Marketing in the Participation Age

Advertising Week 2012 is upon us and, as industry leaders gather in New York to discuss, share and ideate, it is more appropriate than ever to evaluate the changing face and behaviors of the primary focus of all marketing activities... the character formerly known as the "consumer."

The birth of advertising is closely related to the consumerism in the United States. Businesses required efficient ways to produce enticements for consumers, whose role was necessary to save the producers from their newly-found production efficiency. It was widely thought that consumers required advertisers to "save them" from making inappropriate choices about products and services they didn't know about.

World War I reinforced the growth of the advertising industry as the government made a concentrated effort to set the country back on its feet and put people back to work, it strongly urged citizens to buy products from businesses that hired returning war veterans. As General Motors' Charles Kettering wrote in his 1929 article for Nation's Business titled "Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied," "The key to economic prosperity is the organised creation of dissatisfaction." This is all a fitting birth to the era depicted in Mad Men -- an era of shining knights whose role was it was to save the day by helping unaware consumers make emotional decisions about products and services.

Today, the Participation Age is more fragmented, personal and connected than we could ever have imagined when our industry was born -- and it's always on and happening in real time. Competitive companies understand that they must motivate participants to take action on their behalf to be successful in the Participation Age.

Consider this: More than "81 percent of upscale Gen Yers use Facebook every day, nearly twice the number who watch TV or read newspaper content, according to a report from L2 Think Tank." They are born participants who expect to engage with brands in real time and have mastered the tools that make it possible. Companies are facing the challenge of winning these participants as customers, with the hopes of fostering long-term relationships.

It is challenging to navigate the complex media environment and market to technology-savvy participants who expect a real-time relationship 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It no longer works to apply the old "send out a message and hope for the best" formula. And although most companies love the concept of embracing the notion of participation, the idea terrifies them somewhat, because there is no blueprint for marketing in the Participation Age.

Never has there been a time more relevant for marketers to understand how to harness participation, but doing so will require a new philosophy and new methods.

The Participation Way

The Participation Way is a fundamental shift to the philosophy of marketing. Quite simply, it means the new goal of marketing is not to broadcast out a persuasive message, but to instead create environments designed to nurture participation. Actions are the manifestation of participation. Actions are measurable and as they increase, amplification occurs. Consider performance as the accumulated result of actions.

Every contributor to the advertising planning and implementation process, from brand strategists and media buyers to digital leads and search analysts, should work through this process:
  • Start with your participants to create an environment designed to maximize actions.
  • Obviously, channel consideration is key in today's complex, cluttered media environment where everything is connected.
  • Create valuable content that is designed to satisfy participants' hunger to continually learn about the products and services they use.
  • Empower participants to have an active role in the marketing program itself.
  • Applying the participation way and motivating participation will lead to amplification.

SoLoMo: a Participation Tipping Point

Mobility, in particular, is perhaps the answer for companies that question the need to become more participant-focused. Social, local and mobile are intrinsic components of building this two-way relationship.

Social media interaction is becoming the new norm in people's personal relationships and is now a key component of the participant's relationship with a brand, as well. For example, Performics recent "Life on Demand" (June 2012) study of 1,000 Americans found that 40 percent of people are more comfortable engaging with people online than in person and 30 percent would rather talk to close friends via social rather than traditional modes. Marketers must embrace just how significant of a role social networks play in people's lives and embrace these new social norms.

As such, many brands are rightfully shifting focus from simple fan development to efforts that establish relationships. In fact, the study referenced above found that 44 percent of participants prefer when brands post pictures and 37 percent prefer video. For example, brands can use paid engagements and sponsored stories on social networks, as opposed to standard ads. We have talked as an industry time and again about it finally being the "year of mobile," but there is much more to it than addressing mobile as a channel. Mobility is about the process of understanding the fundamental shifts in how we interact with the world and one another.

The static media landscape as we knew it is gone -- the participation age is upon us and presents ample opportunity for active engagement. Changing participant attitudes towards branding and marketing messages must guide our strategies and integrated branding opportunities must exist within the search, social, local and mobile media landscapes

For more on the participation in the marketing age, visit