Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Wisdom of Crowds - Collaboration, co-creation, crowdsourcing: it's all about opening up and letting the people in to engage with your brand.

Marketing can seem more fashion- parade than a firmly grounded and principled discipline – a neophile's paradise.

Wave after wave of latest things – the newest, shiniest technologies, media or routes to market – come racing towards us, each heralded by a gaggle of vendors demanding a complete rethink of everything that we thought was best practice.

No wonder many of us feel slightly giddy: we're torn between holding on to what we know and trust, and jumping on the latest thing lest we get left behind. Yet, in all too many cases, the latest thing is soon forgotten, along with the exhortations of those who proclaimed the end of the world as we know it.

That said, some things have proved to be game changers: the explosion of the internet, digital technologies and communications tools; the rise of behavioural economics; the 'social' hypothesis that sees human behaviour as a function of our social nature, not humanity as thinking and calculating independent agents; and the explosion of new kinds of research and analytic technologies that move beyond simple ask answer models of the past.

The rapid rise of what we're calling 'collaborative marketing' – of marketing that does things with (rather than to) other parties (be they consumers, competitors or suppliers) is one of these game changers.

Indeed, the wide extent of the spread of collaboration into every dark corner of the marketing forest (as the other articles in this Admap Focus suggest) underscores the importance of this to today's marketer.

The fact that it seems to be part of a bigger social and cultural trend ('reality TV' is surely nothing more than the act of making viewers into TV stars; phone ins a way of recruiting the audience into the show – while at the same time offsetting some of the costs of production) serves to demonstrate that this is no mere short- term fad confined to marketing geeks alone.

So what exactly do we mean by 'collaborative' marketing? There are many different ways in which collaborative marketing is evidenced, but they all share the same fundamental stance of trying to do things with, rather than at, or to, people.

Part of the drive behind this – as Procter & Gamble's AG Lafley highlighted – is that even the best companies are no longer capable of creating value on their own at the required rate or standard; they need to seek help from the outside.

Allied with this is the acknowledge ment that the world is rather more complicated than our traditional company based models have suggested. People are far more interested in each other than they are in our brands, our stores and our advertising.

Certainly, the new media landscape makes it much more complicated to launch or maintain brands compared to some years ago.

Equally, while much of marketing science equips us for marketing and advertising in the 1990s, our knowledge about social influence and diffusion, how they work and how to optimise them remains patchy at best.

Finally, it cannot be coincidental that the rise of collaborative marketing activities is occurring at a time when both hardcore science and mainstream technology are emphasizing our species' social nature and our profoundly collaborative wiring: we're getting increasingly comfortable talking of social networks and of memes, spread and the like.

The old assumptions of human life as an essentially competitive experience are being overturned in front of our eyes by cognitive and behavioural scientists: we are a 'we' creature, not a 'me' one.

Collaboration takes many forms in modern marketing. For simplicity I have divided them into four, not mutually exclusive, strands:

1.Collaborative communications – communicating with and through people outside the company, rather than at or to. At its simplest, this might just be an acknowledgement of the profound truth that 'it's at least as important what your audience does with your advertising as what your advertising does to your audience'.

Generations of account planners have touted this wisdom in conversations with researchers and advertisers who are interested in 'per suasion' scores and the like. Now, the insight becomes more relevant than ever: for many would be 'viral' creative pieces, pass on and reworking rates ('mashups') are almost always at least as important as traditional communications research metrics.The teams behind the Honda 'Dreams' and
Cadbury's 'Gorilla' ads explicitly refer to these kind of metrics in demonstrating the effectiveness of their efforts.

Equally, with the rise of word- of- mouth marketing, what the audience does in response to the communication is clearly going to be more important than how it impacts on them or what it says to them.

Creative work which seeks to harness social influence is clearly going to have to work 'with' and not 'on' or 'at' – at least, the heavy lifting will be done through 'with'.

And, the rise in user- generated content (UGC) is further evidence of the same thing: increasingly, the democratisation of access to both film and other production and distribution technologies is allowing consumers to make their own content (and not just spoofs of 'proper' advertising).

Dorito's has used America's advertising showcase, the Super Bowl, to provide consumers with a platform to do this, with great success.

