Why social brands follow the crowd

By tapping into collective intelligence, brands are not only breaking new ground in product design but also empowering their most engaged advocates.

Better by crowdsourced design: Bang&Olufsen’s BeoSound 8 speaker dock

“People don’t expect to be talked at anymore, they want to be a full part of the conversation,” argued Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer at the social network’s marketing conference in February. “We can no longer just talk, we need to listen as well, and that means for marketers too.”

Blurring the lines between entertainment and marketing, collaboration and engagement, businesses from across categories are designing a new type of product marketing.

In the US, the My Starbucks Idea platform has developed more than 200 consumer ideas including the recently launched Teacher Appreciation Card, which allows parents to load the card with money so their children can show their appreciation to a teacher. Across the world in Denmark, Lego’s Cuusoo website is a platform that asks visitors to submit ideas for new products.

The concept of crowdsourcing design – whether that is new product ideas, packaging, logos or identities – taps into the creativity of an ever-widening consumer base.

Some brands have been listening carefully to consumers and stakeholders in this way for years, using either public networks such as Facebook or closed communities, as in the case with mobile phone manufacturer Nokia. Established five years ago, its Beta Labs resource brings together development teams from Nokia, and consumers from around the world.

Using beta trials before a product goes on sale can increase development efficiency, reduce the risks in large-scale deployment and increase consumer engagement,” says John Markow, community manager of Nokia Beta Labs. “It also empowers the brand’s most engaged advocates, encouraging them to share with their networks.”

The user community is given the opportunity to try out the latest innovations, interact with brands they love and other like-minded community members. This space and the actions that take place within it ultimately influences how Nokia’s products and services – including Nokia Maps and Nokia Suite, which allows users to move content from their PC to their phone – are developed.

Crowdsourcing has the ability to engage fans and obtain interesting feedback

“Crowdsourced design is much cheaper to produce, creates a lot more exposure for a company during the process and once the design is complete, customers and fans love to see the finished product, knowing that they played a part in making it happen,” says David Bratvold, founder of news and training website Dailycrowdsource. “Arguably, the biggest advantage of crowdsourcing design is that your actual customers are telling you how to sell to them and what they like.”

Supermarket Waitrose has used crowdsourcing to create interest in its product ranges. In 2011, Waitrose and integrated agency Kitcatt Nohr Digitas ran a competition to invite customers to ‘help’ them create the next Seriously From Waitrose summer dessert. The competition was open to myWaitrose members, the supermarket’s online club for foodies, and was promoted online and through email marketing.

“The competition was very successful in engaging customers and we received around 400 entries,” says Becky Volker from Waitrose’s publications team. “To ensure maximum engagement, we invited our customers to come up with ideas as well as to vote on the winner.”

Waitrose: Invited customers to help it create the next Seriously From… summer dessert

Chiquita bananas has also used crowdsourcing to drive brand preference and engagement with the under-35 age group, who are typically infrequent purchasers of the fruit.

In summer 2010, Chiquita launched a logo design competition in the US inviting consumers to put their twist on the brand’s blue logo then followed that up this year with a European initiative along the same lines. “We wanted to allow consumers to engage with our brand and crowdsourcing was the perfect means to do so,” says Jacquie Aberegg, marketing manager for Chiquita Brands.

“The inherent viral aspect of crowdsourcing allowed us to reach more potential consumers in a shorter period of time and to exponentially engage their friends and family.”

Chiquita’s crowdsourcing campaign included a microsite with online tools to create an entry. The 18 winning product stickers were available to view on Eatachiquita.com as well as on more than 4,000 bananas in retail outlets across the US. Chiquita also gave entrants a way to make their sticker into “brand gear” to promote their individual creativity on T-shirts, posters or mugs.

“Crowdsourcing can help meet business objectives for more efficient spending and time to market,” says Aberegg. “But how it will enhance the experience consumers have with your brand needs to be considered carefully and, most importantly, you must have good metrics to measure those results.”

A similar note of caution about crowdsourcing is voiced by Nicolaj Damm, senior marketing project manager at Bang & Olufsen.

“Crowdsourcing is an interesting phenomenon that has the ability to engage fans or friends and obtain interesting feedback and ideas,” he acknowledges. “But as a professional company, you must have a solid foundation and idea on what you want and how to get there, and then you can spice this up with crowdsourcing where relevant to your brand.”

