Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Here Comes Everyone - The wisdom of crowds

Urvi Ved | IIM Indore

Here comes everyone – The wisdom of crowds

“Name our symbol, get closer to your dream” says the tagline of Airtel’s (or shall we say, Airtel’s recent brand experiment).In an attempt to emotionally connect their loyal customers with the rebranding exercise, Airtel has launched a contest where it invites users to submit their name for its new symbol.

The best entry will be chosen through online voting, and the winner gets his wish fulfilled by the company. Whether Airtel’s rebranding creates customer loyalty or destroys old bonds remains to be seen, but one thing that stood out in the rebranding exercise was the innovative use of brand sponsored crowdsourcing, perhaps for the first time in India on a large scale.

Crowdsourcing happens when a company outsources a task once performed by employees, to an undefined open crowd. The cocktail party definition of crowdsourcing is “The Wikipedia of everything!” Every brand manager tries to create communication that will actively engage the target audience. With the growth of Web 2.0, one way communication simply isn’t enough anymore. Brand sponsored crowdsourcing tries to make the communication reciprocal by giving its users a platform to share their ideas and meaningfully engage with the brand.

Many of the world’s leading international brands including Mastercard, Mcdonalds, Peugot, Virgin etc. have used crowdsourcing successfully in the past. The reasons for its popularity with brand managers are fairly obvious. With very little investment, you can get brilliant product design ideas, unlimited PR, visibility, and hits on your facebook page and website. The contests spreads online as internet users share their ideas with each other and the company. For example, say I’ve entered my idea for the logo name on the Airtel’s website. The next thing I do is share it through my facebook and twitter id. All my friends then view it on my wall, which encourages them to participate as well, and before you know it’s a viral hit. The last time I checked, Airtel had received 83,000 entries, and counting! Another example of a successful Indian crowdsourcing campaign is the Lays “Give us your own delicious flavor” campaign in which consumers gave ideas for lays flavors and proceeded to vote for the best among them. A total of 41, 64,886 votes were cast by consumers who had tried out four flavors among 1.3 million flavor ideas that were sent in.

Actively engaging, immersive, collaborative and open this is what crowdsourcing is all about. However, we also know what it isn’t – a brand engagement panacea. One of the best advertising firms in the world, Ogilvy and Mather believes that brands should tread carefully when outsourcing. Some aspects of brand identity like name, logo and culture should never be crowdsourced. The GAP logo fiasco is cited as a case in point. The company had changed its decade old navy blue and white logo without explanation, leading to massive criticism by its loyal customers on twitter and facebook. In reaction to that, as an attempt to pacify their users, GAP launched a contest inviting consumers to design their new logo, with even more disastrous consequences. In the end both these attempts failed miserable and GAP went back to its old logo with an apology. This example highlights the critical difference between using your consumers’ ideas, and letting them mess with the legacy of your brand.

Perhaps the answer to effective crowdsourcing may lie somewhere in the middle of professional expertise and public opinion. Some companies create versions of the output which they think reflect the characteristics of their product, and ask the people to choose between them. The producers of the movie Jab We Met decided the title of the film by a popular vote, where people were asked to choose between three titles –‘Jab we met’, 'Punjab Mail' and 'Ishq via Bhatinda'. They came up with the three alternatives, which reduced the effort needed to enter the contest, as a simple SMS was sufficient. All three names were catchy and contemporary (a mix of English and hindi words were used) which acted as a signal for the kind of movie Jab We Met was: A mix of traditional and modern, witty and young. This promotional crowdsourcing campaign created much needed buzz before the release of the movie.

Seeking feedback from customers, and asking them to co-create the product they love to use so much is the very soul of crowdsourcing – and this wasn’t invented yesterday! For decades companies have been asking people to write slogans, design stickers, send in stories to build brand loyalty. What is different this time around is that the power of social media has catapulted this trend into previously unimaginable level. The sheer number of people that can be touched by a crowdsourcing campaign and the consequent affect on the brand is mind boggling. This is the reason why crowdsourcing must be controlled to an extent where no damage to the brand is possible.

It is hard to tell if this is an on-trend campaign mechanic that might create some buzz while the idea is hot, or if brand managers will continue to view it as an invaluable tool for building brand relationships with their users. The success of every campaign after all depends not only on the vehicles used for communication, but also the dexterity with which they’re handled and the appropriateness for the occasion. Too many of such crowdsourcing activities might cause consumer fatigue and boredom, leading to fewer entries and zero buzz. However, we are a long way from that, and for the time being it looks like it’ll remain one of brand magic tricks the brand manager has in his bag.

1 comment:

anandhi said...

Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again

Know Your Customer India

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