#SESCHI: Performics CEO Sets Ground for Participative Marketing Revolution

The opening keynote of the 10th SES Chicago conference by Performics global chief executive Daina Middleton was more of an inspirational talk than an overall convention agenda. Middleton called on all marketers in the room to shift their mindsets from the old school war qualification to an approach that she referred to as the process of the “nurturing gardener.”

Speaking to a crowd of over 400 delegates, Middleton set the tone for the day: marketers need to change. They need to change their approaches, their tools, and before all of that, they need to adjust their perspectives and beliefs to a whole new philosophy. But how?


“I like to talk about participants as opposed to consumers,” Middleton said, noting that using the term “participants” is the first and necessary step for the mindset shift to happen “call them differently to approach them differently.”

Leave the War Room for the Garden

Marketers have, for the longest time, used the war metaphor: tactics, strategy, etc., words that originally come from Jack Trout, one of the founders of the marketing warfare theory. Words such as these are not conducive to the whole idea of establishing a relationship and nurturing it, Middleton remarked, urging her peers to revert, instead, to the “nurturing gardener” posture. “Most successful CMOs focus on relationships, not just transactions,” she added. This is something that seems obvious today but it still remains a challenge for a lot of marketers, who are still hung up on the persuasion approach. Those who adapt succeed and keep their jobs longer than before.

One example of a successful marketer with this mindset is Ted Rubin, known for his “return on relationship” approach or #RonR, which he applied to Collective Bias, an agency that co-builds with consumers, or participants, as Middleton calls them. Earlier this year, Rubin published a book called Return on Relationship: The New Measure for Success.

Let’s Rewind a Little Bit

Nothing extremely new in the participatory approach: participants nowadays assume that everything is searchable, that they need to be heard as well as hear what their peers have to say. Participants are active and want a dialogue.

She referred to her own experience – having worked for 16 years at HP – Middleton decided to leave after her last campaign, where the motto was “what do you have to say?” This was before the age of social and although HP – still called by its full name “Hewlett-Packard” at the time – was asking its consumers their opinions, the company “didn’t want to know”, she said. This was the catalyst moment for Middleton to leave and join a smaller structure, on the agency side, where she thought the listening process and dialogue with what she calls “participants” could happen more easily.

Back to Basics

Of course, learning how to measure ROI in a world of interactions versus impressions is one key aspect with engagement and content being at the heart of the matter. Yes, getting approval from the C-suite has become even more of a challenge as there is not a universal recipe for ROI; social and success is measured on actions, even real-time actions via mobile marketing. But that wasn’t the most striking part.

The Quiet Revolution

Middleton’s keynote title “marketing through participation” didn’t quite prepare the crowd for the “bomb” she dropped discretely as she explained how her most progressive clients were adapting to marketing through participation. One person in the audience picked up on it: it’s applicable to all industries and to society in general.

A participatory model is a grass root movement that can be applied in marketing, publishing, and all industries. Because marketing is no longer one silo – marketing is this thing that has a finger dipped in every pie across a company’s structure.

Governance Models: If This Then That

What are those? Those are processes that the companies have put in place so that if anything happens, there is a workaround. It’s about making sure that everyone involved in that process gears up when needed and as needed. The process break silos, they go across divisions and even through hierarchies. Does that ring a bell? If you happen to have worked in PR, in a nutshell, it is like a blueprint for crisis management. For instance, you have an airline as a client: you build a process to follow if a crash were to happen. Everyone will know what they have to do, when, with whom, and how.

The New Marketing Philosophy = Lean Startup Approach

As a matter of fact, there is a startup called IFTTT: (If This Then That). It allows you to build “recipes” – i.e. processes – to generate actions based on conditions you set up. Let’s say you are looking for housing on craigslist: you set up the IFTTT to send the new ads corresponding to your search automatically to your inbox at the second they hit the site, thereby allowing you to beat the crowd.

Marketing touches a lot of parts of organizations today: it’s a grey zone that spreads across. The “if this then that” approach allows marketers to overcome organizational boundaries/limits.

Here are the principles Middleton set forward that are directly derived from the startup world:

1: Embrace test and learn values: things move really quickly, you need to constantly try. If something works, grab it right away and scale. If it begins to not work, change it.

Middleton highlighted that 30 percent of marketing budget that most of her progressive clients are allocating is dedicated to testing and learning.

2: Innovate, don’t perfect. It’s a fast speed environment: innovate constantly along the test and learn values. These two points are the basis of startup operations. It’s called “reiterating.”

3: Act quickly and motivate others.

4: Mix and blend; don’t recreate. For instance, Middleton’s most progressive clients will go out looking for startups to partner with.

5: Embrace failures in the pursuit of results. Points 3 and 5 can be summed up by Facebook’s philosophy: “Move fast and break things.” The other motto comes from IDEO chief executive, David Kelley, “Fail fast and succeed sooner.” Both expressions are at the core of the mentality of startups. In short, the key to a great marketing collaboration requires having a client who understands that the goal may not be reached the first time around as it takes time to reiterate.

Top Down or Grassroots?

With all the above points in mind, the challenge is how to suggest the nurtured approach. Middleton opts for and is convinced by a top down approach, which is strange given the language and positioning. There is a discrepancy right there: trying to convince the inking powers is participation; Waiting for them to impulse the change by themselves is a one way street, like the old persuasion model. Because, really, a participative model is a grassroots model. Maybe we can invite Middleton to discuss this further with us?

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