Enough has been written recently about crowdsourcing and more specifically its potential impact on the agency model. Right now only a few major clients have explored it, with Unilever being the most talked about with its decision to let go of Lowe as its global agency on Peperami and put the brief on the crowdsourcing site www.Ideabounty.com (while this was talked about a lot, actually the first Unilever crowdsourced brief was on www.bootb.com for Dove deodorants)
At its core the move to crowdsourcing reflects clients’ dissatisfaction with the quality, quantity and the speed at which they are getting Ideas, given the high cost of the time based retainers for their agencies of record (AOR). I was a client myself till one year back, and often shifted uncomfortably in my seat during agency presentations when they tried to “sell” me what in their view was “the” best idea. In short, clients don’t think the retainer based AOR model has good ROI. And new compensation models being tried by P&G and Coke are not going to fix the issue.
Instead of moving from one extreme i.e the current model of the AOR responsible for the communication Ideas, to another i.e the whole world pitches in with their Ideas on a brief put on a crowdsourcing site, there is perhaps a more practical middle ground which needs to be embraced and explored.
This is Co-create. In essence, it is crowdsourcing but wherein the crowd comprises people who know the market and brand context. It entails harnessing all the marketing brains working on that piece of business/brand to create Ideas for answering the brief. This includes client marketing teams, media agencies, research agencies, digital agencies, PR agencies, activation agencies and advertising agencies. This is very easily a “crowd” of 20 marketers who have been working on that brand for some time.
So would you rather get these 20 brains to work collaboratively to crack the brief, or 200 people scattered all over the world working in isolation without knowing the brand and market fully. While it is not an either or situation, we need to be mindful about the pitfalls of net based crowdsourcing, the most obvious one being confidentiality.
This approach of having a collaborative group session might sound 101 and familiar, but the reality today especially in China (and perhaps largely true in rest of Asia) is that very few clients are benefitting from a collaborative and simultaneous input of all their marketing partners on their communication and marketing briefs. These sessions might be happening for big projects, but arguably this should be the normal way of working. Even when various agencies get called together for a project it is mostly for information cascade, rather than for a collaborative co-create session.
The positive motivational impact of such an approach on the marketing partners should not be under-estimated. Instead of clients sitting in judgement on the Ideas the ad agency has decided to “sell” them, clients come to other side of the table to use all their knowledge about the business and the brand to ignite better Ideas at an early stage of communication development. This not only creates a sense of partnership with all the agencies but also a buzz for the client within the marketing partners’ offices, leading to all the best people vying to work on the account. Without spending a dime extra, you have motivated marketing partners and also better and more Ideas, faster.
This is not all nice words and a dream. This can be done and has been done. At DDB China we tried this successfully recently on one of our MNC clients with very positive results on the quality of output and team morale and spirit (they are my favorite client now)
Yes, no doubt Clients have to play along, but first agencies need to embrace it. But this requires 2 key changes.
1. An attitude Change : We need to recognize that ideas can come from anyone and it is in our interest to tap into that. This means clearly delineating “Idea” from “Expression”. Ideas inspire great expression. Ideas can come from anybody, while expression (or storytelling) is an art form and is better left to the creatives. This delineation requires the creatives to come down from their ivory towers and co-create Ideas with others to ensure they get the raw material and stimuli to create a masterpiece. Ideas are ego-less, but how often have we seen a good idea not being taken up for development because the creative team feels it reflects on their “originality”.
2. A tight process : You can’t just get people in a room and do a normal brainstorm during a co-create session. Enough proven and structured ideation tools and techniques exist in the world (courtesy Edward De Bono, Michael Michalko etc) to open up a problem/thought. They are used frequently for NPD (new product development) ideation sessions. I find it amazing that in the communications/agency world we see them as anathema and still treat creativity as a Eureka light-bulb moment. These techniques need to be embraced as they will improve productivity and boost the slim margins. Even when we don’t use co-create and use the current sequential silo driven process, creative teams can benefit from being well versed in these tools and techniques. Infact, Ralf Langowst’s (spoke in Spikes Asia in Sep’09; unfortnately passed away in Oct’09 due to a heart attack) company in Germany called “Ideamanagement” offers a course called “The Creative Path Analysis” which shows up the strengths and weaknesses of the creative deveopment process and explains how it can become faster, more effective and therefore more profitable
In summary, agencies need to take control of the crowd-sourcing agenda and co-create is one of the ways to do that. The risk of not doing this is being treated as suppliers of a commodity called “creativity” which can be crowd-sourced via websites like bootb, zoppa and Ideabounty. However this requires a change in attitude and also embracing a more organized approach to creativity, no matter how oxymoronic it sounds. After all, isn’t a big idea all about resolving the tension between two contradictory thoughts.