If you want your customers to participate with your brand online, you must create advertising that enables it.
When you hear the term "participation marketing," what comes to mind? Do you associate it with engagement marketing, direct marketing, or even permission marketing? Do you immediately think of social media, or campaign customization? In fact, participation marketing is all of these things and more. It's about encouraging Internet users to participate in your digital campaigns. But it's just as much about your brand participating in the online experience.
Now more than ever participation marketing is expected; Internet users anticipate the opportunity to interact with brands online. As you saw last week, those marketing in association with the World Cup have been focusing on interactivity, inviting users to customize and personalize online media in support of their preferred team.
Participation marketing is essential at times like this. We're in the midst of an international obsession that resonates so strongly with consumers that they want nothing more than to be a part of it. Brands that can offer them the chance to feel included will succeed in attracting their attention. Even if the chance to participate seems relatively inconsequential (creating a virtual team jersey for example, or painting one's face on a Facebook profile picture), this simple, but meaningful act gives consumers the chance to be a part of a cultural trend.
That isn't to say participation marketing must be limited to major cultural events. Digital marketers are eternally finding good excuses to incite participation in their everyday campaigns. Regardless of their campaign objective, most marketers value the importance of creating positive product associations, increasing brand familiarity, and encouraging a level of interaction that will boost affinity and recall. Participation marketing is ideally suited to accomplish all of these things, because it's primarily about two things: engagement and customization.
When little-known New Zealand broadband provider Orcon wanted to showcase its services and boost awareness of its brand, it looked to participation marketing to help engage potential customers. The company offered new and potential customers the chance to perform in a virtual concert with famed rocker Iggy Pop.
The contest invited consumers to submit a video of their musical skills - an online audition of sorts - through Orcon's Facebook page. The resulting live event employed Orcon Broadband high-speed Internet connections to effectively demonstrate the ability of the company to connect the winners to Iggy Pop in Miami.
If the message behind the initiative wasn't clear enough, Orcon's explanation says it all: "The Internet is enabling Kiwis to do incredible things each day and this helps us prove that." And just in case there was any question as to whether the company's efforts were appreciated, last month the campaign won the prestigious Cannes Lion Direct Grand Prix.
To help boost interest in the upcoming movie "Despicable Me" from Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment, technology partner Oddcast developed a microsite where users can control the film characters' actions by way of a mic or typed commands. Consumers can also dress and accessorize their own character and share it with friends through social sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Although the user is in control of what the characters do and how they look, they retain their existing personalities, thus offering some insight into these funny little stars of the film. Through participation marketing, Universal Pictures has managed to introduce moviegoers to the film, its characters, and the type of comedy and animation they can expect to get in the theater.
Those who engage with the site are investing time with the product and creating an association with its characters. If they're happy with the experience, they'll surely want to see more.
Participation marketing offers media planners and buyers an important lesson in digital marketing: if you want your customers to participate with your brand online, you must create advertising that enables it. Look to the unique characteristics of your products and your campaign goals and you'll surely see ways in which consumers' participation makes sense. Hold engagement and customization in high regard and you'll find that participation marketing comes easily.
Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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