Crowdsourcing: Power to the People
By Tom Ryan
Although consumers have long been involved in helping companies develop products and services through focus groups, some companies are looking to the internet to tap into consumer input on a much wider scale. In business speak, the concept is being called “crowdsourcing” and is yet another play on the “wisdom of crowds” theory.
For instance, Threadless, a t-shirt company, and Ryz, an athletic shoe manufacturer, are making it possible for consumers to design shirts and shoes, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. Consumers vote online for their favorites and determine the products these companies sell over the internet.
Crowdsourcing is particularly appealing, according to its supporters, because a new generation of internet users expects that kind of input and interaction.
“They were born digital,” Frank Cooper, vice president at Pepsi-Cola North America, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They get the process. It is not technology to them. It is another great experience to engage.”
This summer, consumers were given the opportunity to vote at DEWmocracy.com to decide new flavors for Pepsi’s Mountain Dew brand.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have given us feedback” on the flavors, Mr. Cooper said. “There is a wealth of information we can leverage. This is unprecedented.”
Rob Langstaff, a former president of Adidas’ operations in both North America and Japan, is putting $4 million into shoe startup Ryz because he believes there’s too great a disconnect between businesses and consumers. Often, consumer input is only involved at the beginning of the product design process and little afterward.
Said John Butler, the creative director at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, which has worked on a project to get consumers to create their own Converse Chuck Taylors, “It’s a smarter way to mass-produce things, getting them in the hands of people who want them, customizing products to meet individual consumer needs, and I think it is literally right around the corner for many businesses.”
Discussion Questions: What do you think of the potential for getting consumers involved in product development via the internet? Is this only an option for certain categories? Do you think that such efforts will be more about public relations than actual product development?