Earlier this year, the luxury audio-visual brand invited individuals from around the globe to design a set of covers for its BeoSound 8 speaker dock (see main picture, page 27). Nearly 5,000 designs were uploaded to the associated Facebook gallery over the course of the competition, and more than 25,000 votes were cast for the various designs. Other healthy brand engagement metrics include more than 143,000 unique visitors to the competition site.

“Not only did we almost double our number of Facebook friends in the period, their engagement level was also impressive,” says Damm.


By tapping into collective intelligence, marketers can drive innovation forward. For the past ten years, technology giant IBM has hosted an online “Ideas Jam” that aims to encourage employees, business partners and clients to have conversations around its products and services.

The most popular topics at any given time are identified, and interested parties can join the debate. “Many of our clients have used input from these jams to drive their product development strategy,” says Richard Mound, a senior managing consultant within IBM’s strategy and transformation practice.

“The way that you do that is use analytics tools to do an analysis of everything that was said and group the most important topics and who the key people were contributing it.”

A wealth of ideas have come to life through the events, including IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative to use ‘smarter’ systems to achieve economic growth globally.

The most obvious benefit for a brand using this method of design is that it is more likely to come up with original concepts. “You will get a greater variety of ideas because from outside your comfort zone and knowledge base there are people who work differently to the way you do,” argues Paul Sloane, author of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing. “In future brands will keep core competencies in-house but increasingly look outside for creativity, ideas and innovation.”

Case study: crowdsourcing in action – Citroen C1


Jules Tilstone
Marketing director
Citroën UK

“The concept of crowdsourcing design turns the philosophy of ‘brand knows best’ on its head,” according to Jules Tilstone, marketing director of Citroën UK. “It helps demonstrate we are here to listen to the UK audience, building our brand on a proposition that the consumer wants.”

Over the past two years, the car manufacturer has focused on the brand engagement potential of social media and, in particular, on developing its community on Facebook. The latest stage of this online strategy has been crowdsourcing the design of a special edition of its C1 city car. The brand claims it is the first car manufacturer to plug into the rising trend for co-collaboration and crowdsourcing.
“C1 is the right kind of product to execute a crowdsourcing campaign because it appeals to all ages,” says Tilstone. “It was also a nice way of engaging people with our product launch.”

The car creation process took place within a specially designed app on Citroën UK’s official Facebook page that allowed the brand’s fans to choose the features they wanted on the car, including the number of doors, the exterior and interior colours, and whether it should come with Bluetooth or sat nav.

Although the new C1 will take a similar time to develop as other special edition projects, crowdsourcing certain design elements allows Citroën to push aside the process of assessing purchase data and go straight to what the consumer likes.

Citroën: Made a C1 Connexion with Facebook fans

The method cuts the lead-time up to the vehicle being configured, says Tilstone, but that saving is balanced by the additional marketing work executed around it, including creating the microsites where consumers can configure and submit their designs.

The C1 Connexion is expected to go into production in July this year with interim projects, including badge design, creating buzz in the lead up to that launch.

With more than 10,000 submissions in the first ten days of the Facebook activity, the wider aspect of this campaign becomes clear as the brand announces its target of attracting more people to its Facebook environment.

Case study


Through an open innovation business model, technology brand Psion works directly with its customers and partners to co-create variants of its mobile hardware, software and service to better meet the needs of the market. Nick Eades, chief marketing officer at Psion, explains why its crowdsourcing forum IngenuityWorking is integral to the brand/

“Openness is a key element of Psion’s brand values and is most easily demonstrated in the digital domain by IngenuityWorking, our open, online community. This is the place where our brand most evidently comes to life and has become a critical part of our product design and insight process, as well as the place where new solutions are launched.

“It provides an open, unbiased forum where customers, partners, employees and resellers can meet, exchange views and support each other by designing solutions and evaluating choices. It has also achieved a positive level of trust between our audience and the company.”

Since its launch in 2010, IngenuityWorking now has 15,000 registered users and more than 60,000 visits a month. Eades says: “It is important never to try to be controlling over the flow of contributions and ideas or force a dialogue. The fact that we get a very frank and open dialogue is something that we have to respond to quickly, professionally and, again, openly. There is no hiding place.

“There are many examples of new design and product that has come out of the community. These include small but important changes to products before they go to market as well as more fundamental product adaptations, which have saved us time and money.

“A good example would be the community’s feedback on a new product’s keyboard layout, which we thought was fine, but they thought needed redesigning. We responded to their input and delivered a product that they decided was then ready for market. This late stage input saved us time, money and possibly some embarrassment.”