7 - Valuing Participation
"Participation" is the junk drawer of engagement with a brand, a place for everything that doesn't fit neatly into other categories. It seems to be individual, excluding any activity that would involve making the brand known to others, and involve interactions other that watching ads and making purchases.
Participation programs have been around for quite a while: any sweepstakes, contest, game, or promotion that is "no purchase required" is a form of participation with the brand. Technology can be leveraged to identify and track the behavior of participants, as well as a device by which participation can be effected.
From a marketing perspective, participation programs drive awareness and improve sentiment toward the brand. There can be some short-term benefit to sales (if promotions are included) but the greater goal is to get into the "consideration set" of shoppers who might not have otherwise considered the brand.
People are also more likely to advocate participation programs than to pass along advertising messages - telling friends about an event or an opportunity to participate (and gain the reward) seems like magnanimity to some.
Using technology for participation facilitates the process for participant and alike. For example, collecting box tops and mailing them off is cumbersome for the participant to do and for the marketing department to process - but scanning them into a handheld device is simple and can be processed electronically. Also, the portability of mobile computing enables programs to be taken into the field.
Participation programs can also establish brand preference: if the participation program is an enjoyable experience, the sentiment accrues to the brand, and increases the likelihood of preference in considering options when making a purchase.
The desire to tie metrics to sales and life can sometimes become overpowering, making the participation event into more of a promotional campaign geared to drive immediate sales rather than build awareness and sentiment - and if not carefully managed the two can be in conflict.
Another temptation is to use promotional events to gather customer information and compile a database of leads. Customers are already wary of "strings attached" offers and are reluctant to participate - but if you attempt to downplay or hide the fact that they will be treated as a lead, trust can be damaged when their expectations have been violated.
Ultimately, it takes restraint and the patience to achieve lifetime value to mitigate the desire to make everything about immediate sales - but the ability to track individuals who were engaged in a participation campaign and follow the sales that (eventually) precipitate may help to keep the hounds at bay.
Rather than running your own campaign, it might also be possible to leverage social location-based gaming systems. The author refers specifically to scvngr.com, a "scavenger hunt" that enables players to earn badges and real-world rewards by going places and doing things (taking photos, doing origami with a taco wrapper, and whatnot). This enables you to access a standing audience who participate regularly, rather than having to build and feed your own.
(EN: Looked into this firm, and it seems to be doing well, claiming over 1,000 sponsors and 1 million users - but it's also noted that the platform has been adopted by colleges as a method of giving new students tours of campus. This makes it focused on a market segment, and also likely that there are many users who registered, took a tour, and are not returning.)
Interview with Cyriac Roeding, Shopkick Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer
The author returns to shopkick, which is more targeted to merchants.
- Because it requires people to visit physical stores and perform less frivolous activities (try on clothing, etc.), it is a more immediate driver of sales. The firm reports that conversion rates run from 20% in clothing retail to 95% in grocery.
- Another benefit of the program is the ability to present an offer to a person when they are entering the store, rather than sending it to them after their visit for their next purchase: especially for goods that are not purchased regularly, it's not pleasant to get a discount offer on something you have just purchased.
- GPS is not precise enough: you can't tell if the shopper is in the parking lot, walking past, in the store, or in the store next door. Their service uses an in-store transmitter with a limited range to more reliably reach people in the store, or in a given department of a store.
- It is not presently gamified, but they are seeking board advisors from gaming firms to consider the potential of moving in this direction. For now, shopping is the heart of the application, analogous to in-store signage to draw attention when the shopper is visiting a store.
- A particular area of caution is making sure that the experience is focused on the shopper rather than the merchant - it's not about annoying them with promotions for things they do not want. If it turns into a nag or a series of commercials, people will abandon it.
Zynga and 7-Eleven
The retail chain 7-Eleven has partnered with gaming powerhouse Zynga, which offers in-game rewards for customers who visit the convenience stores. The author presents two interviews, one with the program manager and another with a player.
Evan Brody, Senior Marketing Manager
- The promotion ran in the summer of 2010 in 7,000 stores, and featured over 30 products that featured codes that could be redeemed in Zynga games. It drew more than 1 million users who entered 3.3 million codes, with about 80% of participants entering codes for multiple products.
- He was surprised by the speed at which the promotion spread - it normally takes a few days to a week, but with this program people were looking for products in stores before the program officially launched. Word spread fast in the gaming community.
- The promotion was considered a great success. He tells a (tall) tale of two customers who were neighbors in the game but had never met in real life, and both "had driven several hundred miles to come to the store to buy products and meet." Also, people "were purchasing large quantities of products to share with their friends" and even those who didn't buy learned about the availability of products they didn't know the store stocked.
Beth J., Farmville Denizen
- She was introduced to the game by a friend she met on a cruise, and eventually built a social network of people she knew only in the game, and is now a regular player who devotes an hour every day. She realizes it can become an addiction and has made a point of not installing it on her cell phone for fear it would be a constant distraction.
- She finds the game "mindless" and "relaxing" and has become her ritual before bedtime, to unwind before going to sleep. She also finds it to be a useful way to network with other people, and has Farmville friends across the country and overseas, people who paly at about the same time of day.
- Most the people in her group are middle-aged (forties and fifties) and include many more women than men.
- She buys "Farmville cash" a her grocery store in small increments, $10 at a time, and suggest it adds up in the game. She considers it to be part of her entertainment budget, and looks for opporuntiies to earn "free" cash via promotions, naming a few specific offers.
- For the 7-Eleven promotion, she bought all the products to get the rewards.
Interview with Keith Simmons, CEO, Prizelogic
The author presents this individual as "a veteran of online promotions" and cites a range of companies he has worked for.
- In the beginning, companies leveraged the online channel as a way to build awareness and compile a database of leads - they just wanted data - but it changed to become more promotional and sales-driven afterward.
- Promotions are far more successful in social networks. People are more likely to click an ad if a friend likes it. He admits there is not any industry research, beyond vendor case studies. The same is true for promotions - the "social" element helps spread the word quickly.
- Instant gratification is important online - the longer you have to wait (such as a contest that has a drawing later rather than a benefit right away), the less appealing it is to participants.
- Gaming appeals to "moms", age 20 to 54 - even male-oriented promotions skew female.
- There is also the phenomenon of "sweepstakes hobbyists" who seek out any chance to get something for free, and are not going to convert into buyers. For some it can be a very wasteful problem, and firms are looking for was to limit exposure to real prospects.
- The chief benefit of mobile is in drawing people to a brick-and-mortar establishment: get people into a store with a promotion, offer a bonus promotion for purchasing something when they are there.
- He also sees that games will become more cliquish: competing among friends is more attractive than competing with anonymous people on the national level. He's seen promotions that performed better when the scope was tightened. For example, a contest within a college campus had a 25% better response rate than a generic one. Its likely that playing with friends will become more popular in future.