I recently attended the TED Conference where mind-blowing speakers present famous 18-minute “TED talks” on subjects from neuroscience to paper-cutting artistry, from education reform to making new bodily organs with a printer.
Just when I thought computer strength doesn’t matter, TED proved me wrong. A prominent, if underlying, theme from TED2011 was that the most recent growth in computer power, together with new tools for interaction, have created inspiring new ways for brands to interact with consumers. Here are some of the speakers who inspired these new ideas in crowdsourcing:
- Eric Whitacre, a young classical composer who saw that fans were posting Youtube videos singing parts of his choral pieces and decided to give singers around the world the chance to develop “Choir 2.0,” a virtual choir where basses, tenors, altos and sopranos followed his score and posted singing videos, which Whitacre then compiled into one giant choir. The inspiring result can be seen at “Lux Arunque” on Youtube, and Whitacre is completing an even larger crowdsourced production (more than 2,000 singers) of his song, “Sleep.”
- Indra Nooyi, Pepsico’s Chairman/CEO, told two stories: Pepsi’s now-famous decision to let consumers create Super Bowl commercials for Doritos and new flavors for Mountain Dew, and the success of the “Pepsi Refresh Project”, where citizens nominate and vote for non-profit groups to receive grants from funds Pepsi would otherwise have spent on television ads.
- Tom Heatherwick, a British architect whose recent design for the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010 won awards for its simple design (inspired by thousands of samples from the British seed bank) and the way it allowed visitors to interact with its surrounding public space.
- Aaron Koblin, a self-described “data artist” who has developed data-gathering technology that portrays aircraft patterns across the U.S. and garbage as it makes its way from consumer’s trash cans in Seattle. Koblin also created the technology that 10,000 users recreate (via online animation) a $100 bill in a piece called “Ten Thousand Cents.” More recently, he created an interactive video for the Arcade Fire’s “The Wilderness Downtown” that let the song tell the story of the viewer’s own life.
What do these very different examples of crowdsourcing have to teach marketers in 2011? Here are some simple lessons I hope to put to use soon:
- Get on board with existing successes. When a crowdsourcing experience gets big, get your name attached to it. One video of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir “Lux Arunque” has over a million views (at 6 minutes each) on Youtube. For a brand that relates to music or technology, sponsoring this production should be a no-brainer.
- Show consumers more data in more ways. Crowdsourcing requires transparency, and new models of crowdsourcing data allow your consumers to pay more attention to deeper truths about your company and products. If you promote recycling of your products, use Aaron’s Koblin’s technology to show that your products actually aren’t going into landfills.
- Let consumers share control of your brand and budget. Pepsi has offered the best-known examples of this trend, but technology is giving more brands more ways to let consumers assume ownership and responsibility for their values. This does present risks, but crowdsourcing is here to stay; brands better get used to it.
- Give consumers some space. Tom Heatherwick’s simple but complicated UK Pavilion in Shanghai is as impressive for what he did as what he didn’t do. For budgetary reasons, most of the very large space was made up of computer-generated hills covered in carpet. What made the building memorable for most visitors was probably the experience (if they wanted it) of rolling down these slopes in whatever way they wanted – an experience that spoke for innovation and creativity in the British economy. The old-fashioned model of smothering consumers with your message feels just like that – smothering. Give your consumers space to make their own magic around your brand, and they and the crowds around them will love you more.