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.

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

Beth J., Farmville Denizen

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.