Participation pays: Study from Iris reveals how major brands are harnessing ‘people power’

Why do consumers advocate some brands but not others?

Creative innovation network Iris has created the world’s biggest global study on consumer involvement. The aim of the study is to reveal why many of the world’s most successful brands are choosing ‘Participation’ as a key marketing technique and to identify the common traits of success.

The Participation Brand Index analyses qualitative data from 14,000 consumers, across 5 regions (U.K, U.S, Brazil, Thailand and Australia) and 177 brands across 6 sectors (automotive, consumer tech, FMCG, retail and travel).

Iris commissioned the research in 2016 as a result of two emerging trends: The first being the growing number of consumers ignoring or actively blocking out brands, with one in three mobile users expected to use ad-blocking software in 2017; The second being how consumers were bringing certain brands into their lifestyles like never before, i.e. where consumers feel that a brand understands them and plays a meaningful part of their lives, they open up to and advocate on a whole new level.

The gap between the brands that are thriving in this new economy – the Participation Brands – and those being blocked out is growing rapidly, according to Iris. The brands that are thriving are those that are activating the power of people to build their brand and creating content and conversations that people want to actively participate in.

The Iris study indicates that a three-year investment in the top 20 global brands in the Participation Brand Index would have earned a return four-times that of the bottom 20 brands, and double that of the S&P 500. The Participation Brand Index also demonstrates that consumer involvement is the secret to driving Net Promoter Score: every 8 points achieved on the PBI is equivalent to 1 point on NPS.

Ben Essen, executive planning director at Iris, said: “Brands no longer influence people. People do. With the Participation Brand Index we wanted to understand more deeply why people are choosing to get involved with certain brands and what the secret is for those brands who manage to get their market to do their marketing. It’s an approach Iris have embraced with brands like Domino’s and Adidas for nearly a decade – but now, there really is no doubt that Participation Branding is the future of successful mainstream marketing.”

For each brand, respondents answered questions about their perception of the products and services, and their own personal activity relating to the brand (beyond direct consumption or use).

As part of The Participation Brand Index, Iris established the 5 ‘pillars’ of a successful Participation Brand’s behavior, namely: Passionate purpose; Culture shaping; Category innovating; People powered; Distinctive character.

The number one brand globally was Apple, who excelled against all pillars. The number one brand amongst a millennial audience was Netflix. There is a stronger sense of anticipation in ‘what the brand is going to do next’ than any other brand in the study. In other sectors, ‘participation native’ challenger brands outperformed their established competitors including Tesla in automotive, AirBnB in travel and snack brand Vita Coca.

Essen said: “It’s become ever easier for consumers to shortcut the media-driven decision making process and access beliefs, behaviours and new ideas directly from other people. Communities can now live on their own terms and agendas without the need for organisations telling them what to do and what to buy. Participation Brands are those who have responded to this change by designing content and experiences that positively disrupt the networked lives we now live.”

Top ranking brands (UK) by sector

Travel - Virgin Atlantic, AirBnB

Retail - Amazon, IKEA

Auto - Tesla, BMW

Consumer Tech - Apple, FitBit

FMCG - Vita Coco, ProperCorn

Top ranking brands (US) by sector

Travel – AirBnB, Tripit, Hilton, Expedia

Retail – Amazon, Trader Joe’s, Etsy, Walmart

Auto – BMW, Jeep, Ford, Uber

Consumer Tech – Apple, Google, Netflix, GoPro

FMCG – Coke, Red Bull, Snickers, Doritos

Top ranking brands (APAC) by sector

Consumer Tech – LINE, Samsung

Auto – Uber, Honda

Alcohol – Hibiki, Johnnie Walker

Retail – Aldi, Muji

FMCG – Brand’s, 100 Plus

For the full study, click here.

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Michael Feeley

Michael Feeley is The Drum Network's consultant journalist, advising and assisting member agencies on their editorial submissions and contributions to The Drum.

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