The human desire to participate can help brands create deeper connections with consumers
Remember as a kid, sitting on the sidelines of a game of hide and seek or football and not being allowed to “get in the game”. Although I’m sure it didn’t happen to you very often, on the few occasions when it did, I bet it felt truly awful.
To be excluded from a group – or any kind of social activity – fundamentally jars with our basic animal instincts. By not being part of a collective moment we momentarily lose a little bit of ourselves. This is because there is a powerful human need for individuals to feel part of something bigger, to participate in and shape communal and group events, to be part of something that is beyond you as an individual.
Without descending too much into faux-anthropology, I’m sure this deep seated motivation could probably be tracked back millions of years when man fundamentally had both a herd-like mentality and instinct. According to a recent TED lecture by Christopher McDougall entitled ‘Are We Born To Run?’, man’s ability to run comes from our prehistoric need to run in packs to chase down and kill animals well before any hunting tools were invented).
It is this primal urge to engage as a collective that, if understood well, can be harnessed and used to unlock massive potential for brands.
The problem is, much of marketing, advertising and communication (both digital and traditional) is centred on the self and defined by individual identity. By putting pen portraits and consumer bulls-eyes at the heart of our thinking, we have missed some fundamental drivers that can help shape and positively influence consumer behaviour.
I believe that if we can put the dynamics of groups at the heart of our thinking and deliver campaigns that not only communicate, but allow consumers to participate we can unlock this urge to the benefit of brands.
The death of the individual and the rise of community
The key driver of this opportunity, I believe, is a growing sense of community that we have in society today. In an era of mass fragmentation of media and the (supposed) breakdown of local communities, this seems a strange thing to say, but digital communications (particularly mobile and the social web) have created a society that is connected in ways never before thought possible.
I think the most talked about and current example of this is David Cameron’s current commitment to deliver the ‘big society’ to the electorate of the UK.
Whether you believe the policy is right or wrong, the telling thing is that such a concept can be seriously discussed and debated by a major political party and the prime minister himself. Can you imagine the same debate happening in 1980s Britain?
The 1980s heralded the rise of the individual. Greed was good; ‘me’ was far superior to ‘we’. This zeitgeist dictated the ways in which brands communicated with their audiences. This is the decade where much of what we now consider as traditional communication strategy was crystallised and formed. It is the golden age of the big budget TV commercial, testaments to the pursuit of personal gain and the celebration of the id.
Individual persuasion rather than mass participation was the order of the day.
Our new media landscape has fundamentally shifted our outlook on life. This not only affects our relationships with each other, it fundamentally changes the terms within which consumers will want to interact with brands and their messages.
Consumers now place connection with the community at the heart of their lives. In fact, recent government research into perceptions around the ‘big society’ found that people would be engaged more if it was called the ‘Big Community’. Community participation, whether on-line or off-line has grown to become a fluid and pervasive part of pretty much all our daily routines.
Brands that can tap into these communities will prosper. Brands that can use them to generate participation in their ideas will win.
Building participatory ideas that connect with communities
We at BD have long held that ideas which invoke participation are much more powerful than simple one-way communications. The simple fact is that actions speak louder than words. Participatory ideas are stickier. They tap into our desire to be active in our communities. They have more impact on our attitude and behaviours. They lead to bigger impact and bigger sales. They allow us to build relationships and ultimately maintain them.
There are five fundamental elements that are key in successful participatory campaign ideas. In essence it’s these stages that we must lead our target communities through in order to drive participation.
First we need to capture attention. We need to create an idea that resonates with the core values of the community and gets them to take notice. We then need to deliver this idea in places where the community gather and are present in large numbers.
Engage & Consider
Once we have their attention, we need to allow the community to engage with the idea. We must let them debate it, share it, use it and even abuse it if they so chose. Only by opening as many routes of engagement as possible can we lead them to the next stage.
This is the end game. The moment when the consumer moves from someone actively engaged to someone who now actively participates. This reaction could be as simple and shallow as ‘liking’ a comment to the more in-depth involvement of participating in a game or even, ultimately, buying a product.
The final stage. Communications that elicit participation differ from standard one-way communications in that they demand some form of effort from our consumers. It is only polite that this effort is followed up on and rewarded in some way. This could be anything from a simple follow-up thank you communication to a tangible reward.
And this isn’t just theory. It’s a tried and tested model that has allowed us to build campaigns that tap into the essence of communities and elicit participation via both traditional and digital channels.
Making it work in the real world
Our Melbourne office’s recent award-winning work for Whiskas Pledge demonstrates the participatory theory in action. The campaign connected with communities of cat-lovers and invited them to participate in a campaign that allowed them to pledge their love for their cats and receive free product for their effort.
Over 325,000 did, and with just under 6 million points of engagement and over 700,000 samples distributed a solid participation strategy created not only brand awareness and equity but also a new army of engaged and evangelical consumers.
Closer to home is the Football League activity we ran for Coca-Cola a couple of years ago that tapped into the tribal nature of football fans by allowing them to win a player for their club. With over 300,000 fans participating and one million entries, Coke managed to turn their sponsorship from a badge-ing exercise to a point of engagement with the brand.
Other brands are also utilising participatory campaigns to drive deeper engagement with consumers. Walker’s Comic Relief campaign is another shining example, as are a whole slew of Nike campaigns since ‘Run London’.
In a new connected age where communities reign supreme, participation is the key to power.
Lee Barber, Director, BD