Commentary

Harnessing The Power Of The Crowd: Crowd-Sourcing And Brands

Crowd-sourcing isn’t new, but the evolution of how it is deployed is helping brands turn consumers and fans into passionate brand advocates.

According to eYeka's latest report on the State of Crowdsourcing in 2017, FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands were the most active users with a 43% share of 2016 ideation contests and an activity growth of 40% over 2015. With the ever-present level of social engagement, consumers are likely discussing your brand online and are more outspoken than ever about how brands and products fit within their values. Engaging them is critical for brand success.

Not only is consumer co-creation critical for brand development, it helps drive a deeper connection. People feel more invested in things and ideas that they are touched. Involving consumers at this level also provides transparency; pulling back the curtain is empowering. With ever-rising consumer doubt and negative feelings toward large corporations, the positive effects from crowd-sourcing can be wide-ranging.

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Yet engagement may not always be positive. When asking for feedback, there’s a chance for both enthusiastic and negative responses. A classic example of open crowdsourcing gone awry is the Boaty McBoatface incident, in which a ridiculous name won an online poll to name a new British government research ship. This case makes it clear that caution and some level of control need to be factored in when inviting public opinion. In addition, a brand must be comfortable with some level of vulnerability when opening themselves up for input.

Here’s a guide to doing it well:

1. Spark innovation with smart, but limited, parameters

New and exciting ideas are uncovered when consumers are given few parameters on the types of feedback and suggestions they can make for the brand. Using crowdsourcing for innovation specifically to source new flavors of existing products has been very popular in recent years. The most prominent is the Lays “Do Us A Flavor.” One aspect that sets it apart from new idea campaigns is the introduction of themes such as local foods. This allows the contest to feel new every year and also set some parameters on the ideas that consumers submit.

2. Use your biggest fans as influencers

Brands should harness the power of existing online consumer communities rather than try to create a community from scratch. One brand that does an excellent job of harnessing online consumer excitement is Glossier, the natural makeup brand startup. Its rep program allows highly involved consumers to act as brand ambassadors. They give their most involved consumers 20% discount codes to pass on to their online followers — collaborating with these super consumers on new product launches and frequently launching new product lines based on consumer demand.

3. Fully immerse them from beginning to end

Consumers will feel more connected to the brand the more immersed they become with the process. Perhaps the most sophisticated example of crowdsourcing is the ongoing Lego Ideas campaign. Lego allows consumers to not only submit new ideas for new toys but to test their ideas with other consumers and gauge interest. Chosen ideas receive a 1% royalty of the revenue, essentially allowing them to fully become empowered actors in the brand. This translates into a rich flow of ideas that can improve products and services.

4. Offer guidance without limiting the process

Rather than taking a total blue sky approach, offer some initial ideas and allow consumers to comment, discuss and offer their own ideas. That allows them a window into what you are trying to accomplish, giving them a sense of trust, ownership and connection to your brand but keeps your overall strategic direction intact.

So open up — carefully and strategically. Crowd-sourcing and consumer co-creation can clearly be a force for generating good ideas and positive feelings about your brand. Feedback and suggestions from consumers shouldn't be taken as directives or complete ideas. Understand that your consumers may not be creative or marketing professionals and, thus, crowdsourcing should be viewed as part of the process for campaigns and new product or brand ideas. It’s an increasingly integrated world and with the proper approach, brands can use that integration to keep their relevance and increase their reach.

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