OPINION1 December 2015

Creativity and conversation thrive in crowdsourcing


How do you build better brand strategy without the big business price-tag? Creative crowdsourcing can level the playing field between SME’s and the big companies.


Most people realise that smart social media use can help the cash strapped SME outplay the multinational. The bakery around the corner tweeting about its just-baked bread can outwit the mammoth supermarket’s shiny, million-pound, TV advertising campaign.

Yet in spite of the spread of this cost-effective technology, there’s still a preconception that only big businesses can afford all the end-user understanding and testing that guarantees successful marketing or product innovation. Commentators may commend a plucky little upstart’s rush of creativity, but it is the big guys who can test and research themselves to consistent success.  

This isn’t true anymore. It’s no longer just communication which is levelled. Through the use of crowdsourcing small/mid-sized companies and NGO’s can overcome all kinds of marketing, innovation and research challenges, previously out of their price range, and as a result, they are finding success unheard of using traditional means.

How? Say, for example, your business is attempting to overcome a question of identity. Instead of scrambling around to find an external expert that meets your small budget (and then trusting your gut to choose the right answer), your small company can now access thousands of end users and designers. You can open up an otherwise unexplored discussion with potentially powerful results.

Having these discussions helped guide an identity process for just such a challenge at Le Rugby Genevois – a small Geneva-based association in charge of promoting rugby in the region. Le Rugby Genevois hadn’t thought about what it stood for, its brand identity, its name (previously L’Association Cantonale Genevoise de Rugby) or its brand look and feel for a long time. As a result, the members felt they did not have the resources to do their job properly.

Instead of trying to do this itself or pleading for pro bono work from a kindly marketing consultant, it addressed this through a creative crowdsourcing platform, and a work-shopping process. Leveraging the work of a crowd of 200 designers to address the identity conundrum, stimulated a deep conversation about the organisation’s ideals, what it stood for, what it should be called and what the new name and wider brand identity should be.

Crowdsourced approaches are incredibly flexible though. If a business or organisation seeks to become more innovative without calling in the consultants, expertly-implemented, creative, conversation-led crowdsourcing can foster this too.

EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne), a leading European Engineering University (www.epfl.ch), transformed itself from a traditional educational institution into a crowdsourced innovation engine. The university commissioned a crowdsourced platform to turn itself into a teeming online community. ‘The Fusebox’ saw almost 1,000 students, staff and alumni working together to explore ideas tackling both internal and external, real-world, challenges.

Challenges such as: ‘How to feed the world’s nine billion people in 2025’ (for Buhler, a global food supplier); and how to ‘Build the Eco-House of the Future’ was a topic in preparation for the School’s bid in the Solar Decathlon challenge. Both ideas were discussed deeply between individuals of different disciplines (and positions) delivering maximum innovation.

As successful as this innovation creation is, the Fusebox platform isn’t only a new way for the institution to smartly link co-existing brainpower of many school specialisms. It solves difficult challenges in new, but cost effective ways, and it also creates a resource that the private sector can tap into (and pay for); a self-funding bridge between the university and the many private sector businesses that can benefit from collaboration.

The key to crowdsourcing is creativity and conversation. Creativity has always been crucial for smaller companies leveraging resources to meet challenges. And it is essential still in competing against bigger budget incumbent competition. Crowdsourcing minimises the resource gap for all sorts of questions (innovation, policy, products and services) so nimbler, smaller, companies from which innovation usually grows can really gain.

By Guy White and Kevin Pocock of Catalyx