Crowdsourcing 101 for Emerging Brands

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Crowdsourcing, a term coined by Wired writer Jeff Howe and explained in the video above, is without a doubt a key digital marketing trend for 2010. The New York Times suggests that small brands shouldn’t shy away from tapping into the public’s willingness to share ideas to help spur innovation and feedback, and cites the example of a particularly savvy (and successful) tiny brand as a case study.[more]

Trek Light Gear is an online retailer that turned to the wisdom of the crowd out of necessity. Based in Boulder, Colorado, the site sells backpacks, tarps, and its iconic lightweight parachute nylon double hammock. Amazingly, it has a full-time staff of …. one: its founder, Seth Haber, who tells the Times, “I’m always trying to seem bigger.” 

Haber turned to the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ for inspiration on growing his business. Working with local market researcher Napkin Labs, Haber engaged with consumers on the key branding question: ‘Should he focus his efforts on the company’s hammock or expand into related areas, like products for campers?’

Napkin Labs tapped into its network to provide feedback, and the crowdsourced answer was loud and clear: grow the business! “It really confirmed my decision not to pigeonhole the business around the lightweight hammock,” said Haber. (Napkin Labs, on average, charges about $10,000 and up for its crowdsourcing and consulting services.)

In his landmark book Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business (condensed here), Howe articulates four basic approaches:
•    Collective intelligence: Firms like InnoCentive use the crowd to solve complex problems.
•    Creation: Agencies like Ad Hack connect companies with creative talent.
•    Voting: Brands like Mountain Dew let users vote on the look of new brands.
•    Funding: Sites like Kickstarter raise money through the crowd.

A few additional basics on successful crowdsourcing:

Define the job clearly
and then find the right partner through the web – and then turn to Twitter. “This is a place where social media can be superhelpful,” says Niel Robertson, chief executive of Trada, a crowdsourcing firm focused on pay-per-click advertising, who advises always including the tag #crowdsourcing.

Distill your goal. According to Napkin Labs’ CEO Riley Gibson, exploratory queries work best. “What are people’s thoughts on product A? How can we make it better? And what will it look like in five years? It’s not always easy from looking at a site to discern these subtleties. It really helps someone who’s browsing a marketplace to understand who the customers are.”

Ongoing engagement is crucial. Respect the process once it’s begun – stay in the dialogue with respondents to your query and once chosen, work with prospective designers and developers through feedback and review. “Don’t look at crowdsourcing as set and forget,” adds Robertson.

Scale and pay as you go. The crowd is the cloud – and can be scaled and remunerated step-by-step.

And now to that Trek Light Gear double hammock…

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