Can The Crowdsourcing Business Model Survive?

CNN recently asked me whether crowdsourcing could survive as a viable agency business model. My answer: No way.

I was proud to contribute to their story, Can Crowdsourcing Reconnect With The Crowd?

CNN's reporter had seen my post denouncing crowdsourcing as the "fool's gold of internet business models." (Though please note - I did follow that post with one about a company that's doing crowdsourcing right.)

The CNN article allowed me to note one particularly egregious element. The crowdsourcing companies that focus on the inexpensive cost of the service will certainly be the first to fail. From the article:

"Really they're just saying 'we can extract creative gold for these folks even less expensively than you were paying before,' which is terrible from an ethical point of view, but also it just won't hold up, because it's not based on strategy or creativity or smart business."

In short, a fly-by-night business model will never deliver the long-term strategy required for businesses to succeed. Some crowdsourcing companies - the ones who see it as a means, not an end - will thrive, but the rest will soon die off.

What do you think? The OMB community would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

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(Photo courtesy of byrne7214)

Impulsive Behavior And The Trap You Set For Yourself

Research indicates that the more impervious your audience feels they are to your product, the more likely they are to succumb to it. But does this really work? And how can this be ethical marketing?

I took my nieces to the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier the other day and was shocked by the sign above the ticket window: [something to the effect of] "Go ahead and indulge."

Bleh! This just feels slimy doesn't it? Is it even the optimal message?

Good Marketing Or A Big Mistake?

Probably a mistake, according to recent research.  Sure, it sounds good ("Doesn't everyone want to induuuuuulge?") but it doesn't hold up under the microscope.

Nordgren, Harreveld, and Pligt completed a study in 2009 about the Restraint Bias (PDF). This bias states that the more you believe yourself impervious to temptation (there's the bias), the less you're able to restrain yourself. The more self-assured that a former smoker can visit his old smoking haunts, the less likely he will be able to resist the temptation to light up.

In a very real sense, people set this trap themselves. By deciding, especially in a vulnerable mood, how they will behave, they increase the chances that they will go against their logical impulses. In fact, this study seem to suggest that the more emphatic you are, the less likely you will complete your goal.

However, show a little humility ("Maybe I can't resist and thus shouldn't expose myself") and you might meet that goal.

Ethical Implications

The study dealt solely with tempting "bad behaviors" (snacking, smoking, skimping on studying). This is misguided.

Read the study, but then consider: how could you use these finding to persuade your audience to enact a better reaction? Marketing is no longer devoid of ethics (damn well better not be for readers of this blog), so it's up to us to figure out how to use these findings for the general good.

So you tell me - how effective is the "Go ahead and indulge" message? Might it be more effective as "You're strong enough to resist, right?" (But assuming the product is decent, natch.)

My only concerns with studies like these or more advanced neuromarketing is their being used for bad ends. Before you harness these studies, remember that ethics are a pretty powerful "smell test" for most of the public. You would be stupid to try to sneak something on an ever-more-savvy public.

How would you use this information for good? And then, how would you use this information to totally kick ass?

P.S.: Ug, willpower get more complex thanks to Johnnie Moore and Scientific American. (Seriously, a good read though.)

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(Photo courtesy of theycallmetelly via Flickr)

Follow-up On Ethics - Crisis Management Begins Before The Crisis

I followed up my ethics post from yesterday with a post on the Experience Matters blog entitled "Crisis Management Begins Before The Crisis" (disclosure: it's my employer's blog). Here's the very beginning and the very end:

"Toyota reminds me of a guy who buys flood insurance the day after the big rain...

It’s this process of being heard that gives companies the opportunity to speak to customer emotions. After all, this is empathy. This is a chance to change an ethical crisis into a recommitment to good behavior.

An open dialogue might just allow your brand loyalists to save you during a crisis. Imagine that."

Believe me, the middle section is worth your time. Find the full post here: http://experiencematters.criticalmass.com/2010/03/11/crisis-management-begins-before-the-crisis/

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What is Ethical Strategy (And Does It Really Work)?

Marketers are faced with ethical quandaries every day.

Sometimes these are big issues – What is the lawful (and tasteful) line when marketing to children? Could I work for Big Tobacco?

Most times though these decisions are small – decisions that determine which tactics are fair game and which are off the table.

This subject got me thinking about ethical strategy. Does it hurt or help a marketer to live and work by a strict ethical code? How can we be as persuasive as possible without sacrificing our souls?

A Path With Roadblocks?

A strategy is a plan to reach a goal – a path leading to the achievement of business objectives, in our case. As I first thought about it, an ethical strategy seemed limiting. It seemed as though ethics would limit the tactics marketers could use to reach their goals.

An ethical strategy, for instance, might limit the number and types of magazines we advertise in. It might limit the extent we can distribute content across the web. It could alter the way we talk to customers. These limits would act as roadblocks on our strategic path and slow or stop us from reaching our goals.

The Golden Rule

But, maybe I’m wrong.

If we can agree that the most widely accepted rule of ethics is the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – then ethics must have some connection to emotions.

Emotions and the Golden Rule require us to:

  • Understand others (or at least try)
  • Develop empathy and sympathy
  • Grow our Emotional Quotient – the ability to access and manage one’s own emotions as well as those of others or a group
  • Accept our social role – humans as social creatures within a structure of mutually agreed-upon rules

Employing these traits could help us to craft new, more focused strategies by listening and caring about our customers.

If we accept that emotion and these traits are required for an ethical strategy, could this actually be a benefit rather than a roadblock?

Ethical Strategy, Better Tactics

What if, with emotional understanding and an eye to the Golden Rule, we could create better strategy and better tactics than if we went down an unethical route?

After all, what have we learned with the advent of social media than that our networks and our ability to connect and relate have great power?

Maybe unethical shortcuts are really no shortcuts at all. I now think we’re in a world where an ethical strategy would actually be more effective. Developing a strategy that involves your customers or fans, requires honesty and transparency, and generally celebrates collaboration – aren’t these common elements in some of the most amazing success stories of the last 10 years?

And those who hid or lied or cheated – doesn’t that always come to light? The Enrons of the world are many, but nowadays they are far, far more likely to be found out and publically shamed.

What About You?

I changed my mind when it came to ethical strategy. In addition to thinking it’s the correct way to market, I now believe it’s the most effective as well.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions on ethical strategy. Is it the best option for online marketers? When have you felt like you crossed an ethical line? What did you do about it?

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(Image courtesy of Samuel Mann via Flickr)