Who is your target market? What is the demographic profile of your ideal customer? Do you source your customers to find out what they want? Do you take your lead from the “crowd”? With the advancement of technology there’s no doubt markets have shifted. Technology is changing business methods rapidly and competition is fierce. There is a new style of communication helping businesses connect more authentically with their customers. This is referred to as “crowdsourcing”.
Crowdsourcing allows businesses to identify product and market direction in an ever-changing economy. As a business development tool, crowdsourcing turns the focus away from trying to sell a product or service to customers who may or may not be interested in it, to finding out what they do need or want and solving their problem with the ideal product or service.
Crowdsourcing as a marketing tool uses unique methods for increasing dialogue that results in creating a buzz for greater brand awareness and making new converts.
Identifying Your Crowd
In order to sell to the crowd you have to know who your crowd is and what they want. Today’s young people are highly educated go-getters. For the most part, Generation X and Y have been part of student-directed learning from early on. They are used to being part of processes and solutions. This crowd has been exposed to multiple hands-on opportunities for innovation and are an unfettered generation. Not only are they knowledgeable, they are inquisitive. They are quick to test the logic of norms, and for these reasons, today’s businesses are wise to take notice of this new breed of customer.
It no longer works to view the younger generation as the kids who haven’t earned their right to be taken seriously. Generation X and Y are, in many cases, teaching the generations before them how things work. They are up and coming leaders.
It makes sense, then, that business research and development teams seek first-hand insight into the thinking of this generation, especially since they will soon outnumber Boomers as a key market.
That isn’t to say though that Boomers are fading as viable customers. Boomers foot the bill for many of the X and Y generations’ expenditures. It is their pockets that are padded in many cases. Depending on what you’re selling, Boomers might still be your target market. If there ever was a generation that wanted to keep up, it is the boomers. They don’t want to be pushed aside. They don’t want the retirement of their parents’ generation. They want to use their expertise, stay physically fit and keep up with the times.
How to Source Today’s Crowd
Early methods of tapping into your market’s mindset might have included using focus groups, follow-up customer service calls, comment boxes and the like. The proliferation of technology, however, has created opportunities to tap into real-time conversations. Products and preferences are openly discussed in online forums. Open and authentic product reviews appear on websites like Amazon and other product sites, and are written by average consumers–not professional writers. Blog commenting, online surveys and social media dialogue have opened even more opportunities for connection.
Customers want to have their voices heard but don’t want to wait on hold with a customer complaint department. The Internet provides them with many places to vent their frustrations or sing praises. When a business has multiple feedback methods, customers are freer to become part of the solution. There is a better opportunity for customer loyalty and by-in when you invite their participation.
Benefits of Crowdsourcing
Asking for input and feedback from the crowd creates a buzz and greater brand awareness. Free public product recommendations are terrific for product promotion. You can include your customers by inviting them to create a new logo design, name a product, suggest a book title, design a t-shirt, name a team, etc. You might want to ask them to call or text in to a radio station, send an email, or add a comment to a Facebook or Twitter page. You might want to feature participants in advertisements, on a television show, or have them submit a testimonial for your website or book.
Another way to include the crowd is to ask for submissions through a third-party. A website such as 99Designs provides a platform for a business or individual to post a project and invite submissions for things like creating a business name, designing a logo, naming a product, etc. The crowd at a site like this might include graphic designers and other freelancers but usually anyone from the public can participate too.
One well-known author gave an invitation to his Facebook, newsletter and Twitter followers to submit book cover ideas to a third-party site for his upcoming new book release. Average readers from all over the world then signed up and submitted favorite photographs and book cover ideas for consideration. He awarded the winner with a generous cash prize. In the meantime, he was able to tap into the thinking of his audience, identify their geographical location, collect a list of email addresses given by permission and create a buzz about his new book all in one crowdsourcing opportunity. All the gathered information will be valuable to him. He will know more about where to market his book with a personal book signing, for instance, if many respondents were from the same area. He will be able to send out book release information using his collection of email addresses. He will rely on word-of-mouth advertising by the participants.
You can crowdsource with a variety of non-paid ideas too. For instance, if your organization is heading up a dragon boat team or doing a relay run to raise money for charity you might ask the crowd to submit ideas for a cool team name, or to come out to support you. The winner of the contest might not earn a prize, but instead enjoy the satisfaction of having named a team. This type of opportunity puts your organization out in view and the crowd is able to relate to you on a different level.
When you publicize such opportunities on the radio, a Facebook site, Twitter page, newspaper ad or billboard, you are able to test the effectiveness of these vehicles in reaching your audience by tallying the feedback you get as a result.
Tips for Effective Crowdsourcing
If you’re ready to jump on the crowdsourcing wagon, consider these tips:
• Be open to seeing the customer as expert.
• Proactively respond to feedback.
• Willingly alter designs based on feedback.
• Have your marketing department creatively build dialogue and identify a clear demographic profile.
• Focus on user solutions first and product second, unless you have a clever campaign ready to teach users why they need your product.
• Try out a few low-cost ways to source your crowd.
• Take risks and have fun.
The crowd likes the idea of being part of the bigger picture. They love the chance of being quoted in a book, being interviewed in a podcast or having their picture in a magazine. They like the idea of making a little spending money or winning a prize by offering suggestions or creating designs. They also like seeing other average individuals being included in the process. When you invite customers into your business they feel a sense of ownership and loyalty to you, and you come across as more genuine.
Try becoming a leader in creative crowdsourcing. There’s no way of telling what marketing tool will work best for growing your business until you try.