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Crowdsourcing cuts down unnecessary expenses: Arun Mehra

Interview with CEO, TalentHouse India

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Arun Mehra tells Arunima Mishra how crowdsourcing is being increasingly viewed as a business proposition in India

Is crowdsourcing just a fad? How can it possibly help a brand in the long term?
When a brand crowdsources, it tells its consumers that I (the brand) am listening to you. I’m delighted that you are contributing to my idea. I appreciate the fact that you are taking ownership of the brand that you like. It also tells that I’m willing to gratify you for your idea. Creative crowdsourcing is fast gaining pace in India with brands and mentors opting for a convenient platform to engage with their audiences.

The uniqueness of this platform is that it engages socially. So, the moment a person comes and uploads an entry on Talenthouse, there is a message that goes to all her friends on Facebook that she has participated in a programme for a particular brand on Talenthouse. This allows a viral effect. For example, if you’re a writer, one out of your seven friends is a writer, too. The moment they notice that their friend is already getting an edge and taking part, they, too, want to participate. After a point, we close entries for voting; while the voting is on, I (Talenthouse user) can go back to my friends, ask them to cast their votes. So, artists can, at times, get 5,000 engagements on Facebook — a big value for brands given that when friends endorse a brand, it’s far more effective than a particular brand endorsing for itself. If it had been a fad, we would have done just a few projects and we would have faded out by now. Crowdsourcing is a reality the world over.

CROWD SOURCED
  • Crowdsourcing platform Talenthouse has done projects all over the world. Besides offering services to some of the biggest FMCG, telecom and paint brands (read, Pepsi, Airtel, Micromax, AXE, Kurkure, Tropicana, Nerolac), Talenthouse has also helped entertainment genre, where it tied up with bands and artistes like Metallica, U2, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Pink, Rod Stewart, Kylie Minogue
     
  • Fashion designers like Anita Dongre and Rocky S besides a host of Indian film directors have also benefited from crowdsourcing services
     
  • Onir, Bollywood film director, crowdfunded I Am, his film project and gathered roughly Rs 1 crore from the public

Can crowdsourcing address strategic issues like product development and innovation? What will be the trends in India?
A lot of crowdsourcing platforms are only focusing on product design. With Kurkure, we outsourced this year’s Diwali look and feel for packaging. Crowdsourcing can contribute in more than one ways that you can think of. We have done product design, signature tune, logo design, television script, viral videos and the first look of a campaign. The crowd has contributed in all these aspects. I think, the future of crowdsourcing can be predicted with big Indian brands having now realised the potential of tapping into the community resources. This will ultimately result in co-creation wherein a brand will develop products along with its consumer.

What is the difference between crowdsourcing and co-creation? Has crowdsourcing worked in India?
For example, artiste Lady Gaga says I want a videographer to come and write for me. When two companies, brands, a brand and its consumer, a company and its suppliers collaborate it’s co-creation. When we go out and reach out to a bigger pool of talent, who we may not know, that’s crowdsourcing. We would be successful as a crowdsourcing platform if brands come back to go through the process all over again. Almost 80 per cent of the companies that I’ve approached have loved the platform. Of that, 30 per cent have adopted it and the rest have said they will come back when they have the right brief. We don’t hard sell the platform, we hard sell the opportunity. If the opportunity exists, the client will come back.

How can a platform such as Talenthouse assist brands in effective crowdsouring?
We started our journey in India a year ago with American heavy metal band, Metallica. When it came, it wanted a lead band to ‘open’ the act before they performed on stage. In just 10 days, over 200 bands from across the country responded. We got five bands from Germany who also wanted to participate. We finally got a winner, a band that Metallica loved. After that, we have hunted scripts for Vidhu Vinod Chopra, (leading film directors and producers); music for Shaan (singer), Nerolac (home paint brand) besides fashion designers Anita Dongre and Rocky S. We have also done photography- and design-related work for AXE, Kurkure, Micromax.

Two things work for us — a large network and a platform that allows brands with an opportunity to engage and connect with their audiences at a fraction of cost compared to mass media-led campaigns such as the ‘Me & Meri Maggi’ (Nestlé India) and ‘Hum Mein Hai Hero’ (Hero MotoCorp), which have been backed by budgets of around Rs 20-30 crore. One doesn’t have to spend so much on a crowdsourcing platform.

