Duchy Originals – A License to Print Money Unless Your Mum Already Does

HRH Prince Charles started Duchy Originals, a range of wholesome organic products, as a way of generating funds for his charity, The Prince’s Trust. The charity supports disadvantaged young entrepreneurs and is a really worthy cause. Britain needs entrepreneurs and the Trust provides seed capital and mentorship to kids who, having grown up on the wrong side of the track, would otherwise never be given a chance. It gets corporate and private sponsorship but the Prince thought it would be a good idea to create an annuity income from one of his entrepreneurial ideas.

Charles has always been convinced that original is better and environmentally friendly is essential. He prefers old style architecture and any ‘back to nature’ way of producing food. Since he feels he represents British values at their best (so I was once told by someone in his entourage) he believes that deep down we all want to be like him. So when, on his Highgrove Estate,  he came across a nice biscuit made with organic ingredients to an old fashioned recipe or bacon from free range organic pigs he reckoned, given the chance, we’d all like to pay a premium for these foods. He founded Duchy Originals – or at least he had some of his people do it – and launched a range of products the best of which, in my opinion, were the biscuits and the bacon.

He put some professional managers in charge and for a while it did OK – it got to 4 million plus turnover at its best and the charity received some annual dividends. Charles was known to boast playfully that he was “a self-made millionaire” on the back of the success of his business start up. So far so good.

I met people who worked at Duchy Originals and while they tried to be discrete it was pretty clear that the business significantly under-performed because, allegedly, HRH could not stop meddling and forced on them whatever latest crackpot idea he had come up with. If he happened upon some tasty Lemon Curd or sturdy Garden Sheds, he insisted these be added to the range irrespective of whatever carefully laid business plan they were working to. Worse still he also foisted on them whichever business or marketing expert he happened to meet who showed any interest in Duchy Originals (which you would, wouldn’t you, if you met HRH and were trying to make conversation).

Nevertheless, some might say that he deserves full credit for founding the charity and having the gumption to start a business that he believed in, and that would provide some extra funds. Yes, but…… What Duchy Originals is, in effect, is a commercial application of the Royal Warrant, the special seal of approval the Queen bestows on any product she uses personally. The Royal Warrant is strictly non-commercial – if the Queen happens to patronize your brand of Waxed Shooting Jacket or Umbrella or biscuit you can apply for a Royal Warrant. If it is awarded you may feature this in your advertising or on your product but there are strict rules as to how this is done and no money changes hands. You only have to look at what the Duchess of York pocketed for her full blown endorsement of Weight Watchers (genius move on their part by the way) to see how much the Royal Warrant could be worth if you could really exploit it. Ditto Duchy Originals. How much money could you make – especially in the USA and Asia – if you could launch a company with a range of products under the HRH Prince Charles Brand? Hundreds of millions, billions even if it was well managed.

How high did HRH drive the revenues– 4 million quid at best, and this slumped last year to half that and a loss of 3.3 million pounds. So he has licensed Duchy Original to Waitrose – the upmarket grocery store that are the most enthusiastic stockists of the Duchy range – in return for a guaranteed donation to the trust of 1 million per year. Waitrose will do well with Duchy Originals and one assumes at last it will get the less fettered professional management and development of the brand it deserves, but one can’t help feeling Duchy Originals could have been a license to print money for a very worthy charity.
Mind you, if you are the heir to the throne that does print the money there are probably easier and ways to generate extra funds for the Prince’s Trust than selling biscuits one happens to enjoy with one’s tea.

God Bless him, Prince Charles is the best weapon we British republicans have.

Crowd Sourcing – The Pros and Very Few Cons

There seems to be a debate about Crowd Sourcing. I don’t understand why. I cannot believe anyone is seriously debating ‘whether’ crowd sourcing a good idea only how best to use it? Of course it is. I first came across crowd sourcing as a team building exercise we used to use with clients. You’d get a group of people and give them a scenario. The one we used was where a plane crashes in the middle of a desert and the survivors are given a choice of options in terms of what they do and what they choose to rescue from the wreckage, in order to maximize their chance of survival and rescue.

First people had to complete the exercise on their own. Then they worked as a group and their collective and individual answers were compared to the advice of ‘Survival Experts’. Not quite sure who these experts were – this was long before Bear Grylls – but the results were always the same. No individual scored as highly as the group – ever. The collective views of the group were always closest to, sometimes spot on with, those of the experts.

Like most people, my appreciation of Crowd Sourcing was given a real kick with the publication in 2004 of “Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki. One of the examples he used made me realize I had been watching Crowd Sourcing in action every week on “Who wants to be a Millionaire”. The lone contestant might struggle, but ask the audience and, collectively, they always get it right.

Actually, maybe I’ve skipped a step in my journey? I seem to remember my mum telling me that, “Two heads are better than one”.  Presumably several thousand heads are better than two? But I think she also told me that “Too many cooks spoil the broth”. Well how many is too many? “Two’s company, three’s a crowd” I definitely remember her telling me that. So let’s try to pull this together – more than two is a crowd, a crowd is generally better than one head, but not for making broth.

I reckon there is no debate about whether Crowd Sourcing is a good thing, a useful tool if you can get your hands on it, but perhaps not for every task or problem.

That last bit is worth a debate. When should you use crowd sourcing, how best should you use it? Hang on – what exactly do we mean by crowd sourcing? Well, for the answer to that I turned to one truly excellent, and I think by now universally approved , form of crowd sourcing – Wikipedia. With just one click I got a very useful explanation of Crowd Sourcing sourced from a crowd. Here it is:-

I could not have written this better and, more to the point, it would have taken days of research to get even close. Right away, here are two major benefits – the wisdom of the crowd and Web 2.0 enabled speed.

