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Toward a Participatory Model for Marketing

Southern Comfort just moved its entire $8m media budget online. Whole Foods was the first brand with 1m followers on Twitter. Coca-Cola pioneered brand generosity on Facebook. Underlying all of this is the fact that social media is the great equalizer. Not just between brands and the consumers of these brands, but between dominant brands and their challengers.

Southern Comfort just moved its entire $8m media budget online. Whole Foods was the first brand with 1m followers on Twitter. Coca-Cola pioneered brand generosity on Facebook.

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Underlying all of this is the fact that social media is the great equalizer. Not just between brands and the consumers of these brands, but between dominant brands and their challengers.

In a conversation driven world, you can’t buy your way to success, instead you have to earn it. This new reality may come as a shocking surprise to many brands who, over time, have come to falsely equate advertising differentiation with brand differentiation.

In very simple terms, what the Wild West of social media does is highlight the fact that good enough just isn’t good enough. If you want people to talk, you have to give them something worth talking about–and that breaks down into two very simple categories:

  1. Something brilliant, something that exceeds expectations and gives people a reason to sing your praises and even become a “fan” of your brand.
  2. Something terrible, something that fails to meet even the lowest expectations and gives people a reason to ridicule, or actively persuade people away from your brand.

With these two stark choices to choose from, clearly we all wish to focus on creating more of number one, and less of number two (even United Airlines, who achieved 2 in such spectacular fashion).

Of course achieving this won’t be easy, as we have to consider how we do it in a shared fashion, rather than through one-way communications. As I focused on yesterday, you must always know Luke’s relationship to Leia.

This means that as we undertake marketing and brand building in this world, we have to leave room for the consumer. Not just to consume, but to participate and contribute to the process.

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For some, this is a communications exercise–such as the award winning “Why So Serious?” campaign for the recent Batman movie.

For others, this is an attempt to more closely bring the consumer inside the operation of the company, such as Very, a recently launched online retailer in the U.K., which allows customers to contribute to the merchant buying process.

However you choose to do it, the need is to consider not only the platform you are creating, but where and how you are leaving room for the consumer to contribute.

Read more of Paul Worthington’s blog

Paul Worthington

Paul Worthington is head of Strategy for the New York office of Wolff Olins, a global brand and innovation consultancy. You can find both Paul (@pworthington) and Wolff Olins (@wolffolins) on Twitter.

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