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Power of Crowd is in Co-Creation, Not Crowdsourcing

My interest for capturing The Wisdom of Crowds lies in successful product ideation and I feel the best option to achieve that lies in customer co-creation and not crowdsourcing.


By Kevin Lonnie

The term “Crowdsourcing” and the use of the crowd continues to evolve. Initially, most forms of crowdsourcing were based on cost savings measures. Essentially, firms could outsource manpower (e.g. Amazon Turk) or even its inventory (e.g. Stock Photo firms like ShutterStock or iPhotos) to the crowd.

Crowdsourcing may have also benefited from the recent recession with firms finding an inexpensive army of recently unemployed service providers. In fact, most of the negative stigma associated with crowdsourcing is the idea of finding cheap labor.

That said, the roots of crowdsourcing lie in open-sourcing. Perhaps the best example of open-sourcing would be the Linux operating system.

That is where crowdsourcing began to splinter from open-sourcing. In the open-sourcing paradigm, the process was an incremental journey. Passionate contributors worked to make their small personal input on the overall project. Collaboration and working together were more than implied, they were fundamental to the success of an open-sourced project.

Crowdsourcing more often than not is a winner take all concept. Whether it’s designing the next Doritos Super Bowl ad or building a more accurate algorithm for Netflix, there are clear winners.

My interest for capturing The Wisdom of Crowds lies in successful product ideation and I feel the best option to achieve that lies in customer co-creation and not crowdsourcing.

Why is that? Because I feel that Co-Creation, as opposed to Crowdsourcing is a collaborative experience. A collaborative, iterative and incremental development process has already been successfully applied in open-sourcing and agile software development. I believe that’s the blueprint we need to follow for successful customer co-creation.

As a basis for comparison, let me list key elements that are unique to each camp:

As you can see, the elements of Customer Co-Creation more closely align with the principles of incremental collaboration. Crowdsourcing is more of a poker tournament, where one person or team wins the pot.

Since the role of the market research function to leverage customer insights for better decisions (and in this case, better products), then it is Customer Co-Creation that the MR industry needs to embrace.

That might be news for the MR Sourcebooks. All of which have defaulted to the Crowdsourcing moniker as the umbrella to describe customer involvement in the ideation process. In fact, Quirks lists almost 250 possible research services including Crowdsourcing, but as of this writing, they have yet to create a category for Co-creation.

It’s time for the MR industry trade associations and journals to stop referring to customer led innovation as Crowdsourcing and instead use the more accurate term of Customer Co-Creation.

Customer Co-creation has the potential of being a powerful new opportunity for our industry to finally put customers in the driver’s seat. This reciprocal relationship, consistent with the mindset of the social media generation can significantly impact the success rate of product ideation. A seat at the table, a long stated goal of our industry, would be assured.

So is everyone on board with customer co-creation?

If we weren’t dealing with the realities of office politics and siloed approaches, then yes, I think everyone would be on board. The key barrier to successful customer co-creation will likely come from internal politics. Expecting the incumbent creatives (e.g. ad agency, product/brand/marketing managers, R&D Departments, etc.) to willingly follow the wisdom of crowds is naive. This is a threat to their autonomy. We must anticipate their resistance and take every step to position customer ideation as “inspiration” and not “final solution.”

If a company truly wants to integrate customer co-creation into their ideation process, they need to be mindful of the advice offered by Upton Sinclair who said Never expect someone to understand change when their livelihood depends on not understanding it.

Appendix: Crowdsourcing versus Co-Creation as a Google Search Term

Over the past two months, there has been a recent burst of trade articles looking to differentiate Crowdsourcing from Co-Creation. Doing a quick Google Analytics analysis on the level of search activity for the two terms, I can tell you that searches for Crowdsourcing exceed those for Co-Creation by a margin of nearly 10 to 1. And this ratio has stayed consistent for the past three years. So any recent surge I have seen towards Co-Creation is based on recent articles and has not filtered its way down to the mainstream. (Of course, I will be the first to tell you that August 2013 marked the tidal change towards customer co-creation, should my “Spidey Sense” prove accurate).

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5 responses to “Power of Crowd is in Co-Creation, Not Crowdsourcing

  1. Hi Lonnie, thanks for an interesting read. I would, however, disagree with your premise. Crowdsourcing in MR is also a very viable option, and you dont have to look far to see evidence of impending disintermediation of sample (whether it is individuals selling their data like or other organizations like Handshake, etc.). You already see companies like Peanut Labs exploiting crowdsourcing techniques for sampling.

    While the application of crowd co-creation in MR is fairly varied, it would be a mistake to think crowdsourcing has no place in MR.

  2. Hi “Correlationist”,

    First of all, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you found the piece of interest. Your point about using crowdsourcing as a new sampling source is appreciated.

    While I’m not disputing the potential of crowdsourcing to disintermediate traditional forms of sampling, the focus of my article was on which technique (Crowdsourcing or Customer Co-Creation) is most appropriate for product/service ideation. Within that criteria, I feel that customer co-creation is the choice that best embodies the skills of our industry.

    Again, I appreciate the feedback.


  3. Thanks for responding, Kevin. If the goal is to help create successful new products/ideas, crowdsourcing (and crowd-casting) and co-creation, all involve using open diversity to achieve a specific purpose. In my mind, these are just two terms that are interoperable for MR.

  4. Great article. Businesses and entrepreneurs need to realize that their companies are NOT for them, but for the customer. Getting the customer vested in a co-creation process not only inspires evolution, but build brand loyalty and trust in a very organic way. Crowdsourcing is useful, but only as “How can I pick your brain” angle, where Co-creation is relationship that has a cyclical flow of energy and if companies want to change the world not simply turn and burn a few bucks, this is the way to go. Granted a lot of business and companies out there could care less about the customer. They focus only on their bottom line and pretend to care about the customer. It is quite obvious in the marketplace who wishes to co-create and who wish source the crowd for money making ideas.

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