Crowdsourcing and the Trap of Boaty McBoatface
A single person is smart, innovative, and creative, but a crowd of people can be reactive, cumbersome, and, in the case of $300 million research vessel, sarcastic.
No doubt you’ve heard of Boaty McBoatface by now, it’s a good example of well-meaning crowdsourcing gone awry. You hire a person to lead a crowd. Crowdsourcing is a gamble, leaving important aspects of your brand to the will of the masses, even your customers, is a potential minefield.
Customers don’t always know what they want until it’s in their hand. Asking your clients to decide your next project or product line can be like asking an artist to build an aircraft. It’s out of their expertise. They have problems to be solved; if your product fixes the issue, your customers will be grateful, whether or not they had a hand in the design.
The United Kingdom recently asked for suggestions for a name of a new research vessel. The name with the most votes would grace the hull. The winner by a mile was Boaty McBoatface. Just a few days ago the Science Minister announced another “more suitable” name will be chosen; while the contest provided lots of good internet fun and more than a few jokes, it did highlight a very real problem when asking for input from an unknown crowd.
Crowdsourcing does have a place, knowing the general needs and wants of your clients should be part of your strategy as a whole. Guided crowdsourcing can have huge benefits, sparking conversations with your customers and learning from their experiences. For example, you may want to start a contest on social media to name your new product (hopefully not a $300 million boat). You have your branding team pour over the entries, take suggestions, but the ultimate decision is yours.
You have professionals guiding your brand; they are the innovators, the creative thinkers, they are giving the crowd what they don’t even know they want. Henry Ford summed it up nicely, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He knew we needed cars even if the crowd couldn’t see it yet.
For more everyday branding tips subscribe to the Razor Branding Blog.