A platform like Talenthouse allows brands to explore a creative pool of talent that they would otherwise not have been exposed to. They (companies) can’t get quality despite the claims of having millions of fans. Take a company that is looking to get its logo designed. It needs to go to the platform where people go. We have networks with 300-plus design, art, fashion and photography schools in the country, an active base of 12,000 artists, who work with us. You don’t need to advertise at all, you need to put, what we call, a creative invite (CI) on our platform.

With Micromax, we organised a creative invite to crowdsource its new logo. From the 2,500 entries received, the winning new punch logo was unveiled at the Asia Cup 2012. Airtel’s popular campaign ‘Har Ek Friend Zaroori Hota Hai’ got the required momentum on the digital platform through Talenthouse. Pepsi experimented with designs for its 2012 calendar followed by the Pepsi Football Anthem Video, all done through Talenthouse.

How much of the feedback and inputs that you get on a crowdsourcing platform can be actually depended on?
It is authentic when a brand starts using what you have given it. Micromax took its crowdsourced logo and adopted it on its phones. It’s also there on each and every media buy that it does. MAMI (Mumbai Film Festival) also declared a winner (through crowdsourcing) and is using a poster at this year’s event. Interestingly, some brands are coming back to us after seeing the benefits of the model. See, 90 per cent of our core audience is in the 18-25 age group, most of whom are budding artists going to schools and colleges. Only 10 per cent are professionals who are looking (through crowdsourcing) for that one big break.

Does size matter in this business and does Talenthouse have that critical mass?
We have done 370 projects globally and three lakh artiste communities have got engaged with us in various projects. In India, we’ve 73,000 fans on Facebook, over 70,000 Twitter followers, over 13,000 artists who have engaged with us. Also, our platform is clear that the concept is for the artiste, by the artiste, and so, we don’t have a participation cost unlike other platforms that would typically charge some sort of fee. However, there’s some cost involved in reaching out to the right kind of people.

Are there just specific tasks that are best outsourced to crowds? And how can companies distinguish between quality and noise?
Any company getting into crowdsourcing needs to know what it wants out of it. Micromax wanted a final product — its brand logo. Similarly, Nerolac wanted a signature tune. Some companies only want viral videos with a flurry of options and looks to choose from. When the ‘crowd’ gives a brand 100 entries, the brand will get at least 10 good ones. Twenty other entries might have interesting ideas/concepts but could be lacking in one area or the other. Design, photography and music are some of the areas where we get good responses from the crowd. We are now finding many business houses opening up to this phenomenon. Creative crowdsourcing platforms like Talenthouse, and project-based employment platforms like Amazon Mechanical Turk are offering integrated platforms of the internet and digital association, help too.

Can you give us some examples to demonstrate the kind of sectors/companies that are using crowdsourcing initiatives effectively?
Crowdsourcing, just like e-commerce, social networking, is here to stay. It may take different avatars. So it can be as simple as someone asking through the ‘status update’ on Facebook about the latest movie while the crowd contributes with suggestions. Wikipedia is the largest example of crowdsourcing, Yahoo! Answers India is also a portal where the crowd contributes. In television, shows like ‘India’s Got Talent’ and ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’, for instance, are also where the crowd contributes. Any project that we crowdsource takes six to eight weeks.

Brands like Procter & Gamble, for example, claim that more than half of the new product innovations come through its (crowdsourcing) platform Connect + Develop. Back home, we have seen brands like Mahindra Rise and Lays partner with audiences for product development. From FMCG giants to SMEs, everyone wants to use the crowdsourcing platform. I would go as far as to say nine out of 10 brands indulge in crowdsourcing.

Product design is one of the most popular routes to engage consumers. Opium eye wear, for instance, crowdsourced a sunglass design. Likewise, fashion designers Rocky S and Anita Dongre crowdsourced accessory designs. Even in entertainment, some of the biggest names are open to crowdsourcing. Music can be created along with lyrics; even the actors for movies can be identified if you crowdsource ideas on the right platform. While Bollywood filmmakers like Vidhu and Vipul Shah have used Talenthouse to tap the smallest of towns for script writers, choreographer Rajeev Surti used the platform to search for an assistant for his film projects. Today, I see many filmmakers reaching out to the masses as creativity can stem from anyone. The next active community will be of the writers.

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