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Participation is a Doing Word
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So how are South African brands living up to the 'participation' mandate?

There is so much talk about how marketing has changed, because people have changed how they want to interact with brands. We know that it is no longer about a brand monologue but rather a two- way dialogue. But to develop even stronger engagement between people and brands, the Engager™ model - recently launched in South Africa by Yellowwood - has proven that consumers want to take this interaction even further. They want to be able to participate with and in the brand.

By definition, participation involves "taking part, contribution, partnership, involvement, assistance, sharing in, joining in"1.

So how are South African brands living up to this mandate?

In Yellowwood's South African Engager Benchmark study2 (which measures a brand's overall Engagement score based on nine contributing factors, of which Participation is one), Participation was the element that South African brands scored relatively poorly on. This isn't entirely unique to South Africa3 and it isn't really surprising considering Participation is a relatively new concept for brand builders - to relinquish absolute control of their brand and allow their consumers to shape and share in it.

Let's take a look at the brands that scored the highest on Participation. They included MTN, Vodacom, Clicks, and Edgars -  two telecommunications brands and two retailers…

Telecommunications brands are participatory by their very nature - people use them every day to connect with others, to download and do things - but they need to actively drive this much harder if they are to strengthen their brand engagement. The way in which MTN leveraged its sponsorship of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is a good example of this. The FIFA Fan Fests, MTN Fan Zones and MTN eKasi TV sites all allowed township residents who weren't able to attend the matches to still enjoy and participate in the excitement of the World Cup. These were just some of the initiatives that allowed people (users and non-users) to interact with the brand around a common passion point (not the brand itself). They were all wrapped up in the brand's "Ayoba" campaign. "Ayoba" was a word taken from everyday language and used to build a strong emotional connection. It's really powerful - the word itself is an action, an affirmation of something great with origins in colloquial township culture - it therefore has high "share ability" and became synonymous with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It has since transcended language and cultural barriers, becoming a "SouthAfricanism" and as a result, the brand has become part of the everyday lives of even those who may not (yet) be MTN consumers.

Retail brands with bricks and mortar stores that create an environment that people can interact with are also naturally participatory. However, Clicks and Edgars are obviously doing something better that is driving their Participation score.

What these two retailers have in common are their loyalty clubs which provide a way in which people can be part of their brands. But what sets the Clicks and Edgars loyalty clubs apart from other loyalty programmes?  What makes them more participatory? Edgars Club is an affinity programme offering value-add benefits. The focus is on lifestyle rather than pricing. The Edgars' Club Magazine is one of the top consumer magazines in SA - competing directly with mainstream publications.  "Now that we've revamped its look and feel and adopted a more targeted, multi-channel approach, Club is more content driven, and has the consumer at the heart of its content strategy. I hope that this translates into Club becoming a retail community that everybody wants to belong to," says Justine Stafford, Editor of Edgars Club Magazine.  The Club offering extends well beyond the realm of "clothes retailing" and has become a true lifestyle partner - offering, for example, credit and broader financial services that cater to many consumer needs in a holistic manner.   The Clicks ClubCard provides a combination of tangible rewards as well as lifestyle and lifestage relevant content delivered through their ClubCard Magazine and website. They also include a comprehensive financial services solution in their offering which provides cost benefits and rewards for the consumer, and another opportunity to interact with the brand.

Both of these clubs deliver a multitude of engagement points and offer relevant and real benefits to their members, beyond simplistic points/price offering that so many retail programmes focus on.  The stickiness through participation that they provide is very powerful, yet very different to each other.

What these brands and examples show us is that participation is best built around something that is of importance or interest to people. Things they are passionate about and that benefit them, and that the brand can credibly play a role in. Participation needs to happen through multiple channels and touchpoints. It is heightened when people are able to shape the experience for themselves, do it in their way and contribute their thoughts and ideas on how to make it even better.

A brand that appears to be getting this right is Robertsons Spices. Their recent TV ad campaign featuring acclaimed chef Ruben Riffel shares recipe ideas so that you can give it a go yourself, and then invites participation through their pay-off line: "What's your combination?" This is backed up with more cooking tips and recipes from Rueben on the brand's website. And on National Heritage Day (aka National Braai Day), Robertsons encouraged Joburgers to join them for their "Bring and Braai" event where they put on hundreds of braai fires, free Robertsons spices and family entertainment. In preparation for the event, people could "put (their) braai skills to the test" by playing Robertsons online game.

So by creating numerous opportunities for participation, brand builders can make their brands much more real, relevant and tangible, which we now know does drive brand preference and choice. Now don't just say it - just do it - and invite others to join you.


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