Crowdsource your future

Starbucks has lost focus. Dell has become a monolith. In the course of getting big, they let go of something important: Close contact with their customers.

It led Starbucks to sell things that look like Egg McMuffins. It made Dell feel OK about keeping customers at continent’s length.

Bad stuff.

Starbucks is now spending millions on advertising trying to reclaim its coffee cred. Dell has returned a lot of their customer care operation to the U.S.

But that’s not as interesting as what these companies are doing on the Web. Both launched sites aimed at generating — and, more importantly, engaging — customer ideas on how to improve their products and service.

Dell launched IdeaStorm at the beginning of this year; Starbucks followed with MyStarbucksIdea a couple months later. They have generated thousands of submissions, some of which have already been implemented, and all of which are reviewed. These are idea factories powered by the customer.

You can see where I am headed: Why shouldn’t real estate companies be doing this?

The real estate experience is in need of change; many companies in our industry have lost their way; consumers are disenchanted. Why not throw open the doors to your brand — to let customers touch it, feel it, improve it, like they did back in the old days?

It would not look precisely like IdeaStorm or MyStarbucksIdea — real estate services are not lattes or laptops, or course — but the goal would be the same. And it would cost you a lot less than yet another campaign to convince customers that what you’ve cooked up for them is exactly what they want.

At this point, I don’t think more ads, more saccharine home and hearth stuff, more counterfeit claims of excellence, are going to do it for real estate. It’s time to take some flyers.

Making something like this happen is actually the easy part. Pull together a good off the shelf content management system like Expression Engine or a blog platform like WordPress, a freelance PHP pro and a contract designer and you’d have something going in less time than you think.

It’s stopping the old stuff that’s hard.

But Starbucks and Dell did it. And so can you.

Brian Boero