There’s more content on the internet than even the most engaged and curious internet user could ever hope to consume. As brands, publishers, social media networks, and creators compete for the attention of audiences, engaging users long-term is becoming more difficult. Participation marketing comes with a simple goal: To build relationships with consumers through ongoing experiences with brands.
As studies show that Millennials — who will represent nearly a third of total retail sales by 2020 — value experiences over possessions, it’s important for brands and marketers to consider how they can offer meaningful consumer experiences. Participation marketing is about creating a relationship between brands and their consumers, and that relationship is vital to marketers’ success.
Participation marketing is promotional efforts created with the intention of drawing audiences into ongoing engagements, experiences, and conversations with brands. The term “participation marketing” is sometimes used interchangeably with “engagement marketing,” “event marketing,” and “experiential marketing”, but the term itself boils down to a simple idea: That audiences can and will participate in and engage with content that’s personal and gives them a part of a compelling brand story.
Participation marketing happens online and offline, on blogs, at events, in grocery store lines, and through social media. At the heart of participation marketing is engagement, and Marketo outlines five guiding principles for engagement marketing. It says that brands and marketers should look to connect with audiences:
While tactics may vary, these principles demonstrate the importance of approaching consumers’ individual interests and behaviors. Marketers should look for ongoing opportunities to engage audiences where they spend time and with the intention of developing customer relationships in addition to achieving specific goals.
Participation marketing covers a variety of marketing tactics. Part of the nature of participation marketing is the integrated nature of it. More than just a single campaign or event, participation marketing efforts are often sustained.
Some of the most memorable participation marketing tactics are brand activations and events. Massive conferences like SXSW, VidCon, and San Diego Comic-Con are full of brand activations like sponsored live podcast studios, interactive attendee lounges, or even immersive fictional experiences. These activations invite consumers to interact with brands and offer them experiences that leave a lasting impression.
Participation marketing takes many forms but is aimed at keeping brands at the forefront of consumers’ minds no matter where they are in the buying journey. Participation marketing may include:
For marketers, participation marketing isn’t just about getting audiences to subscribe to a newsletter or like an Instagram post. It’s about becoming a part of consumers’ lives and bringing them into an ongoing, evolving brand narrative.
Participation marketing is ongoing and happens online and offline, engaging users where they spend time. There are dozens of ways for brands and marketers to engage in participation marketing, and the most effective efforts use a number of different marketing tactics in tandem.
Existing examples of effective participation marketing tactics demonstrate just how diverse the world of participation marketing is. These examples engaged audiences in very different ways and invited them to participate in evolving relationships and experiences with brands.
Coca-Cola’s “Share A Coke” Campaign
The oft-cited Coca-Cola “Share A Coke” campaign is a perfect example of participation marketing that exists outside of flashy events or brand activations. Looking to reach its customers personally, Coca-Cola did something devastatingly simple: It replaced its logos with popular names and terms of endearment like “BFF” and “Buddy.”
Marketo points out that this personalization fostered an emotional connection between Coca-Cola and consumers. “Share A Coke” wasn’t about raising brand awareness or converting new customers — most people are well aware of coke and are or have been customers. Instead, the campaign was focused on giving consumers a personal part of the Coca-Cola story and encouraging them to pick up a Coke.
Starbucks’ White Cup Challenge
In April 2014, Starbucks announced its White Cup Contest. Customers were invited to decorate a white Starbucks cup and submit an Instagram photo using the hashtag #whitecupcontest. The winning design was printed on a reusable Starbucks cup and the contest generated more than 3K posts.
Through this participation marketing campaign, Starbucks capitalized on the unspoken tradition of customers drawing on its cups and emphasized a personal connection with its customers.
Movember Foundation’s Movember Campaign
In an effort to raise money and awareness for men’s health, the Movember Foundation hosts the “Movember Challenge” each November. To take part in the challenge, participants sign up on the foundation’s website and pledge to either grow a mustache, exercise each day, or host a Movember event during the month.
