The Power of Reaching Out

Crowdsourcing successes have proven that thousands, or even millions, of heads are better than one.


The term “crowdsourcing” — introduced in 2006 by Wired writer Jeff Howe — is often confused with “crowdfunding” (think Kickstarter and GoFundMe which you see often). The two terms, however, have entirely different meanings.

Crowdsourcing is a method of obtaining information from a collective intellectual gathering of people (usually the public focused on one concept). That information is then used to complete a business-related task. In other words, decisions that are typically made by a department, employee or vendor are instead opened up to feedback and participation by a community of people. Crowdsourcing is one way businesses can tap into consumer insights, interests and preferences.

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As consumers, we all like to know a company is listening, but when they ask for our ideas and feedback, that input creates a personal connection, which companies hope will translate into increased brand loyalty which nonprofits hope will lead to action.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently conducted a good example of successful crowdsourcing on the nonprofit front. To commemorate a hallmark anniversary in 2017 of Earth Hour, the WWF appealed to a global crowd to produce videos illustrating why people should act to #changeclimatechange. Thanks to videos created from Namibia to Siberia, the initiative doubled the typical reach of the organization, whose message was heard by a worldwide audience in unique and emotional ways.

On the business front, Starbucks famously jumped into crowdsourcing once the company realized its signature white cups served as a canvas for artists to doodle on. The company launched a “White Cup Contest” where coffee lovers were encouraged to create an original design on their cups and post the picture on social media using the hashtag #WhiteCupContest. Four thousand photos were submitted in just a few months. The winning design, along with the artist’s photo, was used on a limited-edition reusable cup for 2014.

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Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl, however, is probably the most commonly cited crowdsourcing effort. As one of the first companies to take advantage of crowdsourcing for advertising, Doritos challenged consumers to create their own Super Bowl ad for its product. The idea was a hit that played out for 10 years on one of the most-watched TV broadcasts. For its final campaign in 2016, Doritos upped the ante by giving contestants the chance to work with a box office director and the opportunity to work with Warner Brothers and DC Comics. According to, ad-scoring firm Ace Metrix ranked Doritos No. 1 on its list of the most effective Super-Bowl advertised brands from 2010-2015, ahead of Pepsi, Coke and Budweiser and other brands that typically use big-name ad agencies.

So how can your business get in on crowdsourcing? A few tips:

    •    Determine a specific project you want to
        crowdsource. This can be something that
        builds on existing business like creating
        a feature item for your restaurant or bar
        or a new variety of an existing product.
        You should also have a specific timeline
        that you can communicate that includes
        timing for submissions, voting and
        announcement. At this stage, you should
        also set guidelines and restrictions.

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    •    Set up a channel for fans and employees  
        to submit ideas. This can be done with a  
        simple website (or page on your existing  
        site) or through your social channels,  
        depending on your project and the type of  
        information you will need to collect.   
        Online portals become a destination,  
        allowing fans and employees to submit  
        ideas for new products or services, view  
        other submissions and vote for their  

   •    Once you have reached the submission  
        deadline, allow for voting even if the  
        decision is going to be made internally.  
        Voting keeps your fans engaged with  
        your brand.

    •    Finally, when the votes are counted, and  
        executive opinions heard, make a big  
        deal about announcing the winner.

Final Thoughts

In a recent Brand Quarterly article, the author declared that crowdsourcing is changing brand marketing forever. However, this time of year makes me realize that we have been crowdsourcing one of the brands ever known: Mardi Gras. From the themes of the krewes to the decorations of the truck floats, how throws become “signature” and the creation of seasonal families you can’t wait to see again along the route, there is no better or bigger crowdsourced brand than Mardi Gras.


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