by Lynne Gordon (@lynne_gordon) ‘Collective being’ is at the heart of what it is to be African. We believe in “we”, in community, in living life together. Like sticks in a bundle never break, we rely upon each other, and derive meaning and identity in the various collectives of which we are a part. Brands exist as a segment of the fabric of this culture, and may harness our love of inventing, creating and deciding together — the power of the crowd — in unique ways to win.

Branding and collective consumerism

We are a social people, shaped and influenced by our existence in groups and communities. Brands have long known that there is no marketing tool with greater power than word of mouth; the recommendation of others shapes our beliefs and behaviours precisely because we derive meaning in “crowds”, the clusters and communities around us. This crowd may be tangible — as with the 800 000 stokvels that comprise a crowd-based economy worth R49m in South Africa. But, more and more often, the crowd may also be virtual — the groups we create and participate in online in our digital worlds.

So how may brands leverage the growing power of the collective?


We know that social proof — the endorsement and approval of other consumers — has long been a powerful tool to build brand trial and preference. Choosing where to eat, we believe that busy restaurants have better food. Why? Because, when we’re unsure about a decision, we assume that the crowd knows best. In an offline word, word of mouth generates awareness, and recommendation drives choice. Online, user ratings and reviews help reassure buyers, especially if they are unfamiliar with a product, or drive choice among a selection of available offers. From stokvels to Zomato, we rely upon the feedback of the crowd to influence our choices.

Opportunities abound to use crowd-proofing at scale in a digital world. Airbnb uses the scale of its global user base to reassure new users of a trusted service. Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie on her Galaxy Note 3 earned Samsung 37m impressions on the star-studded tweet alone!

Tripadvisor research around the world shows that 77% of consumers don’t book a hotel without checking online reviews first. From user ratings to social sharing, brands may harness our access to communities of experts, friends and crowds that matter to generate new forms of social proof.

Likewise, traditional media still offer countless opportunities for social crowd-proofing. Ariel washing powder has used a battery of social proof to entice local consumers to switch from Unilever laundry giant, Omo. From expert and celebrity endorsement to local testimonials, the brand has won share by convincing consumers of its superior one-wash promise. It’s even taken crowd-proofing to the streets, creating a world record for the largest number of washes at a time at launch.


Digital enables seamless consumer involvement in the process of marketing, and brands are now created in a world where consumers participate in, shape and curate the brand experience. Crowd-sourcing allows brands to partner with their consumers, harnessing the power of communities and creatives to build innovation and activation of their brands.

Lego Ideas is a global platform that encourages fans to submit new design ideas, which other Lego builders vote for. Top designs then have the chance to be produced and sold, such as a Big Bang Theory edition born from Lego Ideas. Lays’ global ‘do us a flavour’ campaign invited consumers to create their own flavour of crisps, driving a reported 8% increase in sales with the release of the crowd-created flavours, while the local campaign by Simba created a unique Vetkoek & Polony limited edition flavour.

Great crowd-sourced ideas galvanise existing consumer-generated behaviours. Starbucks noticed that its signature white cups often served as a canvas for doodles and designs, and turned the behaviour into the #WhiteCupContest, encouraging consumers to decorate their cup, take a photo and submit it on social media. The winning design was adopted by Starbucks as a limited edition for 2014.

New learning also increasingly demonstrates the superior impact of crowd-sourced content in brand communication. Co-Creation agency, eYeka, connects 350 000 creatives in 170 countries to brand challenges, and has powered campaigns for brands such as Coca-Cola — Millward Brown Link testing scored Coca-Cola’s winning crowd-sourced content in the top 10% of the database. Olapic helps brands collect and curate broad user-generated content for use back into brand marketing. A pilot of its solution with Magnum ice-cream showed that user-generated content delivered 272% more impressions and 10 times more click-through than brand-created content. [In South Africa, there’s also the new startup, which “combines the power of technology and advertising research methodologies to redefine how professional feedback supports the creative process”; look out for our writeup on it soon — ed-at-large.]


Global platforms such as Kickstarter have proven that consumers are increasingly mobilising to support new ideas created outside the mainstream of traditional brands. In South Africa, Thundafund describes itself as the leading crowdfunding platform to connect aspiring creators with funding and mentorship. These crowdfunding platforms ask crowds of people to each give a small amount towards making projects a reality, and be part of creating something new. Thundafund has successfully funded 167 projects — from Mooibos vertical gardens to the Ybike Evolve kid’s bicycle — since its launch, and has seen over R6m of crowdfunded support raised. The result? Brands are being created in new ways, with consumer communities engaged from the outset to support, co-create and advocate for their success.

Harnessing the power of the collective also creates opportunities for consumers to be part of creating new solutions for their communities, societies and the world. Aweza is a South African crowd-created phrasebook app that helps people communicate and understand each other, using crowdsourced techniques to demonstrate pronunciation of the country’s 11 languages. Created in Kenya and now used around the world, Ushahidi gathers and uses distributed crowd inputs to report on social movements, unrest and disasters. In local communities in the UK, Casserole Club connects people who like to cook with elderly citizens less able to cook for themselves, sharing an extra plate of their tasty home-cooked meals: a crowd-based solution for community care [see also Vodafone Romania’s Sunday Grannies — ed-at-large].

The challenge to established brands is to engage consumers in this same ethos of co-creation, not just of content but of products and solutions that are genuinely new.

Lessons for marketers

In the crowd lie opportunities for new collective paradigms for brands to win and thrive. So how may marketers harness the power of crowds?

  • Embrace the crowd as part of your brand narrative: Look for opportunities to incorporate content, ideas, and learning created in the groups of consumers that surround your brand, allowing consumers to feel a genuine sense of crowd-shaping your brand’s communication, activation and ideation.
  • Amplify the reasons to believe created in the crowd: User ratings, feedback and reviews are powerful. Be responsive to create positive experiences, and make feedback visible back to the crowd to build preference.
  • Seek opportunities to innovate with the crowd: Involve consumers and crowd-based communities of creatives and experts in your innovation pipeline. Use crowds to seed fresh thinking that your own teams can develop and grow into a validated innovation pipeline.
  • Empower new ways to connect the crowd to create meaningful new products and solutions together: How may your brand help consumers solve a problem that matters? Create something meaningful? Co-creation platforms, with your brand playing a central role, build long-term brand and social value that may power purpose and connection for brands of tomorrow.


Lynne GordonLynne Gordon (@lynne_gordon) is the managing director at strategic marketing consultancy Added Value. Her monthly MarkLives column, “Homegrown”, explores everyday businesses and the lessons corporate marketers can learn from the streets of Mzansi. Find out more on how to explore and define your own brand’s character at

Sign up now for the MarkLives email newsletter every Monday and Thursday, now including headlines from the company newsroom service!

Online CPD Courses Psychology Online CPD Courses Marketing analytics software Marketing analytics software for small business Business management software Business accounting software Gearbox repair company Makeup artist