Saturday, September 26, 2009

Francesco D’Orazio on outsourcing to the masses...

Barely a day goes by without a website, campaign or competition cropping up, promising to harness the collective wisdom of crowds – the likes of you and me – for the benefit of brands. brand-e spoke to Francesco D’Orazio, md of crowdsourcing and co-creation specialists Face Wired to get the skinny.Firstly, for those who have been living under a rock this summer, what exactly do we mean by crowdsourcing?
Well, there are a number of definitions and, depending on your speciality, it may vary slightly. Essentially, it’s when a company broadcasts a problem to a crowd instead of getting one or two experts to work on solutions. It’s outsourcing to the masses - the key elements for most forms of crowdsourcing are peer-reviewed collaboration and bottom-up idea generation. What are the benefits to brands in going down this route? It’s a very productive way of using crowds. Crowdsourcing, in one form or another, has been around for about 15 years, but with social media, brands have found a way of harnessing crowd creativity on a much larger scale. And there is huge value for brands in this method. They get a global, diversified crowd, a wider range of talent, rich spontaneous insights - plus it’s cost effective, and it provides great word-of-mouth for the brand. Sounds like a marketing director’s dream. Are there no drawbacks? Crowdsourcing by itself is a bit limited, you need a top-down approach to counteract it – there has to be some way to funnel the data and ideas generated. Plus, crowdsourcing tends to be more of a vertical process, there is lax collaboration - the best solutions come when people are allowed and encouraged to build on each other’s ideas. Also, because crowdsourcing is not targeted, brands cannot afford to give too much away about company strategy, meaning briefs can be somewhat limited in detail. Are there workarounds? When we work with brands we use a process called co-creation. It’s phase two, after crowdsourcing. It’s a way of brands collaborating directly with selected people from the crowdsourcing phase, to respond to a brief. Rather than conversing with 5,000 people as they would in crowdsourcing, they are talking to 20 to 25 highly targeted individuals through on- and offline activity. Co-creation provides the strong, strategic thinking that is missing from crowdsourcing.It gives a more direct communication between brand and consumer? Exactly. Somebody has always played the role of middleman between brands and consumers, be it agencies or experts. Social media has exposed the flaws in that system and brands have realised the need to have a continuous, ongoing relationship with the consumer. The cartel of media owners, agencies and brands that has existed up till now has been blown open. Brands now know they have to put consumers and online communities at the heart of what they do.
Does that mean brands relinquishing more control? It’s not about handing over control, it’s about collaborating. If brands open up too much, they lose control of consumer expectations, which is the most dangerous thing that can happen. People start expecting things that there is no chance the brand can deliver. Giving up too much control will eventually lead to a backlash from the consumer. There is an abundance of platforms offering crowdsourced solutions: crowdSPRING, 99 Designs, Zopa and Mofilm.comspring to mind. Is this a real shift in advertising, or is it simply an ad fad? These kinds of sites will have an impact on the number of creatives hired by agencies long term. It makes sense for brands and agencies to rebalance and redistribute the roles within their organisations, but it would be a mistake for people to put too much emphasis on crowdsourcing. There will always be a need for people with expertise to provide top-down analysis of the ideas generated. Crowdsourcing will still exist in five years time but I think most of these sites will have disappeared - most likely, one or two will hold a monopoly.
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