Crowdsourcing for Small Business and Start-Ups

The following is a blog post that I originally wrote for


Crowdsourcing is a practice through which organizations can tap into the collective intelligence and skills of their crowds – employees, customers, or the public –  for product or service innovation, problem solving and performing specific tasks and achieving specific goals, leveraging online communities. Crowdsourcing is becoming widespread as companies, both large and small, non-profits and government become more familiar with the practice and how it can enhance their own internal resources and knowledge base.

How does crowdsourcing work?  First, it should always start with a sound business strategy and objectives. Typically, an organization either recruits its own online community of participants (the crowd), or gains access to a community that already exists. The organization then invites the crowd to contribute ideas and solutions related to the tasks it needs accomplished. The crowd is encouraged to collaborate and provide constructive comments on ideas that are posted, and vote on their favorites – enabling crowd-preferred ideas to be identified for the organization. Often times, incentives and rewards are provided to the crowd to entice participation.

Large corporations, such as Dell, Starbucks and Pepsi have been using crowdsourcing for a number of years, however it is now entering a place of maturity – related companies and services geared towards small business and start-ups are arising. Although small businesses may not have the following required to recruit their own crowds, they now have access to a wide range of opportunities to leverage crowds created by crowdsourcing service providers.

Efforts that a small business might consider crowdsourcing include:

  • Graphic and logo design
  • Product innovation and development
  • Marketing and communications
  • Computer programming

Small businesses and start-ups can benefit from crowdsourcing in several ways. Crowdsourcing enables companies to gain access to a large talent pool and resources that complement and build on their own internal expertise.  For time-starved business owners and entrepreneurs, crowdsourcing can help ease the burden of a heavy workload. Also, depending on the task at hand, crowdsourcing can be a very cost-effective solution.

Despite the name, a “crowd” doesn’t have to be that large.  Crowdsourcing projects can result in excellent output with as little as a few hundred participants, so small businesses and startups shouldn’t be turned away from considering crowdsourcing for fear of having to recruit thousands of participants.

For an example of crowdsourcing in action, check out Genius Crowds –  Genius Crowds is a new crowdsourcing initiative through which participants have an opportunity to submit ideas for new products, as well as vote or comment on ideas that others have submitted. Ideas that turn out to be Genius Products, as selected by the crowd and reviewed by a panel of experts, could actually be brought to market  – with the participants who submitted the ideas earning royalties.  Not only that, but their logo happens to be crowdsourced too!

Lots of Genius Ideas!

As you can see, I haven’t had an opportunity to update my blog since early September. I intend to rectify that, and will be more active with my blog again soon.  Lots has happened over the last couple of months. Most notably, I moved from Vancouver to Calgary for a new job.

I am now a Community Outreach Manager for Chaordix, a leading crowdsourcing platform and services provider.  Amongst other things, in my role I am responsible for recruiting for and moderating crowdsourcing communities for our clients.  One such client is Genius Crowds, a fantastic initiative through which participants have an opportunity to help create products that actually make it to store shelves – and earn  royalties!

You can actually participate too! Here is a short one minute video on Genius Crowds that I wanted to share:

Challenges Companies Face in Truly Embracing Digital

Over 700 million people are now on social networks worldwide. Numerous companies are successfully engaging with these people, leveraging social media, technology and emerging platforms to engage with customers, generate demand and drive sales. They are also gaining valuable insights and data as a result of their efforts, paving the path for more intelligent business decisions and targeted marketing.

However, in spite of this, many companies have been slow in embracing the digital frontier. For these organizations, several concerns stand out.

Lack of attention and priority to digital

A digital mindset must involve all levels of an organization, starting at the top with senior management. In fact, many companies at the forefront of digital have senior managers who actively engage with customers, whether through corporate blogs, Twitter or other means. Peter Aceto, CEO of ING DIRECT Canada, openly shares a variety of insights on Twitter at @CEO_ingdirect. Without senior management support, as is the case with any strategy or initiative, it will be difficult for digital to permeate through an organization.

