Revisiting Crowdsourcing

As an industry, marketing has always been in love with the bright, shiny object. From new channels (radio, TV, online, mobile…) to new strategies (celebrity endorsements, couponing, line extensions…) to new job titles (planners, interactive media buyer, creative culturalists…), the search for the new, for an edge, has always been around. Of course, another time honored industry tradition is to watch from the sidelines and provide withering commentary on the latest innovation. Industry thought leaders love to rubberneck the Gartner Hype Cycle as the latest trend makes its way from the Peak of Inflated Expectations to the Trough of Disillusionment. At that point most move on to the next trend and the process begins anew, with little thought given to the final stages: The Slope of Enlightenment and the Plateau of Productivity. And yet that’s where the real learnings can usually be found. So today I ask you to travel back with me to a time before 2nd Screen, Big Data and Gamification roamed the Earth. Yes, all the way back to 2009 when Crowdsourcing was the hottest GMOOT (Give Me One Of Those) on the block.

Back then it seemed everyone was dying to leverage the wisdom of the crowds. Super Bowl spots, new ice cream flavors, brand logos, you name it and companies were looking to the amateurs to solve the problem. Some understood how to harness this power, most did not, and as a result a lot of the output was forgettable at best, embarrassing and harmful to the brand at worst.  I catalogued much of this with my e-book, Everyone is Illuminated, in early 2010. It includes several of my essays on the topic along with insights and POVs from a whole host of very smart industry pros. Give it a quick read if you have a minute and want to catch up on what was happening back then.


But the question today is, where is crowdsourcing now? Was it a gimmick that was fun for a while, but ultimately discarded in favor of A) the old reliables and/or B) even shinier, newer objects? The short answer is yes, crowdsourcing is worth your time. Why? Because consumers want to hav a deeper involvement with the brands they love and development in analytics and other marketing strategies such as gamification make crowdsourcing even more attractive… if you take the time to do it right.

I won’t speak to the wisdom of crowds, but it’s clear that there is economic power in crowds. Crowdfunding, a subspecies of crowdsourcing, has exploded in the last few years, with sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo playing significant roles in the launch of Generation Start-Up. Others, such as MutopoVictors & Spoils and Zooppa have taken on the roles of harnessing the crowds in the service of brands, acting as consultants/agencies/wranglers.

But I think brands, before they enter into this territory, need to understand a key aspect: the difference between a crowd and a tribe. More than mere semantics, this is a fundamental distinction. A crowd gawks at a car accident, congregates behind the woodshop to watch two 8th graders fight, or tunes in to watch a handful of desperate ‘contestants’ sell their dignity for a chance at 15 minutes of fame on a TV game show… and then they disappear as quickly as the came. A tribe, on the other hand, is a group of people with a common cause. They are there for each other. If you are doing things right, your brand will create a tribe of followers who you can activate in support of a variety of executions. That’s the type of crowd you want to cultivate, and cultivating a tribe is no easy thing for most brands. This is where an agency can play a critical role, for in addition to a superior product and visionary mission, brands that tell a compelling story are the ones that develop tribes. And so successful crowdsourcing isn’t achieved by circumventing the traditional ad agency, but rather, it happens with the help of an engaged agency partner.

David Bratvold, founder of The Daily Crowdsource echoes my sentiments: “The world’s largest brands are adopting crowdsourcing. It’s not a tactic where they’re relinquishing their traditional agency model, but rather looking for agencies that can handle both methods.”

And what is the compelling reason why brands (and agencies) should be embracing crowdsourcing? According to Bratvold, Consumers have long been clamoring for more bi-directional engagement with their favorite brands & crowdsourcing is the perfect way for them to get it.”

I tend to agree with him here. All marketing trends point away from a messaging push and towards a more collaborative, two-way engagement with consumers. And again, to be clear, these messages, this new way of communicating with brands, will still be lead by agencies. More from Bratvold:  “Agencies have no reason to fear crowdsourcing as long as they find a way to add it to their set of tools. The brands that embrace crowdsourcing properly will succeed in the next decade. The brands that don’t will fall behind. Microsoft knows this. So do Doritos, GE, Kimberly-Clark, Pepsi, & Coca-Cola  – they all know how powerful crowdsourcing is, and it’s slowly becoming more widely used within these organizations.”

I think crowdsourcing can also be enhanced when you look at something like gamification. Smart game design accounts for how all members of a tribe will react to behavioral incentives and keeps all members of the tribe engaged. In some ways, all gamification is crowdsourcing, but not all crowdsourcing uses gamification. Both tactics can be powerful, especially when used in conjunction, but can easily be misused as well. Again, this is where a trusted agency partner plays a key role.

On February 27 & 28, Bratvold and The Daily Crowdsource will be hosting Crowdopolis, a conference showcasing Fortune 500 Corporations using crowdsourcing to out-innovate, out-process, & out-engage their competition. Companies like GEMicrosoft, WalmarteBay, SAP, NASA & many others are scheduled to be on-hand to lead the discussion. As a special offer to Ignition readers, Bratvold is offering us a 2-for-1 discount for the event. You can register here, be sure to use the promotional code: AgencyYR to receive your discount.  The 2-for-1 promotion ends Jan 28 so book now. The event will be held at:
Metropolitan Pavilion Center
125 W 18th St
New York, NY 10011

I’m going to be in attendance and I hope I see you there.