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Friends Don't Let Friends Crowdsource A Brand

Posted by Abe Sauer on April 19, 2010 09:14 AM

By now, everyone knows the advantages a brand can leverage from crowdsourcing. First, theoretically, by crowdsourcing a brand gains access to a wide and diverse range of ideas. A brand that pays attention can even use such crowdsourced responses as valuable market research, indicating what consumers really think of it. Also, through crowdsourcing, a brand's potential consumers may develop a sense of brand ownership, which leads to better brand-owner/brand-consumer engagement. This is why crowdsourcing is hot among brand marketers. But let's take a look at the flip side: why crowdsourcing can be a terrible overall method for branding?

As a research and engagement tool and as one part of an overall brand and marketing strategy, crowdsourcing has its place. It's fast. It's cheap. It appeals to populist sentiment. However, it is becoming all too common for brands, especially small ones, to put integral, core elements of brand identity in the hands of... online voting.

Everyday produces a new mention of a brand that is "having a contest" to "find a new logo." Crowdsourcing also is being used to generate new products and direction for brand identity and, at its worst, create brand collateral such as logos, taglines, etc, such is the case with HTC crowdsourcing the name of its next device.

Yes, voting for something online is technically engagement. Yet it is far from the kind of connection a brand should be shooting for. Meanwhile, those consumers participating in crowdsourcing do not have the larger picture in mind. A brand that presents a huge, undefined group with a few directions and then lets them fly off in all directions is not doing itself or its core consumers, any favors. A brand is the bigger picture and creating it about more than an opinion patchwork and noise is not an identity.

So, go ahead Ford, and Clarins, and, why not, South Africa; crowdsource yourself some brand engagement. But keep in mind the limitations of the medium and don't get seduced by the notion that crowdsourcing is branding. After all, who's in charge of your brand?

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Asa United Kingdom says:

Crowdsoursing - mmm - I think we should talk about activating crowds to become brand transmitters, to try and get people involved in your advertising, but not by just running another competition.

I have had enough of the current glut of competition campaigns, as if they are some way making brands more inclusive, - So what, we never ran a competition on the back of a cereal box before?? I think we did in about 1949 - come on -  I say these current competition campaigns are the result of ill informed and lazy thinking.

Asa Bailey.

April 19, 2010 10:22 AM #

1day Canada says:

Great article! It all comes down to building a simple, social, and scalable brand that is truly authentic to its' brand promises and personality. We talk about this a lot in our blog.

Andrew F Stewart



April 19, 2010 10:36 AM #

Tim Lewis United States says:

While I agree that crowdsourcing is not likely to come up with the most broad-based perspective of a brand, I do like that it employs listening, and I certainly think it has a place in today's branding and advertising.

Too many brand managers and branding "experts" start to think that they know the truth about their brand, and that the consumers are just ignorant followers. We too easily forget that a brand's identity and strength lies in the consumer perception, not in what the marketer "knows" about the brand.  So why not see how a person already engaged with the brand would promote it to his peers?  As long as this isn't a replacement for more tried and true methods, it's worth the exploration.

Reality programming has boosted TV show profits by putting "regular people" on the air and greatly reducing the cost of "talent".  These underpaid faux-celebrities are creating a lot of the content that goes into these shows.  But a wise production team is always in the background, molding the content and making sure the story is told clearly and compellingly.  Likewise, crowdsourcing can be a great channel for generating branding or advertising content, but it still needs the experienced hand of a marketing manager to guide the overall big picture.

Tim Lewis

April 20, 2010 09:40 AM #

Ed United States says:

We should be careful about using "Reality TV" as a model. What reality TV has done is to cut the cost of talent, which is a major up front cost of the product or TV show.

When you look at the result of "reality TV", the output is of lesser quality. While it ptoduces acceptable sales in the short term , "reality TV" basically has no long term value in terms of re-runs, movie spinoffs and so on. It isnt building any long term brand value. People will still be watching "Sex in the City" or "The Wire" reruns 20 years from now. But will they be interested in watching the reruns of "Top Model again? Not likely.

That isnt surprising, since the "crowd" is never involved in actually creating these "reality TV" shows. Not the concepts, not the storylines. Nothing. So the "crowd involvement" there is the 5-10 bodies that have been chosen to do a court jester act on camera, for little or no pay. Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands, or maybe millions of potential brand supporters who could be actually providing input into the direction of the product and the brand are - intentionally - shut out from taking part.

That isnt exactly setting any sort of benchmark in crowdsourcing. At best, it's an extremely superficial flirtation with the principle.

April 20, 2010 01:26 PM #

Lnda Locke United States says:

Every company I've ever worked has had someone who says "let's have the employees pick the name/slogan/positioning/advertising/logo" and it is ALWAYS a bad idea. Input, feedback in the development of positioning -- not only good but essential. You want the crowd engaged with feedback, but not directing the branding. The crowd has objectives that likely don't match yours...

April 20, 2010 04:16 PM #

Ed United States says:

But if the crowd's objectives dont match your objectives, then aren't you in the wrong business - or at least serving the wrong customers?

April 21, 2010 04:33 AM #

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