multisourcing

Crowdsourcing continues to be one of the hottest topics in marketing today, but it receives its fair share of skepticism too.

That skepticism may have merit: to some, crowdsourcing seems like a simple case of repackaged logic.

After all, the marketing concept asserts that the best way to build a successful business is to offer people what they really want; because crowd-sourcing helps us understand what people actually want, it seems like a key ingredient of any successful business.

However, there’s a key difference between crowdsourcing and our previous, research-based approach: collaborative engagement.

The more we involve people in every aspect of developing our products, the greater their subsequent level of engagement, and the deeper their relationship with our brand.

This physical contribution and emotional engagement means people have a vested interest in your brand’s success.

In their minds, it becomes their brand too.

The death of brands?

So if people could always join forces to solve their problems, would brands still exist?

In its ideal form, crowdsourcing would mean we would never need to choose between different brands again, because our co-developed solutions would always satisfy our specific needs.

That Utopian vision seems appealing on many fronts.

There’s just one problem.

Democratic stagnation

The main challenge with crowdsourcing is that it rarely delivers radical innovation.

Indeed, two things lead me to believe that crowdsourcing could actually slow our rate of progress.

Firstly, everyday people tend to imagine the future in relation to their present.

Henry Ford summed this up beautifully:

“If I had asked people what they wanted,
they would have said faster horses.”

Secondly, the democratic process tends to dilute innovations down to a lowest common denominator.

Most people are fearful of change, and reject things that are far removed from their current sphere of familiarity.

As a result, involving too many people in the process risks death by democracy.

Right tool, right job

So, rather than using crowdsourcing to solve all our business problems, we might be better to use it for a more specific purpose.

Here’s my theory.

When we know what people want, we’re better placed to offer it to them in the most effective and efficient ways.

However, if we’re to succeed in adding value, rather than merely delivering it, we need to go one step further.

We need to show people what they could have; not just a better version of what they already know.

As a consequence, I think crowdsourcing’s real potential lies in helping us to identify the core benefits that people seek.

In other words, we need to get people to explain their ideal end, rather than asking them to design a shinier version of the means they currently use to get there.

It’s then our job to create truly innovative solutions that deliver those benefits better than anyone else.

Thanks to Neil for the inspiration.

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2 Responses to “multisourcing”


  1. 1 John Barton December 20, 2009 at 01:02

    I really appreciate your thinking on crowdsourcing. We so often grasp at a new concept before understanding how and when it should be applied. People often don’t really know WHAT they want, but they are pretty good at describing the result they are looking for. Henry Ford’s quote gets right at this. People want to get somewhere faster (result or benefit), but their frame of reference is ‘horses’ so they want faster horses. The real value we as creative people can add is to challenge the frame of reference. Thanks Simon!

    • 2 eskimon December 28, 2009 at 15:57

      Good point – it’s always worth re-examining our role and trying to identify new ways to create value.

      As I thought about your comments, it triggered a parallel thought: many people still believe that marketing can persuade people to buy things they don’t really want, and regardless of whether that’s true, it’s in our interests to make a more valuable contribution to society.

      I think the easiest way for us to deliver that ‘societal value’ is to spend more time understanding and creating what people really want, not just what they can describe.

      We need to think more like interpreters or psychologists, not just salespeople.


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