Change the rules, not the game: the Power of #ParticipationBranding

In 2012, my co- Regional Strategy Director, APAC at  Iris Worldwide,  Paul Gage @gagey501 and I did a lot of thinking around what we see as the future of brand building within the digital & social revolutionImage. At Iris, we believe the best brands of tomorrow will be Participation brands. Below is a thought piece we recently wrote on the power of Participation branding and our take on the 5P’s marketers really need to think about:

If you work in brand consultancy or a brand strategy department right now, you might be a bit worried about your future.  There are a lot of marketers on both client and agency side talking about the death of branding, marketing and strategy.  Kevin Roberts from Saatchi’s has been particularly vocal with his talk at the Institute of Directors annual convention in the UK.    There have been other keynote speeches at Cannes and Spikes in 2012 that promoted the ‘don’t think, just do it’ approach.

The trouble is, this ‘put it out and see if it works’ approach is not far removed from the myopic thinking of ‘build it and they will come’ which led to the vast microsite graveyard.

Do branding and strategy people need to start polishing their CVs?   Well if you’re still hiding behind brand architectures created in workshop vacuums without real people and still believing there’s a single brand essence, promise and big idea that should flow through everything then maybe it’s time to start crawling for recommendations on LinkedIn.

We still need good brand strategy and big thinking.  We just need to change the rules, and that does mean less talk, more listening and more action and more re-action. We need to change the rules by which brands are imagined and behave.

The most loved and effective brands are an intrinsic part of culture – stimulating interest, involvement and advocacy without constant media support. They are authentically valuable experiences that people participate in, not just a string of marketed products and services that they consume in a passive way.

The successful brands of today and tomorrow are Participation Brands.

These brands put participation at the heart of the brand experience – not as an add-on.  They create a gravitational pull enabling them to outsell without having to necessarily outspend their competition.

Being a participation brand means you still have to have a strategic purpose – it’s not a free for all of random initiatives.  However, this purpose is not something that sits on a PowerPoint slide.  It’s a dynamic, evolving and collaborative system embedded into the operational DNA of the organization.  It’s an approach that’s designed to involve customers, stakeholders, fans and beyond through immersive and interactive initiatives that allow people to join in, connect, converse and co-create.

Essentially, a brand is only as good as the sum of their audience’s positive interactions, so value comes from creating an ecology of interconnected experiences that drive advocacy.  But this ecology is designed from a strategic intent that allow the brand to be a part of the fabric of an ever-evolving culture of passions, relationships and conversations, not a fixed entity demanding a pre-determined consumer response.

A word of caution though.  Participation branding isn’t just doing ‘more digital and social’.  Genuine participation brands think content, context, experience and conversations.  This means planning for all interactions and possible participation moments.  Of course technology leaps through multiple screens and surfaces brings multiple opportunities for participation.  We should also develop initiatives for human interactions at events and experiences, call centres or in retail environments.  Technology is an enabler that allows for greater participation in all of these interactions that the brand can have with people and create a cohesive ecology.

Participation branding doesn’t mean trying to get everyone to get deeply involved at all times.  That’s unrealistic.   But people have different motivations that can lead to different tactics. Being useful, driving belonging, enhancing one’s status, rewarding and recognizing my contribution – these are all different motivations for participation and sharing of ideas.

So how do you create a participation brand? Where do you start?  We all know the famous 4P’s of marketing, well, we think there are now 5 principles governing successful participation brands, they just happen to start with ‘P’ as well!

Purpose & Passion.  Believing in something and being willing to make it happen as the way to drive profit and perception.  It’s essential to align with people’s passion points. Being interesting in what people are interested in and making sure your brand has a meaningful role.

Prototype.  Trialing new business models, new initiatives, and not being afraid to bring people into those prototypes and learning on the fly.  This means living at the speed of culture, not the speed of research.  Being in a constant state of beta mode.

