How Crowdsourcing Can Function as Marketing

When we talk about crowdsourcing, a lot of emphasis is placed on the immediate value associated with the approach. You get a great deal of ideas at a reasonable price, freeing up resources internally to focus on issues where your organization already has talent. But there’s another benefit to crowdsourcing that doesn’t get discussed often enough: the marketing value in promoting your contest. 

The idea that crowdsourcing contests might be used to generate interest and excitement around a brand is not necessarily new, but there’s now a growing field of academic research to back up the hypothesis. In 2015, for instance, researchers Drogosch and Stanke published their findings after analyzing consumer responses to a crowdsourcing initiative performed by McDonalds, writing:

[B]rand awareness and brand loyalty proved to be the dimensions which were significantly linked to crowdsourcing. The study verified that non-participants tend to have a higher awareness for crowdsourcing brands and tend to be more loyal towards them compared to non-crowdsourcing brands. The researchers were surprised that particularly these two [consumer based brand equity] dimensions turned out to be significantly affected by the company’s activity in crowdsourcing […] because they supposed that especially brand awareness and brand loyalty require a longer period of time in order to get stimulated compared to the remaining dimensions, considering in particular the artificial set up of the study.

Referring to the second linkage in the model, which could also be confirmed, the created connection between the company’s implementation of crowdsourcing and CBBE is mediated by the factor of brand familiarity. […] According to theory, the surprisingly strong effect of brand familiarity does not only influence the extent to which brand perceptions and behavioral intentions are stimulated, it can also result in higher levels of trust and satisfaction with the crowdsourcing brand in the long run (Perera & Chaminda, 2013).


Some of the study’s insignificant dimensions still contained significant single items. One of these is the brand personality trait of being exciting, which showed a strongly significant effect and thus, reinforced the in chapter 3.1.5 stated findings of Djelassi and Decoopman (2013). The results let assume that crowdsourcing campaigns are still not expected by the majority of customers nowadays, which makes the campaigns appear as an exciting and new tool for differentiation. Furthermore the crowdsourcing activity significantly influenced the willingness to pay a premium price of respondents. […] The fact that those two single items, excitement and the willingness to pay, were significantly stimulated by crowdsourcing can be considered as a first indication of crowdsourcing campaigns being an engagement tool that can possibly stimulate the brand personality and behavioral intentions, if applied correctly.

These findings are important for a few reasons. For starters, it indicates that crowdsourcing initiatives can have a significant impact on not only individuals participating in the campaign, but on those who see it taking place. This suggests that campaigns, when promoted heavily by the brand responsible for them, have the potential to reach a pretty wide audience.

Second, the message sent by crowdsourcing to that large audience is positive and well-received. Those crowdsourcing initiatives not only deliver needed assets and ideas but make a solid impression on those who know about your efforts. That means your ROI on the investment in the initiative is likely much higher than you might have assumed when checking out the pricetag. The fact that this positive impression is correlated with greater willingness to pay a premium price means that ROI isn’t abstract; it’s something you can track.

Finally, the research suggests that the benefit of crowdsourcing initiatives as a strategic marketing tool may not yet be fully realized. The authors concede that the existing literature base on the subject is rather small. Pair that with the fact that companies effectively using crowdsourcing initiatives to gain publicity is still a relatively new trend, and it’s not unreasonable to believe the impacts could potentially be even greater than this study found.

In other words, maybe it’s time to stop thinking about crowdsourcing as just another means to an end, and start thinking about how this could be an opportunity where you spend a little to make a lot.

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