"Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003." Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google

There's no better stat than Eric Schmidt's to illustrate how radically the amount of information available to people has expanded. Just a decade ago, marketers were able to control much of the messaging that consumers viewed about their brands. The amount of messages consumers saw was also still relatively manageable, so reaching them solely via mass media remained a sound strategy. Today, the amount and speed of information and innovation are quickly rendering the formula marketers have used over the past few decades ineffective.

The future will not slow down. Information will not be reduced; it will continue to increase exponentially. Marketers, therefore, must innovate, test, and create significantly more than ever before. They will also need to rethink how they reach and engage consumers amid much more product messaging and noise.

The future presents marketers with two distinct options: Hire armies of employees and agencies to try to keep pace, or figure out ways to collaborate with consumers in a much deeper way throughout the marketing process.

For companies that wish to stay out of the red, the choice is obvious: They will need to partner more closely with consumers who can inform, ideate, and influence others on behalf of the brand.

Technology will continue to make it easier for consumers to create, collaborate, and communicate with brands, and consumers will become core to a brand's marketing success.

What a Crowdsourced Future Will Look Like

Many traditional definitions of crowdsourcing have limited it to mean soliciting a crowd for the best idea, creative execution, or product submission. Although those are great uses for crowdsourcing, a much more natural, ongoing, and pervasive use of it will ultimately become a key driving force for all brands.

As technology continues to make it easier for brands to have a continual connection to consumers, brands will create a direct channel to consumers that'll be an ongoing asset. That crowdsourced channel will consist of consumers who will form an almost-symbiotic relationship with the brand in virtually all that the brand does. For instance, a fashion retailer targeting college students would not rely on what it or an agency believes college students want, but on a large crowd of college students it can instantly poll and ideate with to develop and test new products or marketing messages in real time. Moreover, as communications continue to move from quarterly ad campaigns to weekly, and even daily, communications, brands will need that continual connection to their consumers.

Once new products and content are created, brands will look to the crowdsourced channel to spread the word. By being involved in the creation and evolution of the brand and its products and marketing, this "brand crowd"—the groups of consumers willing to collaborate and spread the word about a brand—will be even more vested in helping to tell others.

Smart brands will use their brand crowds to seed commercials before they air on TV, distribute samples before they hit shelves, and provide invites to exclusive in-store and out-of-store events. That living extension of the brand will serve as a spearhead for breaking through the clutter.

Five Keys to Building a Crowdsourced Future

  1. On-demand participation. Brands need to have consumers available and ready to participate whenever needed. Many current approaches, including building "walled garden" communities specific to one brand, have very high attrition because no one brand has enough content, rewards, and activities to keep consumers engaged over time. Brands need to be able to participate with consumers in real time without having to worry about recruitment, attrition, and lack of response.
  2. Deep targeting. To achieve maximum impact, brands need to easily identify crowds of consumers who meet their demographic and behavioral qualifications. Brands need the flexibility to collaborate with different consumer (or nonconsumer) segments to get useful insights and penetrate core communities of influence. They also must understand how people have helped in the past, and they must be able to retarget those who have been most helpful.
  3. Rewards and reinforcement. Consumers have a large appetite for helping brands they care about, but they also realize brands are not nonprofits. They recognize how their contributions are helping brands make money. To build long-term relationships, brands must recognize the contributions their crowds are making and find ways to reward and reinforce them. Though consumers appreciate monetary rewards, perks such as VIP content, exclusive brand access, and acknowledgement/thanks also play big roles in consumer motivation.
  4. Meaningful scale. Though having a small group of a few hundred or few thousand consumers can potentially help brands keep a pulse on some trends, those numbers aren't enough for understanding a variety of consumer segments or driving significant buzz.
  5. Measurability. Measuring the impact that a brand's crowd has made in both driving insight and influencing purchasing decisions may be difficult, but it is not impossible. Technology's continual evolution will enable marketers to gain more accurate and detailed reporting, and that means brands can better understand the impact made by their crowds and the people within their crowds.

In the past decade, more than the five prior decades combined, how people communicate with one another—and how marketers communicate with them—has changed significantly. And you can bet that the next decade will make this one look pedestrian.

Though nearly all businesses and agencies have been built on how things had been done in the past, future leaders will be built on how things will be done. Expect rampant industry shakeups and new models to continue to emerge.

Yet, the future is far from clear. What is clear, however, is that consumers will be in charge. They will wield more power and contribute more creativity, and they will become the most powerful communications channel.

Ten years from now, marketing will look completely different from how it looks today, and the winners will be those who invested in and bet on their consumers.

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Brandon Evans is CEO of Crowdtap. Prior to founding Crowdtap in October 2009, Evans was chief strategy officer and managing partner of agency Mr Youth.