Play.  People change their behaviours when they actively get involved and do something.  The principles of play and gaming allow people to see goals and get rewarded.  Marketers need to stop thinking about their brands as static systems, but rather ask themselves ‘What game are we asking people to play with us’ ?  Participation brands let each and every person leave a bit of their DNA on an idea. They leave space for a person to ‘mark’ the experience as their own so they can pass it on as their branded involvement, not the company’s.

Presence & Propagation.  We can’t just be engaging people when it’s convenient for us.  We need 365 days of presence not 360 degree bursts of activity.   In this digital age people actively filter to find what interests them.  So we need appropriate propagation of our initiatives – through advocates, adorers and ambassadors, but also realizing that there is still a necessary role for paid media too.  However, media should be targeted, relevant and encourage participation.

Pivot.  (With thanks to the Lean Start Up).  Great participation brands know that to stay relevant they need to constantly PIVOT and react to what’s happening in culture. Planning for content you don’t create and setting up structures to be able to evolve and adapt your product and campaign ideas depending on how your community interact with them.

Participation brands are not afraid to move on.  Some things run out of steam.  Don’t flog an idea beyond its shelf life.  But equally, remember that marketers and agencies get bored a long time before ‘real people’ do.  You need good reporting, KPIs, benchmarks, measurement and evaluation.

So who’s doing it well?  Of course the titans and icons of Nike, Apple, Google and Red Bull all have participation baked in: Nike’s Fuelband, every Apple product, Chrome’s initiatives with Jay Zee or with Lego and Red Bull with their music  and action sport initiatives.

But what about in APAC and in Australia in particular?

The work we’re doing with Johnnie Walker’s sponsorship of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1TM team  - the ‘Step Inside’ platform is an example of creating content, experiences and conversation around different contextual environments with different levels of participation.    Branded content videos offer people a low-effort way of seeing what’s happening inside the circuit with Lewis and Jenson.  This is linked to promotions in duty free, bars, clubs and grocery outlets.  Branded events activated through social media allow a deeper level of participation and the opportunities to get really close to the glamour and the action of F1TM with face-to-face conversations with the drivers or the opportunity to drive an F1TM car.

2012’s most successful campaigns like ‘Share a Coke’,  ‘The Perfect Lager Project’ for Arvo beer, ‘BYO Cup Day’ for 7 Eleven and ‘Mobile’ Medic’ for the Australian Defence Force – all had participation baked into the DNA of the idea. All with amazing results.

So, no we don’t think we’re living through the death of marketing, but rather 2013, will be an amazingly exciting time for brands.  But brand consultants, strategists and planners need to throw away their wheels, onions and pyramids.    It’s time for us to leave our ivory towers and get involved with the real world.  It’s time for strategy to participate.

Coke FaceLook app for Summer Love

Great Facebook integration with live activations for Cokes 2011 Summer of Love campaign in Israel. They created FaceLook to connect teenagers online and give them an innovative way to express themselves. Idea based on app from Face.com,  facial recognition technology integrating with Facebook posts.

What friends will do for a free Coke

Coca Cola have taken their interactive vending machine idea to a new level, quite literally. Building on the brands strategy of turning their most famous touchpoint, a vending machine into an interactive and social content producer, they’ve created the Friendship Machine. Cute little idea to show what friends will do to get a free Coke.

Another example of how a simple social idea can surprise and delight, which for Coke, is a key part of their brand strategy.

Is crowdsourcing getting old? Coke’s 24hr live session w/ Maroon 5

Coke’s on the crowdsourcing bandwagon.

Last week, Coke in collaboration with Maroon 5 and peeps of the world embarked on a social experiment around music. Maroon 5 were tasked with creating a song within 24hrs with the help of you, the consumer, facilitated by Coke.  The idea was called Coca C0la Maroon 5 24hr Session

The idea was highly interactive driven via Facebook, Cokes youtube channel and twitter. Clearly, I like the idea of collaborating with consumers around the creation of a song, it taps into Gen C’s need to be involved with the brand story in real time and obviously taps into Coke’s key content pillar around music.

