Participatory Culture & How It Impacts On Customer Engagement

Participatory Culture & How It Impacts On Customer Engagement

The growth in participatory culture by consumers has been fed by brands embracing this as a consumer engagement tool. In this opinion piece by Colin MacArthur, director of research and business strategy at Jigsaw, he argues brands are in danger of losing ‘control’ of the narrative of this engagement.

Colin MacArthur
Posted by Colin MacArthur

Every year, Brand Finance puts thousands of the world’s top brands to the test. They are evaluated to determine which are the most powerful, and the most valuable. have listed the following as the 10 most powerful brands in 2015…

  • Lego 93.4
  • pwc 91.8
  • Red Bull 91.1
  • McKinsey and Company 90.1
  • Unilever 90.1
  • L’Oreal 89.7
  • Burberry 89.7
  • Rolex 89.7
  • Ferrari 89.6
  • Nike 89.6

In order to determine the most powerful brands in the world, their team examines factors such as a company’s investment in marketing, equity as measured by goodwill of customers and staff, and the impact of marketing and goodwill on the company’s “business performance.”

All well and good but as a researcher who does a lot of work in this space I am curious to know more about what these brands do to actually engage with their customer base. We know that engaged consumers tend to display greater levels of loyalty and I don’t see this as a measure, good will is there yes, but this does not always equate to loyalty.

In my opinion (and it is just that an opinion nothing more) not all of the 10 brands listed appear to be particularly strong thought-leaders in addressing today’s participatory culture, something that is becoming more important as a tool to engage with customers. It is true a lot of these brands aim to engage consumers on a deeper level to foster long-term loyalty and if you spend a bit of time online it is easy to see how they are tapping into this participatory culture to foster this loyalty.

Many brands do this, but not all with a clear strategy as to how they want this to add in a positive way to their brands narrative. In addition without a clear social media management strategy in place, many are in danger of having little control over how customers add to their brands narrative (good or bad).

A social media strategy needs to go beyond simply embracing the creation of ‘brand engagement campaigns’ aimed at generating shareable experiences, and these need to be done in a way that are not evidently commercials which gets harder and harder as consumers become more and more marketing savvy.

Often a campaign’s success is measured using social media engagement metrics, but as a qualitative researcher I am often asked to explore the ‘meaning’ behind these metrics and more often than not just because a campaign goes viral (a benchmark for success) this does not always result in a positive impact on the brand narrative, in fact it can have short term positive impact but a longer term negative one.

The growth in participatory culture by consumers has actually been fed by brands embracing this as a tool to engage with consumers, but said consumers now believe their voices are more valuable than ever before and  as a consequence brands are in danger of losing ‘control’ of the narrative that they wish to stimulate.

It is true that in today’s society social media has facilitated a two-way connection with consumers like no other. However, a conversation is only as good or interesting as all its participants make it, and that requires paying attention at all times, but how many brands are truly embracing that idea and paying attention to everything that is being said on platforms such as Twitter or Facebook?

It is not just about ‘listening’ to what consumers saying, attention needs to be given to everything a brand intends to ‘say’ to consumers and this needs to ladder to a clear social media strategy. So many brands are trying to hold conversations with consumers today which means they are being blitzed with more branded messages on a daily basis than ever before. Think of it this way, we all know how we hate to be interrupted by someone else when we are having a conversation and we have ways in which to deal with this, online consumers have more control over which messages or conversations they see, hear, and ultimately choose to engage with, so pay heed to what it is you want to say and the manner in which you intend to do it.

To bring this back to my earlier point around engagement, I see in the work that I do that relating with consumers on an individual, personal basis is often the piece of the jigsaw that is missing in the engagement puzzle, where I see this is not the case is with brands that have moved towards a more human or humanistic connection in the way their brand attempts to build relationships and therefore loyalty among their customers.

This I like to call ‘the rise of human’ but that is another story all together.