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Tapping the Crowd to Tell Our Story

by February 15, 2011

A version of this post also appeared as a guest column for the Idea Peepshow blog.

On occasion, I have to remind myself that marketing is a means to an end, and that the messaging and creative that resonate deeply with me may have little impact on the audience I’m endeavoring to reach.

My latest reminder has come in launching a brand from scratch. Never before have I had so much potential marketing control than today, as I help raise awareness for Dialogue Earth.

Without a doubt, I’ve never cared more about a mission, which for us is increasing public understanding on topics of environmental importance. I’ve never more scrutinized a brand name, logo and boilerplate. And, I’ve never been more concerned that my target audience hears, listens and acts on a message.

And that is why I’m letting the crowd help us out.

There were two main considerations in deciding to crowd-source the creation of a “Why Dialogue Earth?” video to explain our organization, a project which we launched about a week ago.

First, we discussed if a video was worth the time and expense. After all, we had already crafted what we deemed to be some clear and compelling statements around our mission, vision and work. Plus, a video project take weeks, and cost thousands that could be spent any number of other ways.

Then, we thought about whether the crowd could convey our key points, and our core values, as well as we could. We weighed the certainty of losing some control against a potential gain in effectiveness.

As a point of reference, we had one pilot test under our belt. This past November, we worked with Tongal, a community of hundreds of creative types, to crowd-source short videos on the topic of ocean acidification—an issue few Americans even know about. The result was a set of creative videos, each diverse in style but all adherent to the key science points we laid out in the contest rules.

Adding to my consideration were my personal scars with corporate videos. While uncertain what the crowd might create, one outcome we would avoid was the classic, in-house-produced “About Us” video—loved by your executives, but panned as generic and inauthentic by not only your consumers, but also your own employees.

As we thought about our marketing goals—to introduce ourselves to potential supporters, engage them and compel them to ask, “How can I help?”—we determined it was critical to be accessible, sincere and original. Deliberations complete, it was with far more excitement than fear that we decided to kick off our crowd-sourcing project.

Over the next few weeks, creative storytellers will compete to tell the Dialogue Earth story. We’ve provided them a short video explaining our objectives, and key points about our organization. Outside of an online discussion interface, creators will produce videos with minimal input and oversight.

We haven’t figured out the optimal balance of feedback and freedom when managing the process, but we’ve learned that giving up a little control can result in a lot of creativity. And while we’ll continue to make use of all the marketing resources available to us, we believe that, for our nonprofit media company looking to engage a broad audience, one way to communicate to the crowd is through voices from the crowd.

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