A tactical, and not strategic, focus

Related to the point above, a digital strategy must be highly integrated with the overall business objectives and marketing plan. Merely setting up a corporate Twitter account and Facebook Fan page, and regurgitating marketing and communications messages from other platforms, is not sufficient. A digitally strategy must be well thought out, with consideration given towards the needs of the target market and how each unique touch point can be leveraged to engage and create value.

Organizational education and alignment

To effectively build a strong digital presence, specific skills are required. Those people responsible for being the face of a company online must understand how to foster and build community and loyalty with customers. A sense of trust is of the utmost importance. Further, some organizations allow employees from departments other than marketing and communications to engage with customers. In such instances, it is critical that employees understand they are representing the brand, and that external departments buy into and support the effort.

Disparate consumer touch points

Companies are now able to connect with consumers in a variety of ways, through a variety of platforms, both online and offline. The number of different consumer touch points certainly makes it more challenging for companies to ensure that consumers are receiving positive, consistent experiences that are aligned with the brand. Well thought out digital strategies, including proper training and internal communication of brand values, will help ensure consistency.

Dated CRM strategies and research methodologies

While customer relationship management systems are still important, solely relying on them is not enough. Digital provides an opportunity to collect rich and relevant insights about customers, and how they want a brand to fit within the context of *their* lives. One new and evolving way to glean insights is through crowdsourcing, which enables a company to tap into the collective intelligence of a large group of people or community. Crowdsourcing could, for example, be used by a company to determine how it can improve its products and services, brainstorm products and services it should consider offering or, from a philanthropic standpoint, learn about causes its customers would like it to support.

So, how to get started with a digital strategy?  This is definitely a topic for another blog post, or a book (and there are many great ones out there!).  A good first step is for a company to figure out which social media platforms are most relevant for its brand. At minimum, consideration should be given towards cultivating a following on Twitter and a community on a Facebook Fan Page. Staff should get involved, engaging with customers on a daily basis, which will result in credibility and trust being built over the long term.

Ah yes, long term trust. Imagine the rewards that can be created, for both companies and consumers, through a forward-thinking digital mindset and well-conceived strategy.

Do any of the concerns mentioned above resonate with you? Has your company truly embraced digital?

Stand for Something

One way a brand can stand out and build a stronger bond with customers is to become aligned with a relevant cause that truly benefits the greater good.

Consumers, and even customers in business to business environments, certainly expect the companies they purchase from to be good corporate citizens. Fair and ethical treatment of staff members, giving back to the local community, and adherence to green practices just make good business sense. But imagine how your customers might perceive your brand if you *WOW* them by setting a gold standard for social and environmental practices.

Digital technology is making it easier for companies to engage with consumers and support causes in new and unique ways.

Here are several examples of companies that are making a difference.

TOMS Shoes – For every pair of shoes purchased, a pair is given to a child in need. Since the program launched in 2006, over 600,000 shoes have been given to children in the United States, Argentina, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Guatemala, Haiti, and South Africa

Pepsi – Rather move forward with a traditional Super Bowl TV spot, Pepsi launched the Pepsi Refresh Project. Through the $20 million crowdsourcing initiative, which will no doubt be a marketing case study, people are enticed to submit and vote on ideas that will have a positive impact on society. The best ideas will receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 each.

CauseWorld – CauseWorld is an iPhone and Android app that is similar to Foursqaure and Gowalla, in that it enables users check into check into locations they visit. For each check in, users earn “Karma” points, which they can then redeem using the app to donate money to select charitable organizations. The money is provided by sponsors including Procter & Gamble, Kraft and Sears.

Have you thought about how your company can leverage digital in making a difference?

Observations on the Old Spice Campaign

Old Spice’s “Old Spice Man” campaign may just be a precursor of advertising and brand engagement efforts we can expect to see in coming years. The campaign, orchestrated by Wieden+Kennedy, started off with a TV commercial in the winter which garnered attention from notable bloggers and celebrities, and received numerous views on YouTube.

