Chemmie Squier | Acting Fashion & Beauty Editor | Thursday, 25 February 2016

Crowdsourced Beauty: Could You Help Create The Next Cult Lipstick?

Crowdsourced Beauty: Could You Help Create The Next Cult Lipstick?

The Debrief: We spend so much time curating our lives, is it any wonder that we now want to have a say in the products we're buying?

Think of a beauty product you want but doesn’t exist. Then imagine it becoming a reality; a brand actually creating it off the back of what you said. It sounds like a bit of a pipedream, doesn't it? But actually, this is happening more and more because, today, brands are frequently looking to consumers to help them create products that the public really want. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a ‘thing’; it could be a campaign or a new product name, but the concept is the same: asking the masses what the want and making them active particpants in the process.

This is ‘crowdsourcing’; a term coined in 2005 by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson, editors at Wired magazine, which comes from a combination of ‘crowd’ and ‘outsourcing’.

This isn’t a niche concept, far from it. Infact, brands are using crowdsourcing more and more frequently. Yannig Roth, marketing manager at eYeka, a company which help to connect brands and creatives, told me that ‘85% of the most valuable brands use it’ and big brands increased investment in crowdsourcing by nearly 50% in 2014. And the evidence is everywhere. 

Website Get The Gloss effectively implemented crowdsourcing to create an entirely bespoke beauty product for their readers. In January 2015, they asked readers what their dream facewash would be and received almost 400 comments, as people waded in to have their voices heard - and a product they really wanted, created. A year later the finished product - the Milky Jelly Cleanser - was a reality and they’d, quite literally, given the people what they wanted. Emily Weiss, founder of Get The Gloss, is clearly hugely aware of the importance of the consumer in the establishment of a good brand. ‘If you’re a modern day brand you understand that customers are all content creators now. You now have ways in which you actually can generate the feedback from them, so why wouldn’t you,’ she said in an interview with Mashable.

Last year Charlotte Tilbury hosted a competition to name one of her new lipsticks, in January, Kylie Jenner called on her fans to name a new shade in her Kylie Lip Kits range by commenting on an Instagram post and in 2012 Bobbi Brown asked consumers what lip shade they wanted back. 

Beauty brand Volition has taken it even further, with crowdsourcing at the heart of its ethos: people can literally submit a product idea and, if passed, work with experts to create it and, in the final stage, have people vote in order to make it a reality. Individuals are literally in the driving seat, creating the products they want. 

But it’s not just in the beauty world that crowdsourcing is taking off: Lego encourage costumers to send ideas in for potential sets. Unilever have an ‘innovation submission portal’ which lets customers send in their thoughts (although there’s no ‘voting’ system that will necessarily lead to the product being produced) and ‘The Unilever Foundry’ which they created as proof of their commitment to sustainability and they hope will multiply ideas generation tenfold by 2020. 

Of course, there are different types of crowdsourcing and it doesn’t necessarily come down to producing a particular, tangible product, but sometimes it can be about engaging with consumers and inviting them in to feel part of the brand, for example using competitions for advert ideas.

What it shows though, is that the consumer attitude to purchasing is shifting. Typically we’re told that we absolutely need a certain product, that’s the one for us, you must buy it now, but we’re wisening up. It makes little to no sense to buy products that aren’t what we actually want, that we have to bend to fit. Instead, we want to be part of the creating something that is actually worth our investment, that suits our needs. Consumerism has been turned on its head, and suddenly we can (sort-of) call the shots. 

According to Millenial Marketing, 40% of millennials want to participate in co-creation of products and brands whilst 70% feel a responsibility to share their feedback (good/bad) with a brand. We’re no longer passive recipients in consumerism because we see through the marketing hype. This trend of activism is apparent in other areas of our lives too. You only have to think of the success of Change.org petitions – last year they celebrated 100 million people who had signed a petition – to see that we’re becoming activists, and this trickles down into the way we spend our money. ‘It's opening the door to consumer creativity, calling for ideas and co-creating them, getting fresh perspectives on your brand. All these things are sought after by millennials, who have been raised with the internet and don't even envision a world without brand interactions. Fueled by the ease of interaction with brands on social media, by the rise and efficiency of networks like Wikipedia, by the overall discourse of participation that really resonates with them,’ said Roth. 

The state of the economy and how millenials, for want of a better word, feel pretty much shafted by it, is accountable for this change too. Although estimates put global millennial spending power stands at somewhere between $2.45 trillion and $10 trillion, our student loans, the struggle to buy a house and rising rents (I could go on) mean we’re more aware of where our money is going that ever before, because we have to be. By extension then, when we buy something, it better be bloody good. 

Brands know this and, as we’ve shown, are starting to capitalise on this symbiotic relationship. Why blindly throw a product out there without utilising the free consultants that are your customers? What better way for a brand to engage with consumers than to simply ask them what they want, and give it to them? There’s basically no other tactic more certain to achieve an almost guaranteed purchase of that product. Doubt it.

It’s been argued that, in a way, this lean towards crowdsourcing is a way to extract free labour, and could lead to a reduction in available jobs. I get this, and there's probably something in it to some extent, but Roth isn't convinced. ‘You can't just "use them" because they will want a fair deal; they will have to get something out of it, from fame to fun, fulfillment or - for some - money,’ he explains.

Lets not forget another extension of crowdsoucing: crowdfunding, where people invest in entrepreneurial ideas. There’s a similar principle here: consumers wanting to be part of the process through which products are created and being willing to invest time and money into a product that they feel passionate about. ‘I think if you look at platforms like Kickstarter, where people are willing to put money into products and not see them for 3 or 6 months, that’s a good indication of where products that people want are coming from,' says Vicki Loomes, senior trend analyst at Trend Watching.

Indiegogo report over 600,000 campaigns since their launch in 2008, proving the entrepreneurial side too – not only are more people taking part in funding innovative products, some actually want to be the innovators too. This is in line with stats that show 60% of millennials think of themselves as entrpenuers and 70% of millennials might ‘reject’ traditional business to work independently. ‘It provides entrepreneurs with proof that there is a market for their product, customer feedback to improve the product itself, and the opportunity to build a community of evangelists,’ explained Kelly Angood, Indiegogo UK Design, Technology and Hardware Manager.

Ruby Au, spoke of another element of this which is that publicly 'backing' things, helps to create our online identity, ‘In a social media age where the causes that millennials choose to support are increasingly visible to the public, those decisions are becoming part of how they shape their identity.’ So not only do we want to be part of the process, we want others to be aware of that too, as a way to mould our online presence which, by default, feeds our identity offline too. 

Crowdsourcing isn’t going anywhere; in fact, it's certain to keep growing because it works, consumers are engaged, they're getting what they want, and brands are drawing in customers. We spend so much time curating our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so we only see what we want to see and filter our lives IRL too – we surround ourselves with relationships with want to be a part of and spend time doing things we want to do. Is it any surprise then that we want to curate the things available to us and have a say in the products we'll inveitably end up buying?

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Can We Actually Afford To Shop 'Ethically'?

What Ever Happened To 'Dressing Your Age'?

The Tricky Politics Of Trying to Dress Your Boyfriend

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Tags: Shopping, Fashion Questions