25 Aug
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When it comes to brand perception, it’s important to understand your role as a marketer. “We can manage and influence brands but we don’t own them. The customers and the world that we put the brands into own the brand,” said Matt Williams, William & Mary Raymond A. Mason School of Business visiting clinical professor of marketing and faculty director of the Online Master of Science in Marketing program.

With ownership of the brand in the hands of the consumer, participation will become an important piece of your marketing strategy. In a recent blog post on participation marketing (shared in conjunction with the release of our micro-course), we discussed four ways to successfully incorporate your customers into your marketing strategy. In this post, we’re taking a wider view of brand perception and how, as a marketer, you can use customer participation to your advantage.

What Is Brand Perception?

Brand perception encompasses the thoughts, emotions and judgments that consumers have about a brand, a product or a service.1 This goes beyond the tangible features of a product or service and delves into the intangible qualities that make up a brand’s identity, including factors like brand reputation, values, personality and the emotional connections consumers form with the brand.

What Is Participation Marketing?

You may have heard of the four ‘P’s of the marketing mix—price, promotion, product and place. Participation marketing, also known as engagement marketing or interactive marketing, is the fifth ‘P’ of this mix. Adding participation to your marketing strategy means actively involving consumers in brand-related activities. Instead of simply delivering messages to a passive audience, participation marketing encourages consumers to “opt-in” by interacting, engaging and co-creating content with the brand. This approach leverages the power of collaboration and shared experiences to foster deeper connections between the brand and its audience.

What Does Participation Marketing Mean for Marketers?

“For years, the job of that media was to interrupt your TV show or interrupt your web experience with a message that an advertiser paid a lot of money to put in front of you. We've shifted now to being less about interruption and much more about opt-in,” said Williams.

As a marketer, you need to be aware of this opt-in mentality. It means that you need to be more relevant, more interesting and more consistent with what you are putting out into the world on behalf of your company. The burden falls more heavily on marketers in this participation landscape. Marketers will need to speak directly to customers through social media and leverage available technology to listen and create ongoing dialogue with consumers.

Building Positive Brand Perception Through Participation Marketing

Participation marketing is powerful in regards to how it impacts brand perception. “Every instance of participation is an opportunity for a marketer to change the way somebody thinks about their brand,” said Williams.

With this great opportunity for impact on your brand in mind, there are a myriad of ways for you as a marketer to work participation into your overall strategy. Below are several strategies you can try out to boost customer engagement and build lasting brand loyalty.

Community Building

Creating a strong community around your brand, or leveraging an existing community, is a powerful way to foster customer participation. Build platforms where customers can connect, share their experiences and engage with one another. Online forums, social media groups and dedicated community websites provide spaces for customers to interact and become brand advocates. Encourage conversations, host live events and initiate discussions around relevant topics. By nurturing a vibrant community, you create a sense of belonging, strengthen customer relationships and drive brand loyalty.

Building a strong community also creates a direct feedback loop between the brand and its consumers. This feedback helps brands understand consumer preferences, pain points and areas for improvement. Responding to feedback positively can boost consumer satisfaction and overall brand perception.

Co-Creation and Product Innovation

One of the most effective ways to involve customers in your brand-building journey is through co-creation and product innovation. By seeking customer feedback, ideas and suggestions through the community you’ve built and fostered, you can tap into their unique insights and preferences.

Engaging customers in the product development process not only helps you create offerings that align better with their needs, but also fosters a sense of ownership and loyalty towards your brand. You can actively include your customer in developing and shaping products and services by crowdsourcing ideas, conducting surveys and hosting focus groups.

“We're in the business of what I call ‘perpetual beta,’” said Williams. “What that means is we’re always iterating, we’re always experimenting, we’re always making little changes based on the feedback that we're constantly getting from our customers.”

Personalization and Customization

By involving consumers in the creation or customization of products, services or campaigns, you provide a personalized experience. This personal touch contributes to a more positive brand perception, as consumers feel that their preferences and opinions are valued. A good example of this is the “Share a Coke” campaign that added people’s names to the label. This campaign leaned on personalization to create loyalty among customers in order to sell more products.2

In addition to personalized experiences, involving customers in the customization process can significantly enhance their engagement with your brand. Whether it’s customizing product features, selecting designs or co-designing personalized experiences, actively involving customers in decision-making fosters a sense of ownership and enhances the overall brand experience.

Through participation marketing, giving customers opportunities to personalize and customize tends to make your brand more memorable to them than traditional advertising.


Encouraging user-generated content and incorporating consumer opinions into your marketing campaigns adds an authentic touch to your brand. Consumers value authenticity, and when they see real people engaging positively with your brand, it enhances their perception of your credibility.

The key to succeeding in this area is knowing what conversations your brand should be participating in, and what conversations it should avoid. We can look at current events to see this is a wise piece of advice. If a brand missteps in this area, its response to that misstep can just as easily tank the brand as if there is no response.

“When brands receive blowback in social media, more often than not it’s because they tried to participate in a conversation that the consumer didn’t want them involved in. And when that happens, consumers tend to sniff out inauthenticity or a transparent effort on the part of marketers to try to turn what should not be a marketing opportunity into a marketing opportunity. You have to be really, really careful,” said Williams.

Knowing your customer base and understanding how they perceive your brand is important as you look for new opportunities. Trust your marketing experience and listen to your customers.

Harness the Power of Participation Marketing

Add participation marketing to your marketer tool kit to influence positive brand perception.

In William & Mary’s micro-course, “Participation Marketing Strategy: Trends to Incorporate in 2023 and Beyond,” Williams goes in depth on this fifth element of the marketing mix. In the first video, “Participation Marketing Strategy: What It Is and Why It Matters,” Williams details the industry shifts that are driving participation marketing, as well as the dos and don’ts marketers should be aware of when implementing this strategy. Then, in the second video, “Participation Marketing Strategy: Customer as Co-Creator,” he speaks on considerations for engaging your customers as co-creators, how to foster community building and the takeaways and strategic implications for participation marketing as a whole. Finally, put what you learned in the videos and from this blog post into practice with the Participation Evaluation and Planning Worksheet, your structured guide to effectively leveraging customer participation.

Access the Micro-Course