On Tuesday, the Old Spice Man became a social media sensation, with videos uploaded to YouTube featuring the character responding to people’s comments and questions from Twitter, Facebook and other Internet sources. A few of the videos were filmed in advance, featuring Old Spice Man’s responses to comments on the original commercial, however the majority were filmed on the fly – sometimes within thirty minutes of someone submitting a comment or question.

Approximately 180 videos were created over two days. At last count, Old Spice’s Twitter following had increased to over 70,000, and most of the videos were downloaded over 100,000 times. There were also a couple of hundred news articles on the initiative, and no doubt numerous mentions in other media. It has been an amazing viral marketing campaign.

There are many things worth mentioning about this effort, here are a few that come to mind:

  • Mass and digital media can work beautifully together. Old Spice firmly established the character in the TV spot, there was already a strong degree of familiarity prior to the social media blitz.
  • Blogger and celebrity outreach planted some of the seeds for the viral nature of this campaign. It was smart to create videos mentioning influential bloggers and celebrities who were already fans of the TV spot – no doubt they became bigger fans, and again let their networks know about it.
  • The videos were FUNNY and ADDICTIVE. Viewers, myself included, were compelled spread the word, sharing with their friends and followers.
  • Old Spice Man is a very likable character, one that people are easily able to gain an affinity for.
  • A handsome guy with sex appeal. Women have an influence in 80% of all purchasing decisions, including men’s grooming products. Many men aspire to be like him. Enough said.

I’m curious to see what Old Spice’s next steps will be, given the large following that has been garnered. How are they going to continue to engage the social media community they have built?

Another question on ponder, do people like the Old Spice brand or just the campaign itself?

I’m also interested in the processes and metrics that are in place to evaluate success. Will there be a sales lift? A measured increase in brand affinity?

Lots of questions asked, and some valuable insights already gained. What are your thoughts?

Communications Providers and Customer Service

It never ceases to amaze me how often communications providers rely on promises of “better network coverage”, “faster Internet access”, or “better pricing” to differentiate themselves from competitors and lure consumers. Such advertising, in my opinion, does very little to make their brands truly stand out in the consumer mindset. Other than perhaps offering exclusivity for a particular product, such as an iPhone, it seems that you could insert any brand in any campaign.

How can a communications company stand out and be remarkable? How about innovating around customer service? Wouldn’t it be amazing if your cellular provider contacted you mid-contract, to advise you of a better and more cost-effective cell phone plan based on your usage? Would that perhaps build your loyalty to the brand, and reduce the chance of you switching when your contract expires?

Communications companies could also benefit from establishing themselves on social media, to open themselves up to customers and engage with them. Yes, they can and will receive criticisms from customers that can be viewed by anyone. However, putting a human face on a cold, corporate brand has a tremendous upside. As an example, read about Comcast Cares.

What are your thoughts?  How should communications providers innovate, so they can stand out from the competition?

The Need for Innovation at Retail

I feel that innovative marketing at retail, specifically grocery stores, is currently lacking. Studies have shown that shopper marketing, done properly, can be a very effective driver of brand awareness and product purchase – more than mass and digital media. A recent trip to a Vancouver, BC grocery store revealed both good and bad examples of shopper marketing.

The good: When purchasing deli meats, a Hellman’s mayonnaise coupon was placed on the package. Right beside the deli was a well-placed, visible rack of Hellman’s mayonnaise.  Two complementary products, and a coupon presented in a unique manner  – well done. I had never seen that before, it caught my attention; a “purple cow” in Seth Godin lingo.

The bad: The same grocery store, for the last year, has been playing a short promotional video for a particular brand of meats near the frozen sausages section. I shop there every week, and I don’t think I ever recall anyone stopping to watch the video. It is not engaging, there is no incentive to watch. Who really cares, and who has the time? What a waste.

