2021 marked a year when major brands looked toward crowdsourcing to improve their products and reduce waste. Here are five stories worth drawing innovation strategy inspiration from.
In 2021, LEGO saw enormous growth as a company and as a brand – not surprising, as COVID lockdowns helped people prioritize family activities and solo hobbies, both of which LEGO is built for. And much of it was driven by the company’s crowdsourcing platform, LEGO Ideas.
LEGO Ideas launched in 2014, and asks fans to pitch their ideas for potential LEGO sets. It’s seen some fascinating results over the years, although many fans want pop-culture-themed sets that the brand may not be able to get the rights to.
LEGO addressed that problem in 2021 with what it called the BrickLink Designer program. This collected a number of designs that didn’t make it to development in LEGO Ideas, but that were still extremely popular, and they set up a crowdfunding program to create limited-edition sets.
While only 13 would make it to production due to manufacturing limitations, the rest were issued as digital instruction sets so people could build them with the bricks they already had. This both demonstrated the fanbase’s love of LEGO and helped encourage the creativity the company is so famous for.
Unilever launched its Sustainable Living Program in 2010, with goals to use internal company initiatives to reduce waste and change formulations, and conduct public relations and outreach campaigns to slash its waste output, reduce its carbon footprint, and be a more responsible corporate citizen.
After ten years of work, the plan was intended to conclude in 2021, and the results were impressive. Unilever used packaging design to reduce waste from its consumer products by 32%; cut emissions from their production operations by 65%, including sourcing all of their electricity for production from renewable sources; and changed the formulation of its food products to reduce sugar and meet higher nutritional standards.
As the pandemic unfolded, the company found itself in a bit of a quandary with much more to get done. So, while it’s set new goals for itself – including zero net emissions by 2039 – it’s also developed a hub to help people take action.
The Planet & Society section of Unilever’s website lays out the company’s overall goals toward topics including climate change, diversity and inclusion, and health. Be sure to check out this page, where customers can sign petitions, share information, and take action with their own crowdsourcing initiatives.
As the world population ages and hearing loss becomes more prevalent, the need for cheaper and more effective hearing aids has become more pressing. However, much of the technology for hearing aids hasn’t advanced since the Jet Age. Olive Union used crowdsourcing to change that.
First, they used crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo to test the waters for their ideas, such as a set of hearing aids that used the style and equipment of Bluetooth earbuds like the AirPods. The earbuds would have two modes: one that directed sound narrowly into the ear canal to better register sound, and the other a more diffuse mode for listening to music.
They combined a series of features that were rare in hearing aids but common in earbuds, such as long-life batteries and noise cancellation technology that was carefully applied before it entered the ear. The crowdfunders weren’t just helping pay for it; they were beta testers who tried out the new technology and offered detailed feedback.
Olive Union then applied that feedback to development, and their crowdfunding campaign collected six times their goal to refine the product while making it available to a broader group of people who struggled to afford hearing aids.
One of the struggles of any fashion company is waste. Not every pattern, design, and fit will be as popular as others, so they often find themselves with shortage of a hit product and a surplus of a less popular one. As textile waste, fast fashion, and the need to clothe the world becomes more visible, this is less and less tenable.
Catalyst, an activewear brand based in the UK, tried a new way of figuring out what would sell and what wouldn’t: swiping left and right. The company designed an app called Open Studio using a Tinder-style interface where fans could vote on patterns, fits, styles, and other aspects of the clothes.
The patterns with fewer votes were left aside, allowing Catalyst to cut down on waste. The app also connected the company more closely with its biggest fans and gave the products a personal touch. Clothes that people love are less likely to get donated or otherwise tossed aside, so this project helped to bolster sustainability while giving customers a voice in the design process.
Starbucks is no stranger to both the benefits and the challenges of sustainability. The product it’s most famous for faces an uncertain future due to climate change, and the chain serves its food and drinks in single-use packaging that can clutter city gutters, landfills, and recycling bins.
So as part of its greater sustainability efforts, Starbucks has been working to get customers to buy reusable cups. Most recently, it used crowdsourcing and a common customer habit to make that happen.
Starbucks’ famous white paper cup is popular not just for its easy-to-recognize design – it’s become a canvas for doodling! Knowing this, the company launched an Instagram campaign to collect and share the best doodles by customers around the world, one of which would be chosen to print on a reusable cup. You can see the winning design here.
But the approach didn’t stop there. The cups were sold both at a low cost – just a dollar – and with a deal where each time you bought a drink with one, you saved a dime. So the cup not only engaged customers, it also saved them money while cutting down on waste.
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