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Opinion and Insight

Push Beyond the Hype Around Consumer Participation

J. Walter Thompson APAC, 2 years, 1 month ago

J. Walter Thompson and TNS present the argument that the hype around participation is based on flawed assumptions

Push Beyond the Hype Around Consumer Participation

In recent years, brands have been falling over themselves trying to get consumers to participate in online and social media campaigns. But just because technology creates new avenues and opportunities for consumers to participate with brands online doesn’t mean people want to. 

In a report, “Participation – Beyond the Hype”, J. Walter Thompson and TNS present the argument that the hype around participation, an often-used buzzword in marketing, is based on flawed assumptions on the level of interest consumers have in engaging with brands online. Many marketers look at participation as an end in itself, focusing on amassing likes and shares. That’s been a distraction.

“Participation hype has distracted us from the real opportunity. The game changer isn’t participation – it’s content that sparks a connection. And the value is in that connection, not the participation that may or may not follow,” said Angela Morris, executive planning director at J. Walter Thompson Australia. “Participation is not why people connect. It’s a response when people make a connection.”

An analysis by J Walter Thompson, based on a study of online behaviour and attitudes of 5,600 people across seven countries in Asia Pacific conducted by TNS, shows consumers across the region are hesitant, or even suspicious, about engaging with brands online, and resent doing anything that appears to benefit the brand more than it benefits them.  

The study found over 90 per cent of respondents are online content consumers as well as interactors and creators, switching effortlessly from passive reading and watching, to more active liking, sharing and commenting, to more pro-active behaviours like, creating & reviewing. Yet that level of engagement doesn’t extend to brands.  

Indeed, the more brands ask of consumers, the less interested they are in participating. Just over half of respondents say they are interested in consuming brand content, but only three in 10 are open to interacting with brands online and just 8pc of those surveyed have any interest in participating in campaigns from brands that ask them to do create content. And this is among people who are already considering a purchase, and are therefore predisposed to the category. The interest level is far lower among people who aren’t looking to buy.

The majority (58pc) are more likely to engage with brands online only if ‘it’s really easy and asks nothing of me’, and 48pc say they’d prefer it if brands would just entertain them rather then ask them to do something. What’s more, many consumers actually resent being asked to participate: one in three feel like they “are doing the work for brand” when they are asked to participate in online marketing campaigns. 

Campaigns that do generate lots of likes, shares and positive buzz don’t necessarily deliver real results. Consumers who do participate with brands online are often existing consumers, so campaigns that spark interaction sometimes fail to actually generate new sales.

“We need to stop assuming interest in participation and create interest with content,” said Morris. 

Content should be user-centric, created to interest people first, planting brand ideas in their lives rather than expecting them to opt into the brand’s world, the report advises.  Content should also be purposeful, designed to change behavior from sharing to buying.  And it should be bound by the brand idea, relating back to the brand without overtly ‘selling’.

Alistair Leathwood, executive director for TNS, said: “For years the marketing community has been focused on how to generate maximum number of ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ – how far has your campaign gone and who has seen it. But we need to ask ourselves what this participation is delivering. True brand advocacy and preference? Or just a weak form of awareness? The results of the study have a clear outtake for brands – stop asking too much of people. Focus on creating great content and compelling, relevant campaigns and you will see greater benefits, both in terms of short-terms sales uplift and longer-term brand equity.”