The Internet has provided an avenue for billions of individuals to interact with each other. If I ask for an idea, I can receive millions of ideas, and if there is a way to organize crowds, a marketer can use his/her customer base to provide them with valuable insight that would be hard to collect otherwise. Sometime work is performed with a small incentive, and often with minimal payments by the organization receiving the service. For example, if I am looking for an illustration or a photograph, I can pay a professional photographer $100 to $150, or else get it from iStockphoto for $1. iStock provides royalty-free stock photography, clip art, vector illustrations, and audio and video clips that are used by businesses and individuals around the world in a wide variety of projects.15 iStockphoto collects these artifacts from a community of contributors around the world. Using Powerpoint and iStockphoto, I am able to create professional-quality presentations.

Jeff Howe first used the word “crowdsourcing” in an article for Wired magazine.16 He restated the definition in his blog on Typepad:

Simply defined, crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers.17

Marketers are using crowdsourcing for many tasks, which would have been impossible earlier. One of those tasks is to collect product ideas. As I was composing this chapter, a fellow traveler sitting next to me on the airplane started a very interesting discussion with me. He told me about a website for the US Army,, which facilitates our armed forces’ use of crowdsourcing as a way to get ideas to the army. With proper governance, crowdsourcing can be a good source for product development and marketing. The website provides a number of ideas and outlines a process for ideation, solution development, and testing.18

A related mechanism for collecting innovation ideas is Collaborative Innovation™.19 In a world where innovation is global, multidisciplinary, and open, it is necessary to bring different minds and different perspectives together to discover new solutions to long-standing problems. Therein lies the essence of collaborative innovation. IBM’s jams and other Web 2.0 collaborative mediums are opening up tremendous possibilities for collaborative innovation-ways of working across industries, disciplines, and national borders.20 The most noteworthy jam, organized by the government of Canada, the United Nations, and IBM, is the “Habitat Jam,” which was intended to conduct an Internet dialogue on sustainability and which attracted 39,000 contributors from 158 countries.21 IBM conducts a number of jams with employees and customers to collect innovation ideas, and has used these jams to gather ideas for new business ventures.

With the help of all the big data sources described in chapter 3, marketers can get a good handle on product usage. The Achilles heel for marketing is our ability to collect observations about what does not work. Researchers have used extensive surveys and consumer panels to gain a better understanding of new product ideas from customers. Crowdsourcing is comparatively much cheaper and often results in good ideas.

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