Lead Or Follow, But Keep Your Eyes On The Crowd

We have seen a lot of change in the advertising and marketing industry over the last couple of years. One of the most impactful disruptions is the use of crowdsourcing to problem-solve, engage audiences, and create content.

The impact of this new way to source work and ideas has been significant. As crowdsourcing becomes a staple in cutting-edge marketing practices, it has come to represent a fierce challenge to the traditional agency model and the marketing industry in general. The disruptive nature of crowdsourcing is not only causing a major cultural shift in the ways a client’s work gets done but has rattled the foundations of many leading creative agencies and marketing firms.

Consider this: online creative communities built on crowdsourcing principals essentially form a virtual agency that is bigger, cheaper and more productive than any in history. Top brands -- GE, Philips, LG, Coca-Cola and hundreds of others -- have not just taken notice, but have effectively leveraged crowdsourcing in their own efforts to engage audiences. Yes, the very brands that have been the bread and butter of the traditional advertising agencies, marketing shops and PR firms have embraced the crowd for everything from innovative campaigns to creative collateral, and user-generated content. 

As the tide has shifted, we have seen more evidence of the ongoing erosion of the traditional ways of delivering services and creating marketing and advertising campaigns. For instance, creative professionals who traditionally held down full-time jobs at agencies and brands are enlisting in crowdsourcing communities by the thousands. They participate on these platforms to find new clients, reap the benefits of freelancing, earn money, and engage with their peers. Leading firms are looking hard at the economics of crowdsourcing and the evidence is indisputable: increased ROI, meaningful cost savings, improved client service, and measurable improvements in customer engagement.

Brands have alsp undertaken efforts to streamline the creative process. The traditional RFP process that a brand undertakes as it searches for an agency has become a dinosaur. Many companies now recognize that in the time it takes for the RFP process to run its course, any number of crowdsourced creative projects could have been completed.

Creative crowdsourcing projects are efficient and affordable, and are characterized by massive selection, a diversity of ideas, a huge pool of creative talent, and the distinct flavor of innovation. The process is simple: a buyer writes a creative brief and describes the project for a community of creatives, determines how long it will run (typically one to two weeks), and specifies how much they wish to pay for the service, eliminating any haggling over cost. For example, a newsletter project can cost as little as $269 and a buyer can expect writers and designers around the world to present submissions and concepts from which to choose. At the end, the buyer selects the entries they like best and the chosen creative is awarded the fee. No office space rentals, payroll expense, additional taxes or benefits due; the buyer also avoids invoicing and hourly rates, monthly retainers, and any unanticipated costs that might come with a traditional freelance arrangement. 

As brands adapt and embrace new paradigms, it’s imperative that innovative marketing agencies change the way they do business. But it’s important to remember that crowdsourcing and marketing agencies don’t have to be mutually exclusive; smart agencies are already leveraging this new approach to evolve and sell differently. Brands already see the strategic value-add from marketing agencies that develop the game plan, oversee the process, manage the crowd, and supply the creativity, ideas and innovation to better serve their clients.

The question is -- will you adapt your business to embrace the crowdsourcing phenomenon?

2 comments about "Lead Or Follow, But Keep Your Eyes On The Crowd".
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  1. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, March 26, 2013 at 1:50 p.m.

    Sometimes crowdsourcing results in amazing creative (Doritos, as an example). But most of the time, its results are more in the 'meh' variety(Pepsi, Ford, etc.).

    Creative ideas aside, it devalues the principles of good marketing. No meaningful insights. No competitive analysis. No recognition of market position and opportunities. No continuity with established brand messages and elements.

    Listening to the audience's creative ideas might make the marketer and its 'fans' feel good, but to compromise your presence in mass media (that reaches TENS OF MILLIONS of eyeballs, not a few thousand) to be able to boast 'we listen to our fans' is a at some level a form of marketing malpractice. I suspect what gets marketers so excited by the prospect is that it's cheap. And, as the man once said, you get what you pay for.

    Crowdsourcing creative is a trend (I hope) whose 15 minutes are almost up.

  2. Riley Gibson from Napkin Labs, March 27, 2013 at 6:56 p.m.

    Hey Mickey - I think your assessment of crowdsourcing is correct in a lot of ways - but also oversimplified and only based on what crowdsourcing currently is (or has been).

    I think one of the biggest misconceptions around the principle of crowdsourcing is that it replaces strategic thinking and segmentation - all of the stuff that makes ideas and marketing actually successful. I completely agree that the current iteration of "crowdsourcing" like crowdspring and 99designs is a grossly oversimplified model and the results are "get what you pay for."

    That being said, I think we have to look at what crowdsourcing can become. It's not about tapping your customers to get the next logo or breakthrough product idea - because customers will never be able to provide the level of strategic thinking that an agency or brand can that is rooted in the landscape and has all the information.

    However, collaborating on a mass scale with customers to share ideas has the ability to inject global, diverse perspectives and stretch the thinking of the "curator" or brand. We need to start seeing the output of crowdsourcing as just the raw puzzle pieces that brands and even agencies still need to curate and piece together based on requirement, contraints and strategies.

    This also gets very interesting when you think of thousands of customers sharing these puzzle pieces and glimpses into their thinking, paired with data being collected about who they are. With this in mind, you can take thousands of 'raw' submissions and start filtering these by core customer segments. What once was a crowdsourcing exercise to come up with a companies next flavor - is now a way to gather an immense amount of insight and intelligence into the minds of specific customer personas in real-time.

    I think crowdsourcing, as it stands and is practiced today is a fad, but at its core - crowdsourcing is about collaborating at mass scale. Paired with data and a new generation of creatives steeped in curation, brands become a platform for creativity and product design that their customers can influence and be a part of.

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