Participation Marketing Strategy: Customer as Co-Creator

Video Transcript

Matt Williams: My name is Matt Williams, I'm a visiting clinical professor at the Mason School of Business at William & Mary. In this video, we'll talk about the fifth P in the marketing mix, which we believe is participation, it's the dialogue between customers and companies, the ongoing exchange of information between customers and companies. And we're going to talk specifically about how marketers can activate that dialogue to take full advantage of the opportunities that participation creates. In the first video, we talked about where participation marketing came from, how it emerged as the fifth P in the marketing mix, and how marketers should think about structuring their marketing operation and using participation to improve their communications, to improve their product development and to create a more dynamic and tighter relationship between themselves and their customers. Now we're going to talk about exactly what steps they should take to make that happen. Customers as consumers, that's the old-style relationship between a company and the people who paid money to buy their stuff. You consume stuff.

Customers as co-creators is a completely different relationship. It's not just a transactional one, it's one that says, Hey, Mr. Customer, Ms. Customer, I want to know from you how I can be better, and I'm going to take that information and I'm going to act on it. So if you think my product could be better in certain ways, and I hear that from enough people, I'm going to change my product and I'm going to give you credit for that. If you think my communications could be more relevant if I talked about A, B or C, I'm going to talk about A, B and C. You have input into the product that I put into the world, whether it's a product that you buy or a piece of marketing communications that you consume as a target audience. You have input into how I behave and that's a very different relationship than the purely transactional one where your customer was just a consumer.

So if you want to make that shift from your customer as a consumer to your customer as a co-creator, there are really specific things you could do. Number one, actively collaborate with them. If you have an affinity group around your brand, maybe it's a community that you've built, and you have a relationship with that community that's close enough that you can use them almost as a testing ground, why not take a new product idea and have a conversation with that community about that idea? Maybe this product idea is not in the market yet, but you can get immediate feedback from that community who's invested in your brand, who understands what you're about, and who will immediately get the product idea that you're putting in front of them. They may not like it, but that's the point of asking the question, what do they see in it?

How does it connect with the relationship they've got in your brand? Is it consistent, is it somehow dissonant with the way they think about your brand? Is it something they'd be interested in? Is it something they would buy and advocate for? That built in community that you've built, is a great place to put ideas into and to get feedback from. It'll make your idea smarter, and it'll make your relationship with that community even deeper. Second, build communities. Now marketer can foster communities around areas of passion. Look for passion points in your brand, every brand has them. If you're an existing business, somebody in the world is paying their hard-earned money for what you sell, and they have a good reason for it. Find out what that reason is and look for points of passion between your customer and your brand. Every one of those points of passion is an opportunity to build a community. So once you find those points of passion, you've got the beginnings of a community and you can start to feed that, you can start to interact with those people who share that passion, connect them with each other, they love to talk to each other about this, they don't need to just talk to you.

Let them talk to each other. If you can be the catalyst for that kind of relationship and that kind of connection, all your customers will appreciate it and your brand will get credit for it. Third, empower those customers as brand ambassadors. Ask them to talk on your behalf, they will. If you're listening to them and they feel like they have a relationship with you, that brings them closer to your brand, they will tell their friends, they love talking about that, and there's no better way to do that than through social media. That's what social media is about. So empower your customers to be brand ambassadors. The age-old way of doing it, which is not wrong, is referral programs. The old refer-a-friend program. Well, you can turbocharge that in a participation environment using social media and technology as accelerant and scale. It moves faster and you can reach more people with a program that is simply, if you refer a friend, I'll give you some kind of premium as a reward for that. So that's an easy way to use the technology changes that have happened that gave rise to participation marketing to activate an age-old marketing tactic of referrals. They become brand ambassadors when you do that.

