A couple weeks ago, I attended the first-ever TEDxEast conference, and found a remarkably consistent theme to several speakers’ presentations. The notion of consumers and the public interacting with brands, concepts, and issues, in a manner that ultimately shapes the evolution of brand experiences, urban environments, and even creative thought and performance.
There’s a spirited debate in the design and marketing industry surrounding the pros and cons of crowd-sourcing design work, and even advertising. The topic’s been covered extensively, from WIRED to Mullen’s Edward Boches. I’d argue the Victors and Spoils approach delivers a more professional process, and potentially final product, than does 99Designs, crowdSpring, and others offering crowd-sourced creative — but others may disagree. I believe there will always be a market for exceptional creative, at fees appropriately reflecting this quality of thinking and product.
Companies from Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, to Pepsi/Mountain Dew, and others, are experimenting with the concept to harness innovation and creativity from the masses. For some, like Netflix, it’s a fearless approach that has proven to be marketing brilliance in achieving its goal of refining and advancing new video recommendation technology.
At TEDxEast, discussions covered everything from citizen journalism (i.e. Rachel Stern of Ground Report); to public participation in urban planning – for transportation or common spaces (Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives); to crowd-sourced fundraising for the arts (Perry Chen of Kickstarter); to a mesmerizing performance by Chris Elam of Misnomer Dance Theater, who challenged the audience to become more connected and involved in sharing their experiences with artists to influence creative vision and direction in more meaningful manifestations of art and ideas.
White’s vision of an automobile-free urban commons re-defines public spaces via transportation alternatives, and importantly, the public’s role in assuming responsibility and ownership, and in creating true communities, within the new greener environments that result.
In the same vein, speaker John Wood’s “Room to Read” odyssey led him to developing countries with the goal of crowd-sourcing literacy. He secured grassroots funding for 7,000 libraries and 765 schools; the sweat equity of local communities to build those structures; and local talent in the form of volunteer writers, authors and artists to make his dream a reality for more than 3.1 million children in 9 countries to date.
In Elam’s words and world, the audience becomes an active participant in broadening and re-envisioning what it means to be an audience member (or one could argue, a consumer). The simple act of carrying “the world in your pocket” in the form of smart phones, and via social media channels, creates more dynamic and immediate ways than ever to engage and participate in your experiences, and ultimately with brands directly. Clearly, Comcast, Dell, Zappos, and countless businesses using Twitter for customer service and promotions in driving sales and satisfaction, would agree. But it’s a novel and intriguing concept when applied to artistic performance.
This new hyper-connected mobile world we live in will amplify and extend audience and consumer engagement with the world, and fuel renewed brand experiences. We might as well get used to it, embrace it even. We are our own influentials. Branding as a push concept that is inviolable, as it’s historically been, is dead. The new branding is one of push and pull, engagement and dialogue, and increasingly participative and experiential in nature.
In walking out of the TEDxEast conference, I checked my email and found a message from a trusted Twitter friend who was crowd-sourcing blogposts for a particular charity to coincide with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. As a potential online donor, hoping to engage a community of online donors in the effort, I was happy to oblige. And not at all surprised by the request.