2 Co-creation – collaboration in the development and delivery of products, making things 'with' and 'through' folk outside the company and its orbit. Increasingly, marketing is looking to create and develop products together with outsiders.We are all now familiar with fashion retailers' collaborations with famous designer or model names that seek to bring perceptions of quality and interest to the retail offerings.

Then there's the fashion for celebrity music remixes to boost interest and attention in new music.

The software industry's 'beta tests' are similarly collaborative: they are rooted in the practical realisation that it is only by working with users and key clients that software and the services that depend on them can be debugged and tailored to really meet today's users' needs and expectations – these things being just too complicated to get right otherwise.

TV ad: Lynx Twist - ChangesCreative from Xtreme Information

More recently, a number of brands have reached out to their users to go further and actually invent products with a small group of consumers: 'Twist', the latest Axe/Lynx fragrance, is the product of an
intensive co creation project.

Lego's revival is widely credited to the decision to work with, rather than shun, the adult users of the brightly coloured bricks.

They have become the beating heart of the organisation – the real owners of the brand. New recruits are encouraged to spend extensive periods of time at 'fan events'. Similarly, the online music service Spotify focuses most of its marketing effort on listening and working
with its community of music downloaders.

And features that Twitter users take for granted, such as 'RT' (retweeting) and the '@' sign to denote usernames, were created by the user community itself.

3 Collaboration
with other brands and organisations. Another, perhaps more familiar, form of collaboration is demonstrated when two different brands or organisations go to market together for mutual benefit.

Marmite's Guinness variant is just such a project. Brands that align themselves with particular charities also fall into this camp, but there is an important distinction here between mere co branding and

While the former might be just shared flags of convenience to reduce risk, the latter suggests that both parties seek to benefit from making something new and different together.

Indeed, many businesses are realising that providing a platform for other businesses is a good thing; a large part of the iPhone's appeal lies in the huge secondary market for iPhone apps.

4 Crowdsourcing
– resourcing ideas and products in a more open and, to some extent, collaborative way. This form of collaboration is essentially characterised by many individuals (hence 'crowd') or individual companies collaborating with each other on behalf of an individual buyer or company sponsor, either to solve complex problems together, or to offer alternative solutions to the same problems.

The idea is partly rooted in James Surowiecki's bestselling book, The Wisdom of Crowds, which describes the curious ability of 'we' to be smarter than even the smartest 'me' under certain circumstances.

A useful way of thinking about it is the blackboard in the movie, Good Will Hunting, which is left open for passing mathematicians to contribute solutions to problems posed there. The crowd uses this to create solutions together.

Crowdsourcing can range from the creative net of Asian electronic engineers that Apple used to create its iPod, to the community of tens of thousands of volunteer writers who have built Wikipedia. At a more parochial level, online help forums do a similar job for consumers of all sorts.

One of the big appeals of crowdsourcing is that it can reduce costs to the buyer – it's often cheaper for the crowd to solve a problem than to pay for a traditional business to do so.

Collaboration challenges a number of our ideas about companies and their role in the world.

In particular, as leading US marketing blogger Hugh Macleod points out, collaboration highlights the increasingly porous membrane that delineates the inside of a company from the outside. For those of us who like clear lines, and black and whites, collaboration presents all kinds of blurry emotional and practical difficulties.

Equally, it also serves to underscore the selfishness of received thinking styles inside companies, organised to optimise the company's needs, to maximise value for it. Collaboration, by contrast, looks for sustainable win win solutions for long- term mutual benefit.

Starting to do it is also scary. It can highlight how little we really know our customers. For all the millions of dollars we spend on market research and the longstanding and public commitments to 'customer orientation', I'm struck by how ill -at- ease most marketers still are in the company of the people they are supposed to understand and whose needs they, according to the traditional definitions of marketing, are supposed to focus on.

But above and beyond all of these, collaboration challenges us to see the company, and our
marketing, as part of a larger eco- system, as a participant in a larger dance. Collaboration is messy, often unpredictable and, with the exception of those who insist on retaining control, more fun than the old world. But to be honest, I'm not sure we have a choice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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