Don't confuse brand spokespeople with brand ambassadors. Michael Jordan is a spokesperson for Nike. He makes millions of dollars because Nike and Jordan have an arrangement where they put his flying logo on a shoe. A brand ambassador is different, the brand ambassador in the participation context means somebody who has naturally become an advocate for your brand because of the relationship you've built with them. That's a different thing, and in some ways, it's complimentary. You want to have both maybe, if you can afford LeBron James or Michael Jordan, great. But every brand can afford ambassadors, all you have to do is find them and empower them. The last thing is to provide customization opportunities.

It actually requires a more one-on-one conversation between you and an individual customer. Now that can be a scale problem because most marketers don't have the capacity in their social media listening capabilities to have lots of one-on-one conversations and then provide customization. But technology can help you do that. If you find something in your interaction with customers that feels like a point of customization that you can build into your product, you can build technology that empowers individual customers to customize that product on their own without your involvement, and you can find ways to do that you might never have known about had you not had that kind of participation relationship with those customers. So use the participation relationship to find opportunities for customization and then use technology to activate that customization on a one-on-one level that runs itself.

Participation makes marketing easier and harder. It makes it easier because you've got this flow of information that you can react to, it's got... You've got more ways than ever of getting feedback about things. You'll get more information. That also makes it harder. In that world where information is coming to you so quickly and you can interact so frequently, there are more and more things you're going to have to make specific choices about. All marketers operate in a world of scarce resources. You don't have an unlimited budget. So participation marketing means you're going to have to gather lots of information and be very discerning about what information you act on and what information you don't. That's difficult. Those choices are hard, but you're much better off in a world filled with hard choices than you are in a world where you don't have enough information to make any choices.

Participation marketing can make things easier. It can also make things harder, but on balance, it makes things better. The key takeaways for participation in marketing are, always be talking to your customers, use technology to do it, create that flow of information back and forth between you and them that you can learn from. That they can feel empowered by and that can deepen your relationship with every interaction. You'll get smarter in the way you create communications messaging, you'll get smarter in the way you build products, you'll get smarter in the way you manage interactions with those customers, and because you're asking and you're giving customers the reaction that they want from participating, they'll become more committed to your brand and you'll have a deeper relationship with them.

It's a really, really powerful symbiotic relationship between customers and brands that didn't exist before the rise of participation marketing. So the four Ps of marketing are timeless. They're always going to be true. Price, product, promotion, place, but the fifth P, participation takes your marketing efforts to an entirely different place. And when you put those five Ps together, the things you can accomplish for your business are off the charts and they're really exciting and it's part of why we get so excited about the Online Masters and Marketing program is because it's going to show you how to use all five of those Ps together in the right way to accelerate all your marketing thinking throughout your entire career. In the online Masters of Marketing program, we're going to look at brands who are managing their participation efforts in really interesting ways.

You're going to see case studies of brands who have engaged their customers in ways that'll blow your mind and how they capitalize on opportunities that just came up out of nowhere, they didn't know this was going to happen, but they were watching, they saw something they could capitalize on and they capitalized on it. So we're going to show you not just the frameworks to use to think about participation and how it fits in the context of the other four Ps, but you're going to see examples of how marketers have used it, both in how they've created messages, how they've created products, and how they've created infrastructures in their marketing operation to take full advantage of participation.

One of the things we're really excited about the Online Master’s program is the marketing challenge. And the marketing challenge is something you develop personally in the very first class. Every student defines their own marketing challenge, which is a big important issue that you think you can solve using all the tools of marketing. You're going to define that challenge in the first class, and then you're going to carry it with you through the entire 15-month program. As you start to learn things about how to manage different aspects of the marketing mix through the Master’s program, you're going to be applying those learnings to that challenge and you're going to be a cumulatively building a solution to the challenge. One of the things you're going to bring into that challenge is participation marketing, how could you use the tools of participation and frameworks of participation to solve this big heady marketing challenge that you identified at the beginning of the course? At the end of the program, you're going to have a marketing plan that addresses specifically your challenge and uses every lever of the marketing mix to solve it.