An example of some of the tweets they received from the Coke community

 They’ve cleverly weaved in a charitable outcome of the song creation as  for the first 100,000 downloads of the new track from April 1, Coke will be making donations to RAIN (provision of clean drinking water to African nations), however i think they need to be more transparent on how much they’re donating.

For those who knew about it, Coke did a great job of driving real time follow factor of the idea, you could follow the band in real time ove rthe 24hr period and vote on things they were doing via hashtags eg: should they take a ‘#break’ or  ‘#song’ to keep them singing/writing.. See here.

The big question for me is whether crowdsourcing has been done to death? Is there anything original here? Are consumers over it? Or are the low levels of engagement due to the fact Maroon 5 are on the way out?

 It’s not as innovative as Old Spice’s ‘ask Mustafa to do something & we’ll create content’ twitter campaign, but I think it’s a pretty good attempt to foster collaboration between Coke fans and Maroon 5′s fan base.

The big question will be how much participation did this social experiment drive on a global scale? The videos on youtube all have very low levels in interaction & given Coke’s got 23million facebook fans and I was expecting far greater global engagement.

All comes down to great content driving high levels of interaction. Unfortunately, unless you’re a hardcore Maroon 5 fan, there’s nothing really interesting here.

Coke launches ARG around secret recipe

Coke has just launched an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) based around its secret recipe and a dude called Dr Pemberton (who apparently invented Coke). It’s quite cryptic and weird but I’m sure  if they seed it correctly with their massive Facebook fan pages, it will get traction, big time.

They’ve seeded a video on YouTube embedded with hidden clues and links to a Twitter page, FTP vault accounts, Facebook App Pages, Live video Feeds, Random Microsites, more Microsites and a YouTube video.

Seems like a big departure from their ‘happiness’ positioning, but for me brands that have mythology around them like Coke, should celebrate it.  I think this is an interesting way to start conversations on social platforms for Coke’s fanatics who always have wondered about Cokes recipe…maybe?? Having said that, it feels about like Levi’s ‘Go Forth’ where they’re tapping into the whole 1800′s Civil War thing. Am gonna follow it and see how it evolves. Good on Coke for having some interesting initatives out in the market, combined with Expedition 206, they are experimenting with pop culture.

Trading in TV ads for the Pepsi Refresh Project

The Pepsi Refresh Project

http://www.refresheverything.com/index

First post of 2010, here goes. Well Pepsi global have made the ballsy move to reallocate a significant amount of their marketing spend to a global social project. They’ve jumped on the youth empowerment bandwagon and created the Pepsi ‘Refresh Project’. Pretty simple, people suggest ideas via social media, if you gather enough votes for your idea (to ‘refresh’ the world in some way) Pepsi will hand out cash for you to do it. From grants of $5k to $250k, they are giving away millions of $$$.  They’ve taken a generic positioning of ‘refresh’ and are applying it on a cause related global scale.

Does it feel orginal? No I’ve seen a few similar ideas done last year and orginally in ’08 with AMEX Members Project.  Is it engaging? Well the current content promoting it is dead boring but the engagement machanic and idea toolkit is simple and easy which is the #1 rule in this type of participation based idea.

 Firstly, respect to Pepsi for trying to do something that positively creates value in our society and engages young people. However, the problem I see with this idea is a potential  disconnect youth will have with this idea coming from Pepsi. Feels like a brand trying to do a 180 on people. So one minute you’re showing me over the top TV ads with Britney and JT and standing for Hollywood celeb culture, the next minute you’re trying to save the world??? I think alot of American youth are going to be scratching their heads going ..WTF???  But if they are serious about it and stay committed to this positioining and it filters through to all their NPD and trade practices etc, they should get some good traction.  There  is mass ‘save the world’ sentiment going round at the moment (for good reason) and marketers are tapping into it, even if HOPENHAGEN really didn’t do much at all.

