March 6-9, 2011  |  Lost Pines, Texas
Published: March 08, 2011
The new innovation: 6 crowdsourcing best practices

Your brand is whatever your customers say it is. Learn how to broaden your ideation process to incorporate the wisdom of the crowds.

In today's fast-changing social media environment, the old agency system -- in which a small handful of creatives sit down to generate the messaging that will guide the future of a brand -- simply doesn't hold up. Thanks to new digital tools and constant customer connectivity, great ideas can and should come from anywhere and everywhere.

At this week's iMedia Brand Summit in Austin, Texas, Claudia Batten, COO of Victors & Spoils, took to the main stage to discuss how crowdsourcing can help marketers achieve a wider breadth of ideation. "It's not just telling a story," Batten said. "It's about telling the right story."

Although digital tools enable brands' relatively new ability to tap into the wisdom of the crowds, the focus should not be on the tools themselves, Batten added. "Don't let the shiny new tools distract you," she said. "Use them to tell your story."

To this end, Batten offers these six crowdsourcing best practices:

1. Tap the crowd
Simply making contact is the first -- and often greatest -- challenge that a brand must overcome. But the potential reward greatly outweighs the risks. As an example, Batten pointed to the brand WD-40, a household name that was looking to tell a new story. For this new story, the brand turned to crowdsourcing -- and was rewarded with 336 new ideas.

2. Democratize your brand
Few brands have given power to the people the way that Starbucks has with its My Starbucks Idea program. By opening itself up to input from its loyal customers, the brand tapped into 70,000 new ideas in the first year of the program alone. Today, the brand has 40 people assigned to reviewing new ideas, and 100 ideas have been implemented to date. Most importantly of all, the brand is heavily engaged with its customers, providing feedback and seeking additional input on new concepts -- even those that don't ultimately get implemented.

3. Brace yourself
It's amazing how quickly a conversation can get away from a brand. Batten offered the example of Procter & Gamble, whose new innovative line of diapers sparked an internet wildfire when stories of diaper rash ran rampant in social media. What started with tweets and blogs quickly spread to investigations in traditional media as well. The lesson? Be prepared. When the crowds talk, you must get in the conversation.

4. Lead by example
Marketers want people to feel good about their brands. Through crowdsourcing, Toyota gave its customers reasons to do just that. The company's Ideas for Good program opened up the brand's business to the general public and solicited new ideas for how its technology could be used to make the world a better place. The result? New ideas for Toyota, and a sense of pride and ownership among its customers. 

5. Spread the word
As Batten pointed out, the "build it and they will come" mentality has no place in crowdsourcing. Brands must still know where their audiences exist online and plan to meet them there. In fact, Batten noted, the most successful brands are those that know when to extend their outreach beyond digital channels to spread the word to a broader base of stakeholders.

6. Target key voices
Some voices in the crowd are louder and more-connected than others, and brands must strive to harness them. Virgin America did just that when launching its new Toronto flight route, and the result was the creation of messaging that was unique while staying true to the brand, Batten said.

As the world becomes more digitally connected, brands are welcoming new approaches to traditional storytelling and problem solving, and crowdsourcing is chief among them. After all, as Batten reminded the audience, "Your brand is whatever your customers say it is."

Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow Luechtefeld at @loriluechtefeld. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet, and stay up to date on happenings at this week's brand summit through the hashtag #iMediaSummit.