BBMG Says: Forget the Crowd, Embrace the Collective

The following is an un-sponsored guest post from our friends at BBMG

By Mitch Baranowski and Makena Cahill

Trust us on this one: using crowdsourcing in an attempt to deepen brand engagement is almost guaranteed to cheapen your brand. Unless… (and we’ll get there in a minute, you have to keep reading).

Dig these recent mob appeals by major brands:

Help us redesign the sticker on our banana. Help us name a new flavor. Submit your favorite recipe. Upload a photo of you and Fido. Create our next Super Bowl commercial.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with soliciting user-generated content, or incentivizing these submissions with prizes or awards. It’s just that the overwhelming majority of these crowdsourced initiatives smack of standard sweepstakes promotions. It’s a difference of degree, not kind, thanks to the platform being used and, say, the addition of online voting.

And toward what end? Such challenges lack a larger purpose beyond “Small E” engagement. They draw the lowest common denominator from the marketer’s playbook rather than embracing the potential afforded by the “peering” of the Internet.

Twestivals, webisodes, flash mobs, swarm sketches and wappenings, oh my. That’s where the action is. As Philip Kotler asserts in Marketing 3.0, “Marketers today no longer have full control over their brands because they are now competing with the collective power of consumers.”

Indeed. With trust and transparency such powerful brand drivers—and with younger consumers more wired to care about how things are sourced, made, distributed, consumed, upcycled, recycled or freecycled—we now live in the Age of Co-Creativity. And so the question becomes how can we use social media not just to inspire more flavor names but more of what matters? How might we leverage the power of the crowd to change what it means to build a brand and be a brand in the wired age?

BBMG recently launched The Collective, our firm’s experiment with online collaboration. Because we specialize in the intersection of branding and sustainability, this online community is strategically designed to connect conscious consumers with sustainable brands, related causes and thought leaders.

It’s a private community, which differentiates it from similar open source platforms, and initially membership is limited to 2,000 eco-minded, socially responsible consumers. Members are not paid; they show up to have a voice in shaping policies, practices and products (but most events come with unique incentives to help ensure active participation).

So far, so good. Early collaborations have debated the merits of community versus conventional banking; examined the price elasticity around so-called green products; and concepted how to scale sustainable brands without losing core consumers. Still in beta mode, The Collective is just beginning to show us how it might be possible to stop marketing to consumers and instead start marketing with them.

“Crowdsourcing is like a voting thing,” wrote one member to us. “The Collective actually requires me to think, and I like having the chance to shape brands and causes I actually believe in.”

Building on The Collective’s potential to accelerate sustainable enterprise, we just announced the BBMG Collective Prize, $100K in brand innovation services designed to help an emerging sustainable brand. Since The Collective will figure prominently in the process, we hope the grant raises awareness for the power of proactive, ongoing collaboration with your stakeholders at key milestones.

Unless…Yes, let’s go back to the top for closure…

Using crowdsourcing to deepen brand engagement will cheapen your brand unless you do the following:

1) Start with an authentic challenge. By authentic, we mean an issue, idea or need that will help improve the organization and society as a whole. Our bias is toward embedding sustainability in all we do.

2) Invite a real community. By real, we mean a community of fans, loyalists, experts, thinkers, doers, people who know and respect you, and who are passionate about adding their thoughts to ensure your success. In our case, we care very much about the increasingly conscious consumer whose concerns are as pragmatic as they are altruistic.

3) Facilitate an honest discussion. By honest, we mean a dialogue that is open, respectful, constructive and goal-oriented. It can be one-part survey, one-part live chat, one-part journal study. Just so long as real data is being shared, real solutions are being considered.

4) Reward participation. Incentives can come in all shapes or sizes. For starters, discounts, gear, gift cards, exclusive invites, special events. The next frontier of online collaboration will lean into shared value creation, fairly compensating the community for their submissions and feedback.

5) And close the loop. By all means, the most important part of the process is providing feedback, updates, follow-up and follow-through. It’s continuous and ongoing, not just a one-off, and many are not prepared to

Based on our experiences to date, we believe private communities like The Collective offer a compelling way to move faster on more substantive issues. And when it comes to sustainability, specifically engaging conscious consumers offers a more effective way to gain perspective, explore new ideas and identify opportunities in any number of mission-critical areas, from supply chain optimization and certification to sustainable design, category growth and positioning strategies.

So for us, the crowd is out. The collective is in. Here’s to putting the “social” back in social media.

3p Contributor

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