It’s clear Pepsi global is worried that Coke is getting all the good ‘social’ karma with their Coke Expedition 206 idea, ‘spreading happiness’ around the world for a year and involvement with Hopenhagen.  I will be keenly following this idea and I’ve already seen transit posters promoting it here in Sydney, no doublt they are blitzing media spend in North America/Europe.

At the end of the day, the are creating positive value in society and I give them cred for that, well done Pepsi !!

My top 5 youth ideas for 2009

Well I’m about to log off tomorrow for 2009, back Jan 6th. It may be a little quiet around here for a while. I’ve got some cool ideas that I’ve been working on the past months that will be breaking in early 2010, so I lookforward to putting them out there and seeing what people think.

 It’s been a great year, I hope you’ve found my insights into youth marketing, planning,  social media and Gen C interesting. In my time off I’m going to be thinking about how I get my book on Youth Tribes going, as it’s such a morphing space, but I’m excited about getting into all the different youth subcultures in Australia and understanding their differences and universal commonalities.

For a bit of fun, here are my  5 favourite youth ideas/content deliveries of 2009:

1. Red Bull Project X – Shaun White Secret Halfpipe (clear winner) – Creating a secreet halfpipe for Shaun White to practice new tricks in…in a word AMAZING. RB are the kings of creating mythology around their brand and deliver the storytelling ina simple yet inspiring way. They know that they are far more than an energy drink brand, they are a youth entertainment media brand. No one ‘creates culture’ like RB.

2. Burger King Whopper Sacrifice – brilliant idea which fucked with the establised codes of culture by getting people to ‘scarifice’ friends to show their love of the Whopper. It’s so brutally simple and engaging. Just when everyone though FB was about adding mates, Crispin turned things on it’s head and made the world go into sacrifice mode.

3. Levi’s ‘Go Forth’ - superb job of creating a new manifesto for Levi’s and making the  ‘Original’ brand position mean something for American youth. This brand idea did a great job of tapping into Generation O (Optimism) which is sweeping across America right now and capturing a relevant mood of global youth.

4. Sprite ‘Reality Remixed’ – Green Eyed World - truly social idea with great follow factor, following the breakout year of a pop hopeful,  Katie –  which in the world of music marketing is absolutely rare…fantastic consumer engagement via the youtube series and Facebook connect interaction, awesome use of technology to make the idea truly social

5. DC Shoes ‘Gymkhana’ videos  – the series of Ken BLock ‘gymkhana’ videos are a youtube phenom, makes the brand feel so authentic and cool when you see KB burning around trailer parks doing tricks in his WRX. DC shoes are smart, they entertain their true believers and the rest flock towards them

Some other cool things that have been quite innovative in engaging youth:

- Fiesta Movement – innovative way to launch a car, try sparking a movement by giving 100 cars away to kids to drive around for a few months…created deep engagement with ‘agents’ and the car was the backdrop to the storytelling. They’re shifting into getting fans to ‘create the 2011′ advertising which worries me, but lets see what happens.

Halo 3 ODST:  - love a great little ARG which sent Canadian gamers on a trasure hunt across Toronto for VIP access to the launch party…they engaged the true believers and the game sold out like hot cakes.

- V Australia 4320LA (Well done Sudeep and Nick K) – smartest use of ‘Twitter’ for a campaign, although the return leg of 4320Sydney wasn’t as engaging.

- Coke Expedition 206 - sheer scale and audacity of the idea of taking 3 20 somethings around the world for a year to spread ‘Happiness’ in 206 countries is cool…whether there is follow factor is yet to be seen

- Gatorade ‘Replay’ – clever doco created by Gatorade in the US..getting two high school football teams from the 90′s who are super fierce rivals to replay a drawn match. Captivating content and an authentic role for product which is rare in branded content these days, without it feeling forced.

Have a great Christmas/Hannukah and Happy New Year  and am hoping one of my ideas make it onto this type of list of innovative youth marketing ideas/programs.