People power: influencing business

Known as ‘crowdsourcing’, ‘open innovation’ and other buzzy monikers, the trend for consumers to get more involved with business decisions is on a rising tide

In a dry dock in Dubai, a majestic ocean liner is undergoing costly repair works, a necessary limbo between its one-time status as pride of the Cunard Line and transformation into a luxury floating hotel for the Chinese market.

The famous QE2 brand may be anchored but it’s certainly not standing still: as an innovative online competition for the public to judge the final design of the hotel shows, its full steam ahead for a clever and collaborative approach to marketing the hospitality business, drumming up valuable support and awareness more than a year ahead of launch.

Blurring the lines between entertainment and marketing, relationship-building and brand engagement, businesses from across categories are engaging with a new type of brand building, one that takes consumer participation to new levels. It is an interaction that is facilitated by the web and a consumer desire to be part of the brand conversation.

For the past five years, the My Starbucks Idea website has been imaginatively engaging coffee drinkers and at the same time yielding a valuable source of customer insight. The brand gets to know its customers better and consumers get to see almost 300 of their most popular ideas – everything from Hazelnut Macchiato to mobile payments - rise to the top.

“From digital rewards to new coffee flavours to the little extras, like splash sticks, that make your day easier, our customers have incredible ideas that we can bring to life in stores worldwide,” said Alex Wheeler, Vice President of global digital marketing for Starbucks. “We don’t know what the next big idea from our customers may be, but we're thrilled to keeping listening, engaging and making adjustments to improve the Starbucks experience for fans everywhere.”

The coffee behemoth is one of many dynamic brands embracing the open and collaborative nature of the web to get more out of its relationship with consumers. Through its ‘Betalabs’ website, phone brand Nokia makes its beta applications available to consumers keen to get involved in the development process. As well as increasing efficiency in how products and services are developed and boosting consumer engagement ahead of a product launch, it also empowers the brand’s most engaged advocates, encouraging them to share with their networks.

The age of business talking at consumers is over. The online sphere allows people from all cultural, economic and educational backgrounds to collaborate on everything from sharing knowledge or solving problems to developing new ideas. Consumers are ready and waiting to be fully engaged.

The brand benefits of ‘crowdsourcing’ design and marketing insight from consumers are plain to see at a time when businesses are juggling the dual challenges of a demanding media-savvy consumer and a tight budget. “You get your customers and potential customers engaged in your brand, you expand the "conversation" of social media and get your name out there,” explains David Bratvold, founder of US news and training site, the Daily Crowdsource. “However the biggest advantage of crowdsourcing is that your actual customers are telling you how to sell to them and what they like.”