The Wiki definition is “the act of outsourcing tasks, normally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large community through an open call”. The term ‘Crowd Sourcing’, Wiki tells me, is a neologism (a new made up word  – thanks Wiki) of crowd and outsourcing.  It goes on to tell me that, as with Wikipedia itself, experts or wannabe experts enjoy helping you solve these outsourced tasks so much they often do it for free or very little reward.

So wise, fast and really cheap. Come on! Who would not use Crowd Sourcing all the time for everything? You can use it to build a living on-line encyclopedia, you can use it to source thousands of designs for, say, T-Shirts and get the same crowd to help select the best. Instead of trying to do all the development work on a piece of computer software and inevitably butting your one or two heads against problems you can’t fix (or didn’t even spot) you can get a prototype or Beta version out there and have an army of willing experts help you perfect it. Brilliant!

I have a marketing bias so let’s look at possible applications for marketing. You could build a platform where any marketer, any time anywhere could post a problem (or opportunity) they are working on and ask a crowd for ideas on how to solve it. It could be anything. Maybe you are a bank and you want ideas for how to persuade the laggards to move to on-line banking. Maybe you need an idea to unite all your disparate sponsorship properties. Maybe you need some new product ideas, a new brand name, a fresh idea for a trade conference, some ideas for on-line brand content (the internet is a hungry beast when it comes to content). Hell, you could even post your latest advertising brief – would that work? Well it’s not unknown for Ad agencies to bring in some extra free-lancers to help solve a brief – this way you could get to thousands of free-lancers, amateur or professional.

To make sure that you attracted the experts most likely to have the best ideas, the professionals or semi-professionals, you probably should offer some kind of reward, a bounty if you like, for the best ideas. Most of these people just love solving problems and get a certain personal benefit from doing so, as well as maybe some professional kudos. But it seems only fair to offer some hard cash in return for the commercial benefit you would get from a great new marketing idea. It would still be cheap and it would, of course, be the wisdom of the crowd at cyber speed.

We could call it “Idea Bounty – the best ideas get paid”. Forget focus groups and consumer workshops – if you have a marketing problem get it on our platform and we’ll guarantee that you get great ideas you can use, all for the cost, as it happens, of less than a couple of focus groups.

This Idea Bounty could be huge – I’ll just check it out on Google, see if anyone else…..Bugger!

Someone has already done it and so far every client has got ideas they both liked and have successfully used.
In fact, I discover, there are loads more crowd sourcing platforms for marketing, design, innovation, all manner of marketing needs.

So is Crowd Sourcing the future? Yes – in fact it is the present, the train has well and truly left the station. This is no fad. It is inconceivable that the genie will get put back in the bottle. More and more people, for more and more things, are going to use Crowd Sourcing. Get with the programme. Who says? – a bunch of geeky on-line nerds? Well the late and very great CK Prahalad based his last ever book on the prediction that crowd sourcing will become the way of doing business – N=1, R=G – and he was one of the most respected Business Strategists on the planet.

I can’t comment on whether T shirts and Computer Software will only ever be designed by a wise crowd. I suspect not. But I do believe strongly that not every marketing problem will.

There are occasions when I would not choose to use crowd sourcing. For me it has limitations and I think there are reasons why a small, closed community can on occasions be better.

1. Let’s start with the obvious. If the marketing brief (problem/opportunity) is highly confidential I don’t think I want to publicize it to a crowd.

2. What if I am not 100% sure of what the problem is? The advantage of working with a small, well motivated, closed community – let’s call it an agency/client team- is that you iterate the brief through working on it together. The brief gets honed, refined and sometimes completely changed. If I am going to give a problem to the crowd I need to be sure I can express it clearly and with confidence.

3. As a close cousin to this, briefs sometimes have nuances, subtleties, constraints, that are only truly appreciated by the small team that are working on them. The crowd needs clarity of purpose and cannot be relied on to wrestle with reams of sub-text.

4. Often you come to trust certain groups of problem solvers. You’ve worked with them before, they have a great track record. If I have a winning team, why do I want to expand it by inviting in the crowd? Would I run the risk of undermining confidence? I like working with people I can see and touch and – as noted above – debate with. Teams perform better with shared purpose built on like and trust that can only come through physical interaction.

5. Last on my list is a back-handed compliment to crowd sourcing. I accept I am going to get hundreds maybe thousands of ideas but how am I going to choose the right one? Out of respect to the community – which is important – every idea has to be given proper consideration. Too much choice is not always a good thing.

These, surely, are valid reasons for not using Crowd Sourcing? Maybe, maybe not.

1.    If you are worried about confidentiality you can disguise the brief.

2.    A great way to get insight on a problem is to throw it out there – use the crowd to help you understand the problem. It’s a lot better than a few focus groups.

3.    Yes there are nuances but at some point there must be clarity – when you can summarize it in 100 words or less then throw it out there. If you can’t, keep working until you can

4.    Teams are very important – it should ideally be a team decision when and how to use crowd sourcing. But if the team are so motivated why would they pass up an opportunity to check whether there might be a better solution?

5.    There is something to the “Paradox of Choice” argument but it is possible to put in place a process to screen and select ideas (Idea Bounty has a range of levels of support for this). Get the team to help, employ some experts. Ask the crowd to help make the selection. Just roll your sleeves up – this is a high quality problem, too many good ideas!

I still conclude that there are reasons and occasions why/when Crowd Sourcing is not optimal. I just think they appear few and far between, or at least I think there are few occasions where at no point in the process of cracking a marketing brief would crowd sourcing not be a useful additional tool.

Too many cooks spoil the making of the broth but the more cooks you have access to, the better the broth recipes you can choose from.

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