When I began my career in marketing, what interested me most was finding that single-minded proposition, that simple yet clever persuasive message that would alter how someone perceived a product or service.  We would spend countless hours watching focus groups where a professional laddered emotional benefits so we could get to that one magic kernel that would be the heart of the big idea marketing message.

Over the years, I began to notice the effectiveness of the big idea seemed to fade.  In the early days of search, which has evolved allowing unprecedented access to information, and then with the rise of social media where people can tap into networks to acquire additional information, the notion of altering someone’s opinion with a singular message seems more and more irrelevant.  Today, effective marketing is about creating useful content and information that enables people to discover more about a product and service.  It is about creating experiences that empower them to be part of the marketing process itself.  And, finally, it is about building community environments that encourage people to connect not only with the product, service, or brand, but with other people who have similar interests.  This new marketing is about motivating people to participate, and we first named it “participant marketing” in 2008.  The idea has continued to grow as the new, digital, and interactive media world continues to evolve.

Today a number of businesses are using social media, digital video, and online experiences to inspire participants to join, share, connect and engage with their product, service and brand.  It’s a way for brands, large and small, to use a new marketing formula grounded in a science first created by sociologists and psychologists who were trying to understand what motivates people.  This new marketing framework encourages brands to invite customers to participate with their brand.  Participant Marketing is a new marketing philosophy that transforms uninformed consumers into active participants by empowering them to contribute, and by developing meaningful relationships that keep them involved.

This year’s Super Bowl ads are a good example of just how many companies are looking to creative interactive experiences with participants – even in a traditionally one-way view environment like television.  Lincoln, the luxury automotive brand, recently revealed the first-ever TV commercial written entirely through social media with participants contributing via Twitter.  Jimmy Fallon asked his followers to tweet responses to his questions about road trips full of unexpected events that ultimately created the script.

Over a three-day period in December, participants were asked to provide their most outrageous road trip experiences in 140 characters.  The best contributions were chosen from more than 6,000 tweets to create a 30-second spot that will run during the third quarter.  A longer 90-second version is available on SteertheScript.com.

This Super Bowl ad is another major example of how Ford has fully embraced Participant Marketing.  The company has been fine-tuning the approach for several years, which included creating unique strategies for individual brands within the Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury umbrella.  For example, what works well for Ford Mustang, might not for the F-150.

Participant Marketing is about inviting people to contribute to the brand in an authentic, transparent way.   It’s about providing meaningful information and encouraging others to share that information or contribute their own, and the goal is to nurture participation more than just delivering a clever persuasive message. This way, participants are informed, empowered, and connected in a way that allows them to become truly engaged with your business.

There are significant benefits to creating marketing experiences that inspire and nurture participation, and it’s easy to measure the return on investment.  How many viewed the content?  Was it shared?  Did it spark conversation between participants?  As the public and businesses become increasingly “social,” Participant Marketing can make help to build stronger relationships between brands and customers, while differentiating a company from outdated persuasive marketing philosophy.

Businesses that embrace Participant Marketing can create a significant competitive advantage because in today’s connected world, improved brand participation means improved results and business growth, while simultaneously increasing credibility and relevancy in the marketplace.