Participation Marketing Strategy: What It Is and Why It Matters

Video Transcript

Matt Williams:
My name is Matt Williams. I'm a visiting clinical professor in the marketing area, uh, at the Mason School of William Mary. I'm also the faculty director of the Online Masters of Science and Marketing Program.

Participants in marketing is what I think of as the fifth p of the marketing mix. So in your first marketing course, you learned about the four Ps price, product, promotion, and place. We believe there's a fifth p that is increasingly important in that marketing mix, and that fifth P is participation. And the participation. P means not only do you have to think through those four P's, which are still important, but you have to think about how you can invite your customer and your prospect to participate in your marketing efforts in ways that they never have before.

There are a couple of big shifts that have happened in the last couple of decades that have, that have lifted the importance of participation marketing. One is, um, the marketing environment has moved from interruptive to opt-in. And what I mean by that is, you know, for years and years when I was in the advertising business, we bought lots of media placement. And the job of that media was to interrupt your TV show or interrupt your, your, your web experience with a message that an advertiser paid a lot of money to put in front of you. Um, we've shifted now less about interruptive and much more about opt-in, and that is you as a consumer have an opportunity to opt into marketing messages in a way that you didn't in an interrupted environment. That means we have to be more relevant, more interesting to you, um, more consistent with the experience that you're having when you have an opportunity to opt in. That puts a, a higher level of burden on, on marketers. So we have to participate with you to understand what's really relevant so that we can speak to you in a more relevant way in an, in an opt-in world.

The other thing that's happened as a result of that is we're creating dialogues with our customers. There's a back and forth in a way that there wasn't, in an interruptive world, you never had a chance to respond or have a dialogue with a television commercial. But now I can speak directly to brands. You can speak directly to brands using social media, using technology applications that the most sophisticated brands offer, so that they can have a constant flow of information between them and their customers. That gives customers a great opportunity to give realtime input into the improvement of products, the improvement of, of every marketing effort, including communications efforts. And it makes an incumbent on brands to engage customers in that conversation in a way that they never had before. So that's changed.

The other thing that's changed is that for years we used to put new products or new messages in into the world and, and just pope that they were, we would spend lots of money preparing them, doing research, producing advertising, or making a new product, putting it into the world, and then crossing our fingers and hoping that, that, that they were as successful as we as we wanted them to be. Now, we're much more in a, in, in the business of what I call perpetual beta. And 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. That's a participation marketing world, and it's a very different way of managing your marketing efforts than maybe you, you might have 10, 20 years ago.

In the future, a consumer will have a more active role on the actions that the companies take, and I would say the most sophisticated companies are allowing the consumer to have that role right now. Right? So you're seeing consumer informed changes of products, of marketing messages that are happening in real time right now, there are agencies and companies that are spraying up to help marketers harness the power of the crowd. So you're seeing crowdsourced advertising happening all the time. You're seeing crowdsource product development happen all the time. We actually stood up in my agency years ago, this was 10 years ago, a purpose-built section of that agency, uh, populated by people who did nothing but watched social media for messages related to the brands that we represented. And when something popped on social media that we thought was an interesting insight or an interesting opportunity, we'd take that straight over to the creative department and make something about that, put it into the world as a response in 24, 12 to 24 hours in response to what we saw and generate a conversation around it. So that's happening right now. Customers have power to affect the products they consume, the messages they consume just by engaging in this participation ecosystem that's been created, data is vital to participation.

Participation is a great way to gather data because the data you get in a real time conversation with a customer is reliable. It's instantaneous. Um, and it's, it's in a lot of ways more reliable and more instantaneous than the traditional way of gathering data. Whether it was a survey or a syndicated piece of research or a focus group. Qualitative research participation can augment those things, and in some ways it's better than, uh, but you can also use data that you gather through participation to inform product development, message development, um, creative development and advertising, uh, even customer service experiences, right? If you're a marketer, you have to be responsible for the way the people on the front lines interact with your customers. If you're using participation marketing, you should be gathering real-time feedback from those customers to find out how they feel about those interactions.

So you can use it to inform training programs, hiring, uh, it can inform just about every aspect of your customer experience. So when you're thinking about social media strategy in a participation world, there are huge opportunities, data gathering, starting conversations, gathering information that you can feedback into product development, message development, all your marketing efforts.

But there are some important watchouts when you do this too. There are certain conversations happening in social media that your brand should absolutely participate in, but there are certain conversations happening in social media that your brand should not participate in. And when, 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. And, and when that happens, consumers tend to sniff out sort of inauthenticity or, uh, an, uh, 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. Um, and the smart brands who are using social media in our participation context, they're letting some conversations go and they're not participating in those, but they're very smart about understanding the nature of their brand and what that means for the, for the conversations they should participate in and actively engaging in those.

I'll give you an example that that came straight from my own experience. So we had a, uh, we had a client in my agency and that client made really active use of our social media listening capability. And we saw a conversation pop up on Facebook between that brand and one of its customers where the customers was saying that, that this customer said her son was deployed in, uh, in Afghanistan, and that they had painted, uh, a saying from one of our ads onto the side of their tank.

And when our social media listening people saw that pose, they went immediately to that brand's creative team and said, we need to create a video for this person in Afghanistan and their company. And we created a video that was specifically done in the style of that brand connecting to the campaign that resonated enough for them to paint that on their tank and sent it directly to those people in af those soldiers in Afghanistan, um, over Facebook so it could be shared by thousands of people. And thousands and thousands of people saw it and commented on it. So it was, it was usable to being able to participate one-on-one with somebody who had raised their hand and said, I engage with this brand in an interesting way, and us saying, let's engage even more deeply with that person and let's let the rest of the world on Facebook listen in and watch what happens. Uh, and it was a great way to create momentum and cultural currency around that brand just by participating in something that came up naturally.

The next step for market is in a participation world, is build the infrastructure inside your company to enable that kind of back and forth real time participation with customers. You need people, you need technology, you need systems in place so that you can act on what you hear. So you have to build the infrastructure. You have to continually fine tune the way you participate with customers, listen to them, adjust your approach based on what you hear. You're gonna be in perpetual beta in the participation world the same way you are in a, in a product development or, or communications development.

Your participation is going to, is gonna change over time because your customer's needs are gonna change over time. So be fluid, be plastic in the way you engage and just continually engage. Use the power of participation to continually gather information and to deepen the relationship you have with customers. Never forget, the best customer relationship is one where that customer feels so invested in your brand that they're helping you build it, and when they help you build it, they become your most loyal customers and your best advocates. In our online masters of marketing program, we, we combine the two most important forces in the marketing world today. One is data, the second is creativity, right? So there's lots of places you can go and learn a lot about data. There are some places you can go to learn about creativity, but there aren't many places that do what we do, which is balance those two things and show how they connect to each other. Data without creativity is just information. Creativity without data is aimless. Ideas that don't have any grounding in strategy, both of those are a bad idea. But when you have data that can inform creativity and creativity that can be be tracked by data and can be optimized by data, you have two really powerful forces in the marketing world working together, and that's what you'll learn in the online Masters of Marketing at the Mason School.

In our next video, we're gonna take this idea of participation and really get specific about what every marketer should do, what actions you should take to take full advantage of the phenomenon of the fifth P participation.