Here’s a controversial thought: to maximise the impact of marketing efforts, building great experiences is no longer enough – businesses need to evolve to the next level. It’s happened before, it’s happening now, and it will happen again.
Engagement used to be the gold standard of impact. Get someone to take action and then convince them to do it again and again. But engagement wasn’t enough to make a brand sticky and competition was fierce, so experiences became the next big thing. We’ve lived in the age of experience for the last half-decade, but it is no longer enough.
Make no mistake, experiences and engagement are still important. It’s just that they’re not sufficient on their own to generate the necessary impact with stakeholders like they used to. So, what comes next? Enter ‘participation’. Participation puts more power into the hands of stakeholders and it gives them a voice, because participation, by its very definition, is two-way.
Participation at its highest level
When we talk about participation, we need to recognise that the world has changed (a change with origins that pre-date Covid-19). In particular, the consumer, and the way they think about and interact with the world, has changed. That means the way organisations think about and interact with their stakeholders must change too. But getting ahead of the curve is key.
Participation is built on reciprocal relationships between an organisation and its stakeholders, whether it be customers, colleagues, citizens or communities. Each of these audiences requires a different type of engagement but, whether earned internally or externally, participation paves the way for meaningful impact and a host of sustainable business outcomes.
Participation does more than produce a series of actions, the impact of which is easily forgotten; it enables us to transcend experiences and create long-lasting, emotional connections with our audiences. Like those that came before, participation begins with awareness and moves customers along a journey to engage in an experience. But beyond that experience is a new territory where organisations can boost loyalty, generate advocacy and enable people to share in the company’s identity.
Participation goes beyond traditional marketing
The traditional marketing funnel is just that: traditional. The first step is to build awareness with a stakeholder. The next step is to develop understanding. Step three is this idea of affinity, in which the potential stakeholder likes you and begins to have some attachment to you. This, generally, prompts the final stage and the stakeholder will engage.
It’s at this point that many marketers focus on the transaction (whatever it may be), and marketers aim to keep stakeholders in that position. Buy once, and then do it again and again. However, this is unemotional, short-term and easy to forget. This kind of one-way experience can leave stakeholders feeling unsatisfied and undervalued.
Participation catapults stakeholders out of that stagnant, unemotional position and introduces a new cycle: a two-way, reciprocal relationship that not only satisfies stakeholders’ needs, but enables the company to adapt and evolve as needs and expectations change.
When organisations enter this cycle, they create more valuable relationships with their stakeholders, creating more emotional connections that propel stakeholders along the participation curve to:
- Boost loyalty: a customer will repeatedly choose an organisation over comparable options because they like them and believe in their product.
- Generate advocacy: a customer will promote an organisation and even become an ambassador for said organisation to the people that matter the most to them. They are willing to open their network to that organisation.
- Share identity: this isn’t brand identity, this is an organisation’s brand as part of a stakeholder’s identity. The stakeholder feels such a significant and emotional connection with the organisation that they are willing to make pieces of the brand a part of who they are. They now associate a part of their being with part of the company and/or product.
These connections are anything but traditional. Using these points on the curve as your stakeholders’ intended destination will help marketers think beyond moment-in-time transactions to create long-lasting, highly impactful relationships that move the needle for the business.
Making participation possible
Your company may have all the right pieces of the puzzle, but do you see the big picture? Is every activity you invest in part of an integrated picture designed to boost loyalty, generate advocacy and share identity?
Many companies buy media from one company, creative from another and development somewhere else. A lot of work is happening – good work – and a lot of money is being spent. But is it giving you the maximum ROI?
Activating participation requires pulling all the right levers – at the right time and in the right order. It’s our belief that thinking about these levers or, the work you do, in a more interconnected way will deliver more value and bring you close to the top of the curve.
There are four levers that work to activate participation:
- Insights to drive strategy
- Technology to enable connections
- Efficiency to maximise impact
- Creativity to architect relationships
What are the benefits of participation?
If an organisation leans into participation, it can expect to see a number of benefits, including:
- Increased market share: whatever they sell, whatever they’re trying to acquire they’ll have more of it.
- Ability to earn a premium price
- Increased brand loyalty and equity, whereby stakeholders hold a more positive perception of the brand
- More loyal and outspoken advocates
Your organisation doesn’t have to let its good work and brand capital be lost in a sea of sameness. You don’t have to stop at great experiences. The world has shifted, and stakeholders are looking for organisations that offer them a more meaningful and connected experience; one that gives them a voice and opens the gates to a two-way relationship.
Grant Toups is chief client officer at ICF Next.
For more information about participation, email Participation@icfnext.com.