Crowdsourcing is a technique that progressive companies are using to translate the enthusiasm of their most highly-engaged customers into valuable marketing, branding, or product-development insight. Dean van Leeuwen, TomorrowToday’s UK and European director, who has an MBA and extensive work experience in marketing, looks at this new trend and provides practical guidelines for customer-led organisations.

Can you answer yes to most of these questions?

  • Does your company place (or strive to place) the customer at the centre of its business development strategies?
  • Do you use consumer research to solve a specific problem, goal, or task?
  • Are you really interested in hearing what customers have to say, or is it just lip service?
  • Are you are willing to structure your business’s policies, processes and procedures around your customers?
  • Will you be able to make customers feel important and respond to their questions, concerns, and ideas?

If you answered yes, to most of these questions then you should consider launching a crowdsourcing initiative.

Crowdsourcing is a technique that progressive companies are using to translate the enthusiasm of their most highly-engaged customers into valuable marketing, branding, or product-development insight. It’s not difficult to do. If you have the right culture and approach in your company, you can harness the power of the connection economy and, through the internet, link into the intelligence of customers in a manner previously not achievable.  By harnessing the power of Web 2.0 (interactive) software, you can get stakeholders in your business connected to you, to each other and to potential customers, too.  You can use their interactions to develop new products, promote existing products and services and improve your business in a number of ways.

Crowdsourcing isn’t for everyone though, so make sure you have the determination required to make the effort pay off. You need to be thick skinned and be receptive to new ideas because your customers are going to say things you may not want to hear! But then that is the real value behind crowdsourcing! Getting the complete truth, and it’s why if you are a customer-led organization – or you want to become one – crowdsourcing can be a very powerful management tool.  

Here are a few steps you can take to implement crowdsourcing in your organization:

Step 1 – Set your goals

If you are up for crowdsourcing, start by establishing a tangible goal. For example, decide if you want to improve an existing product, marketing campaign or do you want help on a new product design? Be specific about the insights you want from a customer and explain clearly to them what you want their involvement to be.

Step 2 – Identify your target market

Start out slow and ease into the process; begin by simply finding and listening to consumers. You can sift through your database to identify the customers who’s input you believe will be valuable or identify customers who have been vocal in the past about their views on your company.

The group could be made up from a list of loyal customers or customers who have recently complained. It will all depend on the area you have chosen to research. A valuable source can be found by visiting customer review sites like and to find out what customers are saying about your company and invite them to contribute to your project.

You could even set up a controlled sample group by running a direct mail campaign to existing customers asking them to contribute. In the mailing piece giving them the web address and their unique password. Our experience shows that customers get really excited when you ask them to participate and as long as you are genuine in your engagement and you listen and act.

Step 3 – Keep them engaged

People will do many things for a business for free, simply because they think it’s fun, because they believe their input will make a difference and because you took the time and the trouble to ask them in the first place. Products and companies can become hobbies unto themselves, and many consumers, especially those from Generation X will derive satisfaction from feeling like an insider at a company they’re passionate about. In return, you should give them recognition, exclusive perks, the opportunity to interact with senior company managers, or receive free product trials.

Step 4 – Act on their suggestions

If you ask for their suggestions you must take what they say seriously and act on the information they give you. Make product changes based on the creative ideas of your customers and then post these changes on the web for other customers to comment and even rate. Furniture retailer Muji takes suggestions from customers and then draws up prototypes posting these on the web. Only when Muji has received several hundred confirmed orders does the product go into production. This eliminates risky product launches and ensured that costs are recovered quickly.

What else will you need to get started?

  • You will need a budget from between a few pounds to a several thousand pounds per month it really depends on how big an initiative is. 
  • An email address, website, a wiki and blog are essential.
  • Designate a person from your team with strong interpersonal skills who will deal directly with consumers.

If you are not ready to use customers’ input, give some consideration to running an internal crowdsourcing initiative with your staff. Many great ideas can come from numerous places in a business and in our experience most sales teams and front line customer facing staff are gold mines for innovation. With a few minor tweaks you can follow the same steps laid out above when implementing an internal crowdsourcing initiative.

Crowdsourcing represents a new way to interact with customers in a manner that makes customers engage with your brand and gives them a vested interest in your company and future products they purchases. It’s a great example of how the connection economy is evolving and how companies can harness the power of the internet to forge closer customer relationships.


Dean van Leeuwen is a managing partner of TomorrowToday (UK & Europe), and can be contacted at

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