Participants raise awareness using one of the three methods while simultaneously raising donations. Most notably, the Movember Foundation creates a memorable month long experience for participants and fosters a continuing relationship with participants year after year.
Apple “Shot on iPhone” Campaign
To advertise the camera capabilities of its iPhones Apple started the “Shot on iPhone” campaign. Apple allows iPhone users to submit photos or videos for the chance to be featured on an Apple billboard, Apple Instagram post, or an Apple television commercial.
Through the campaign, Apple has situated itself as providing users the means to capture and share beautiful moments from their lives. Furthermore, the company emphasizes its interest in including customers in its larger brand story by showcasing certain photos and videos.
Live.me’s Talent Show Booth at VidCon 2017
Dancing, singing, laughing, and more! All on the #Liveme app. Join today and follow us on social for updates and contest opportunities! A post shared by Live.me (@streamliveme) on
To increase brand awareness and consumer engagement during Vidcon 2017, Live.me created an interactive booth that connected online users and attendees. The booth included a stage where attendees demonstrated various talents, which were streamed through the Live.me app and viewable by the public.
Online users voted for their favorite talents in real time using the app and participants won a variety of prizes. The live video platform positioned itself as an inclusive community by unifying users across space, and provided participants with a positive experience they could associate with the brand.
AwesomenessTV’s Interactive Ball Pit at Vidcon 2017
We’re falling for this @streamliveme ball pit at #VidConUS…literally! Head to our IG story to experience the fun for yourself. @rubasworld #VidConAwesomeness #ad A post shared by AwesomenessTV (@awesomenesstv) on
Live.me and AwesomenessTV teamed up during Vidcon 2017 to create an interactive ball pit for attendees. The apparatus included a video camera that captured fans falling backward into the pit and iPads to seamlessly share the branded content across social media.
The ball pit was decorated in clear signage from both brands and fans were also encouraged to take videos of themselves and share it across their personal social media accounts. The two brands worked together to provide consumers with an unusual experience and made sure they left a lasting positive impression.
Subaru’s #itsasubiething Photo Contest
To boost customer engagement in 2017, Subaru employed the #itsasubiething Instagram photo contest. The brand encouraged users to post a photo of their Subaru on Instagram and include the hashtag #itsasubiething.
Subaru then reposted the best photos on its official Instagram account. A large part of participation marketing is encouraging consumers to interact with your brand, which Subaru accomplished using social media.
ALS’s Ice Bucket Challenge
In 2014, to promote awareness surrounding Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and prompt donations the ALS Association announced the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.” Social media users recorded themselves pouring a bucket of ice water on either a friends head or their own and called upon viewers to donate to the ALS association.
The challenge quickly went viral and became an annual summer event, demonstrating the association’s adeptness at establishing an evolving relationship with consumers.
Yoplait’s “Save Lids to Save Lives” Campaign
Since 1997, Yoplait has raised over $35 million dollars to fund breast cancer research through its annual “Save Lids to Save Lives” campaign. Each autumn, Yoplait creates pink lids for its yogurt and gives customers the opportunity to mail lids back to the company.
For each pink lid received, Yoplait donates $.10 to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Though the campaign has been renamed to “Friends in the Fight”, Yoplait continues to run an event that allows customers to affect change by working with the brand and fosters a lasting relationship.
The Dropbox Podcast Studio At SXSW
Popular file-sharing service Dropbox hosted the Dropbox Podcast Studio at 2016’s SXSW conference in Austin, TX. During SXSW, Dropbox hosted events, panels, workshops, and live recordings of popular podcasts.
The Dropbox Podcast Studio brought people together to learn more about podcasting, connect with their favorite creators, and to interact with the Dropbox brand in the process. Dropbox isn’t in the business of podcasts but is a tool created for anyone who needs a fast, secure, and convenient way to share files with collaborators. In hosting the Dropbox Podcast Studio, Dropbox associated itself with something that attendees were invested in and gave consumers a positive experience that was tied to a larger brand story of sharing and creating.