How can brands be more innovative at retail? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Add value by promoting quick, easy to access digital recipes on packaging.  A simple link to a website, or perhaps Facebook group, will suffice. Enable consumers to easily share the recipes with their friends, perhaps using the Facebook “like” feature.
  2. Consider a cause-related incentive to purchase. People care about brands that truly strive to make a difference, through genuine relationships and partnerships with charities. TOMS donates a new pair of shoes to a child in need, for each pair purchased. How about donating a portion of proceeds for each sale to a relevant charity?
  3. Ensure that your packaging is innovative.  Employ functionality wherever possible, making it easy to store. Also make sure that your design truly stands out, without adding to the messaging clutter found in grocery stores.

Farmville Creator Teams Up With 7-Eleven

Farmville, the popular real-time simulation game in which players manage virtual farms on Facebook, has made it to the offline world. Zynga, the company behind the game, has launched a promotion with 7-Eleven that includes two of their other virtual world games, Mafia Wars and YoVille.

Through the innovative campaign, which started June 1 and will last for six weeks, consumers can purchase select goods from 7-Eleven that will include product codes for redemption of a new, limited edition virtual good in each game. The campaign is being supported by in-store signage, as I discovered at the 7-Eleven on W 6th in Vancouver, as well as branding on Slurpee and Big Gulp cups.

7-Eleven is also launching an advertising campaign encompassing radio, print, online and outdoor to build awareness of the initiative.

Through this campaign, it seems that 7-Eleven is targeting a younger audience. It will be interesting to see if gamers are loyal and enticed enough to purchase from 7-Eleven as a result. Given the popularity of Farmville, I suspect that many of them will be.

Robbie’s Home on Howe – Experiential Marketing and Social Media

Experiential marketing enables customers to engage and interact with brands, products and services, allowing for personal experiences that aid purchasing decisions. Max Lenderman, Director of OuterActive at agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, mentioned in his best-selling book “Brand New World” that experiential marketing is often used in India, a country in which few families own TVs, and that it is poised to become more prominent on a global basis over the coming years. I agree.

Recently, at an event hosted by the BC Chapter of the American Marketing Association, furniture retailer Urban Barn, in conjunction with ad agency and design firm Spring Advertising, PR firm Elevator Communications, and retail consultancy DIG360 presented details of an innovative experiential marketing and social media initiative.

Faced with the prospect of a significant drop in sales at their Howe St location during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, due to street closures and excessive Olympic crowds, they transformed their retail store into an interactive experience. The store became a fully functioning home, inhabited 24/7, by Robbie, the store manager. People had an opportunity to walk through and experience “Robbie’s Home on Howe”, while also enjoying Olympic events on several TVs that were set up.

To support the initiative, a microsite was created, and advertising was placed on the store front as well as inside. Awareness was in part generated via social media, notably via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. At the end of each day, Robbie recorded a video diary.


The initiative was also promoted at Urban Barn’s 38 stores across Canada.

Urban Barn did not set a specific sales objective to measure ROI. I believe doing so would have been quite difficult, particularly given the unique nature and circumstance. However, qualitatively speaking, it does seem that “Robbie’s Home on Howe” was an effective brand building exercise. Urban Barn tracked over 2000 people going through on a daily basis, and even had to hire a bouncer to control crowds. The store became a destination.

“We set out to attach Urban Barn’s name to something memorable and unexpected and without a doubt this was achieved,” states Brianna Doolittle, Senior Marketing Coordinator at Urban Barn. “Over the course of 17 days we were able to touch thousands of people with an experience that will stick with them, and we feel confident that next time they need some furniture or accessories for their home they will think of Urban Barn.”

Urban Barn’s effort also received significant PR coverage, both locally and nationally through mainstream press, as well as through social media.

I believe we are truly at new frontier in marketing and advertising, and it is great to see companies like Urban Barn that are willing to take a risk and experiment. Urban Barn has remained active with the connections created with customers through social media, and they are currently working with their partner agencies on follow-up strategies.

I look forward to seeing what they do next!

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