Monday, October 17, 2011

Crowdsourcing: Confronting the Deception

Independent creatives continue to bemoan the effect of crowdsourcing on our ability to make a living, and the main driver seems to be a toxic confluence of globalization and recession. I have recently concluded that a big chunk of the persistence of crowdsourcing (CS) rests on the Deception of Equal Value. Clients unconsciously assume that crowdsourced "design" is equal in value to the services of experienced professionals, both in the design’s quality and in its ability to do the job for clients, i.e., sell their stuff.
The CS sites encourage this deception with their slick come-ons, and unless we proactively take this bull by the horns, clients will remain in the dark and keep buying CS crap. Some of the sites go so far as to imply that professional designers are ripping off the business community. We ignore this at our peril. Letting CS sites control the messaging around design is a huge mistake.
We have to reclaim control of this communications lapse. Just as some have no clue about the difference between a certified  accountant and H&R Block, many businesses have no idea what it takes to create a marcom piece that attracts and converts successfully. Not only do they assume that $100 graphic doodads are equal in value to professional, strategic designs, they assume that those doodads will deliver the same results. If we professionals don't tell them the difference, how will they know?
And herein lies an opportunity:  many of us have clients who provide services. They, too, are being hit by their own versions of crowdsourcing. The Deception of Equal Value is a challenge to all professional service providers. Ask your lawyer how she feels about online DIY contracts. Ask your doctor how he likes it when patients self-diagnose with WebMD. Globalization and CS has come to all the professions, like it or not, and it is having the effect of commoditizing a lot of previously specialized work. Creatives can lead the way in demonstrating how to deal with this.
So it’s up to us to communicate the meaning of true value, to and for our clients. It can feel tedious, but explaining gets easier the more you do it. As many have pointed out, this also means that we have to sell ideas and not just products. If we demonstrate our own value case, it shows we can make the same case for our clients.
[Caution: Sounding even a little annoyed at having to explain will be noticed on some level by your client and will not help make your point.]
Of course, there will always be people who shop solely on price. They will be with us whether the economy is bad or thriving. I continue to believe that there are enough clients who rank value over price that we can all survive. But it will take effort on our part to find them, connect with them and demonstrate our long-term worth beyond the project level.