Although the common business adage “The customer is always right” might not apply to all businesses, some beverage brands are collecting consumer insights to help guide their new product development. In fact, one beverage manufacturer exclusively uses consumer feedback to create its products.

Madison, Wis.-based MobCraft Beer LLC, which describes itself as the world’s first and only crowdsourced brewery, crafts every new beer in its portfolio using consumer feedback.

Fans can submit their beer recipe ideas through the company’s website, and MobCraft Beer’s brewers then design beer recipes based on these consumer ideas, send them out for government approval if the recipe includes uncommon ingredients, and then add them to the Recipe Vault on the company’s website, according to Founder Giotto Troia. MobCraft Beer then tracks the page views of the different recipes in the Recipe Vault and puts the top recipes — based on page views — to a monthly consumer vote during the first 21 days of every month, he explains. The winning beer, determined by the number of pre-orders, then is brewed at the end of the voting period and released approximately four weeks later, depending on the style, he says. Most of the monthly winners are limited-edition varieties, but the particularly popular beers sometimes are brewed again to extend availability, he adds.

As a result of this collaborative experience, the company’s sales have been booming, Troia says. “The response has been extraordinary,” he says. “The product is so unique, and the experience the consumer receives is unparalleled in the brewing industry. People really love having so much influence on what beer we produce, almost on an intimate level. It’s contagious, and people look forward to it every month.”

In addition, the melding of minds has resulted in multiple creative beers, including a Pistachio Pear Pilsner, a Blueberry Maple Syrup Pale Lager, and a Wasabi Ginger Wheat. The May 2014 winner, Mistah Tea, is a black-tea-infused red ale that was made from a full recipe submitted by fan “Becky’s Peter.” Troia reports that the beer has been “wildly popular” in stores and at beer festivals since its July 10 release.

Stephen Curtis, founder and chief executive officer of Proper Soda Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., notes that it makes sense to include consumer insight and give people what they want, because it benefits both the consumer and the brand. 

In the interest of giving consumers a chance to make their voices heard, Proper Soda Co. put its next new beverage to a vote through crowdfunding website Kickstarter from June 26 to July 10. Following up on the popularity of its Hop Soda beverage, which takes a flavor commonly found in the beer category and puts it into a carbonated soft drink, the company looked to flavors from other beverage categories and created Cold Brewed Coffee Soda and Hibiscus Soda for the competition. 

In exchange for a $1 minimum pledge toward the project, consumers could vote for their favorite beverage of the two. The company planned to use the funds to help bring the beverage of choice to market faster. However, the company did not meet its $10,000 goal by the end of the Kickstarter campaign and, therefore, did not receive additional funding through the platform.

However, Curtis looks at the Kickstarter campaign as “a good experiment” that gave the company the opportunity to garner feedback from 54 different  “backers,” Kickstarter’s name for project supporters. “[Consumers] have been excited,” he says. “A lot of people have commented that they’re excited to see what’s next, either way. Some people have a definite affinity for one or the other, but generally everyone’s upbeat and excited about [the new beverages].” The company still plans to bring both products to market eventually, with Cold Brewed Coffee Soda likely launching first, but that launch timeline has been extended to give the company more time to fund the project.

Crowdsourcing initiatives like MobCraft Beer’s new product development process and Proper Soda Co.’s Kickstarter campaign have become the must-have marketing tool for start-up companies and billion-dollar brands alike, according to Richard Swart, director of research on crowdfinance at University of California, Berkeley. These methods of tapping into consumers’ minds enable brands to harness the wisdom of crowds for product development and innovation, discover creativity and fresh ideas, and even finance their products and business initiatives, he says. Therefore, crowdsourcing initiatives should be integrated into a brand’s marketing mix, he notes. 

On the other hand, Michael Fernandez, founder of New York-based Factory 360, says that crowdsourcing might not be a long-term solution for every brand.

“I think that crowdsourcing … serves a purpose if you’re looking for publicity or you’re looking for a stunt, but I think that [it’s] not to be used outside of a [public relations] stunt for longevity in brand extensions,” Fernandez says. “In theory, I think a lot of these flavors the consumers come up with and then vote [for] sound great in theory, but then in practice, they probably don’t actually have that many legs to stand on or have a long career on the shelf.”

 As such, brands should take the results of consumer votes with a grain of salt and really evaluate what ideas will fit best within their portfolios, he says.