Companies have been experimenting with consumer involvement with varied success for years. The recent actions of iconic Australian brands, such as Smith’s and Vegemite, however, suggest that category leaders are starting to take consumer input seriously.
Crowd Control: The Rise of Crowdsourcing
How marketers can empower consumers to influence the identity of their brands
More than ever, consumers are empowered to have more influence on the future identity of their favourite brands. Crowdsourcing is a phenomenon gathering popularity with packaged goods marketers keen to adopt unique behaviour in mature categories. Put simply, crowdsourcing is engaging the consumer at the point of conceiving a new idea. The behaviour of companies seeking consumer feedback to develop new ideas has changed.
Marketers can now set about using technology via social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to capture new ideas. This engagement typically manifests itself in a new design, campaign, or flavour variants. The key benefit for brand custodians is that such engagement demonstrates to consumers the genuine desire to ultimately help the brand deliver on its promises.
Brands that create a sense of consumer involvement will do well in the short term because the audience is the exception rather than the norm. Apple, for example, has led the way in establishing a two-way discussion with its audience by engaging in product feedback via its website forums. The iPhone app ratings have created a new level of expectation for consumer engagement. Audiences are now accustomed to having a voice and expect their brands to be listening. While adjusting to this new age of real consumer involvement may seem daunting to some, the actions of The Smith’s Snackfood Company and Kraft, with Smith’s and Vegemite, respectively, demonstrate the substantial notoriety that goes with a pioneering philosophy.
Earlier this year The Smith’s Snackfood Company embarked upon a bold consumer promotion "Do us a flavour" whereby new flavours would not be determined by brainstorming sessions conducted by the marketing and innovation departments, but rather by asking the consumer to identify a preferred new flavour. Audience involvement was further bolstered by asking the public to then vote on a shortlist of new flavours. As the crowdsourcing initiative reached its conclusion in December 2009, consumers let The Smith’s Snackfood Company know whether Lucas Barsby’s Late Night Kebab, Aline Pascuzzo’s Caesar Salad, Vinnie Kaye’s BBQ Coat of Arms, or Steve Richardson’s Buttered Popcorn was to become a regular feature on the shelves of supermarkets around the nation.
At the time of writing, The Smith’s Snackfood Company received more than 300,000 entries with 115,724 unique flavours identified in the process. In addition to this, more than 1 per cent of the Australian population has visited the Smith’s website in response to the "Do us a flavour" initiative. Smith’s has also integrated the crowdsourcing initiative into a unique campaign, which breathes new life into a mature brand.
The recent activity by Kraft with its Vegemite "Name me" competition has received significant criticism by various media outlets. These reports were unfortunate given the impressive attempt by Kraft to experiment with the crowdsourcing trend. Kraft capitalised on the iconic status of its Vegemite brand by creating a high level of suspense around what the name of its new variant would be. It also took the public on a journey of exploration and, in doing so, created a true sense of anticipation about the revelation of the new name. Kraft also generated substantial publicity for Vegemite and experienced a rise in sales as a result.
Seeking new ideas from the public is not new. The Vegemite name was conceived from a consumer competition in 1912. Kraft was quite open about the history of Vegemite’s name during its recent consumer promotion; this fit neatly with the PR that went with the initiative. The problem for Kraft was not in how it attained feedback for its new name, but rather the name itself. Within 24 hours of the announcement of Vegemite iSnack 2.0, more than 700,000 consumers had gone onto Twitter and shared their views.
Unfortunately for Kraft, the vast majority of tweets were not complimentary toward the new name, which was then changed via a consumer vote.
The gravitas towards crowdsourcing is likely to continue with packaged good marketers over the next 12 months. The substantial PR experienced by The Smith’s Snackfood Company and Kraft is too difficult to ignore for brand custodians struggling to cut through into mature categories. The digital age makes sourcing consumer opinion, en masse, a much easier exercise. The challenge for any company considering such an initiative in the future will be how to ensure the two-way dialogue with the consumer leads to brand advocacy. © 2010 Retail Media Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
This article was first published in Retail World (18 January 2010), the voice of the $80 billion+ Australian grocery sector for more than 60 years. Reprinted with the permission of Retail Media Pty Ltd. About the AuthorsBen Chandler
is design director in the Sydney office of Landor Associates. During his five years at Landor, Ben has worked on a broad range of brands across different disciplines both corporate and consumer. Packaging is Ben's speciality, but he also has experience in affecting all touchpoints of a brand. Ben graduated from Southbank Institute of Technology with an advanced diploma in graphic design in 1998. Nick Foley
is managing director of the Sydney office of Landor Associates. Nick gained his experience working for blue-chip companies in fast-moving consumer goods in Asia Pacific, managing all aspects of the marketing mix. Nick has a bachelor of business degree in marketing from Deakin University, Melbourne. He also has both a master of business in international marketing and a postgraduate diploma in finance and accounting from the University of Technology, Sydney.