Inside the Creator's Studio: Helping the paint people find their people

A headshot of Amanda Moloney

by Amanda Moloney

Four paint rollers painting different colours side by side.

Quick: list the pros and cons of glitter paint.

If it takes you more than 15 seconds to make a list, we know where to find 10,000 people who would be more than willing to help you out.

They’re the helpful, creative and incredibly engaged members of Creator’s Studio, the thriving co-creative community of long-time Chaordix customer Rust-Oleum.

Rust-Oleum, the worldwide leader in protective paints and coatings, wanted us to help them build a community of do-it-yourself (DIY) fans that could provide the company with authentic, durable connections. They wanted us to help them ask questions, discover unmet product needs, generate authentic marketing content and gather competitive intelligence. We helped them—and the people who love their products—create something much more powerful.

Together, Rust-Oleum and Chaordix developed Creator’s Studio, a brand engagement and innovation platform that brings builders, crafters, and painters together for project inspiration and to learn about Rust-Oleum products. The site features everything from “Ask the Rust-Oleum Expert” sessions, to our proprietary Innovation Challenges, to general chats where inspiration, advice and tips are shared within the close-knit community. 

A screenshot of the Creator's Studio home page.

Forming the community

Because Rust-Oleum distributes solely through third-party retailers, they lacked a direct-to-consumer relationship. Without mailing lists or a significant social media following, they needed a creative strategy for finding interested consumers to join their community. Initial tactics included advertisements in woodworking publications and on some HGTV channels. While this was initially successful at attracting members, the most successful strategy to date has been the ongoing partnership with DIY bloggers, including Mother Daughter Projects and Creatively Living. These public figures enjoy significant followings of people interested in the very things on offer in Creator’s Studio.

Creator’s Studio has grown to become an innovation platform that connects people who are passionate about do-it-yourself paint and stain products to solve challenges in a collaborative, co-creation environment. Focused on sharing insights and ideas through engaging activities and contests, Creator’s Studio provides a welcoming space for people from many different walks of life: professionals, curious beginners, dedicated hobbyists and those looking for some creative inspiration for their renovation and redecorating projects.

A screenshot of the people directory in Creator's Studio.

Creator’s Studio is also, of course, a highly functional space for the Rust-Oleum brand. Because the community is well-ordered, respected and catered to, it is that much more willing to be of service. Rust-Oleum works closely with its community to co-create, strategize and plan in a number of different ways.

Job 1: Testing and product intelligence

Rust-Oleum has an aggressive acquisition strategy, and has purchased a multitude of products and brands. While that’s good news for the brand’s bottom line, it does bring a challenge or two with it, including finding new ways to use the products they’ve acquired that may compete with what they already have, and how to name and sell these products most successfully.

They regularly turn to the Creator’s Studio community to vet ideas, to crowdsource product names, and to decide the best way to launch a new product to the marketplace.

Related Read: The LEGO Ideas Story: How brands can take a page out of LEGO's co-creation and innovation playbook

These prompts – and many more – have been the topic of discussion, storytelling, creative contests and other strategic techniques designed to learn what the Rust-Oleum community thinks, feels and believes about Rust-Oleum products, lines of business, and marketing approaches. The brand relies on these highly engaged fans to generate insights into the consumer mindset; essentially, their input helps take the guesswork out of high-level decision-making.

A screenshot of a Challenge in Creator's Studio.

Job 2: Conversion

The Rust-Oleum community is purpose-built for knowledge sharing—and that translates into smoothing the path to purchase. While the innovation challenges set by the brand are popular, the enthusiasm really surges in the unmoderated Community Café area, where community members enjoy casual conversation and the sharing of personal projects. (The in-progress photos and how-tos of one bathroom transformation caused a major stir in the community, and introduced many to the virtues of a niche Rust-Oleum product.)

The Creator’s Studio features a number of high-profile DIY bloggers and they, too, help seed conversations, demonstrating how they use Rust-Oleum products to achieve their creative and professional goals. It all occurs in a very organic way so that no one feels they are being sold a product.

Periodically, the brand will offer free samples to Creator’s Studio members with the understanding that they’ll report back, honestly, on how they like working with the sample and what they used it for. Even the rough reviews are useful, as they help Rust-Oleum refine their offering and head off large-scale problems before they have a chance to occur.

All that glitters. . . is marketing gold

Rust-Oleum brand leads came upon a blog post that was getting a lot of DIY community attention and lavished praise on Rust-Oleum glitter paint. Just one thing: Rust-Oleum didn’t make glitter paint. But there was so much interest in this post that the brand began to think seriously about getting into the glitter game and took the question to their community.

The response was, shall we say, enthusiastic. Here are some things the community had to say:

  • Pale colours only so as not to overwhelm.
  • This is obviously a super-girly idea, so pink and silver for nurseries or teenager rooms.
  • I would use this for an accent wall in my bedroom.
  • How would you paint over it once you wanted a change?
  • The glitter texture would be too scratchy for indoor or furniture use.
  • You would be sweeping up sparkles every single day.
  • How would you clean a glittery wall?
  • It would be more appropriate for things that aren’t walls.
  • Maybe, but only in a small can, as an accent.
  • Glitter in a man cave? I don’t think so.
  • Please make glitter paint for exterior surfaces!

The rich and qualified perspective allowed Rust-Oleum to come to market with their own line of glitter paint (in quart cans) in an incredibly informed way, turning large amounts of customer data into actionable insights.

Gold glitter spray paint bottle beside a gold glitter bucket of paint.

Job 3: New Product Development

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has found that 80% of the 30,000 new consumer products that are launched every year fail. The Chaordix platform helps Rust-Oleum avoid that fate by gathering meaningful insights and creative ideas from its engaged community so it can effectively market products that are in line with what customers want and expect—as well as products that will surprise and delight them.

Read Next: 7 tips for crowdsourcing designs for new products

Sometimes, that takes the form of an open-ended request (such as “Submit a picture of something you’d like to replicate in terms of colour and texture”); sometimes, Rust-Oleum uses our “creative constraints” approach to stoke creativity by setting firm boundaries (e.g., instead of asking the community to identify ten features they want from a new product, ask them to think of the one feature they would add or take away and explain why).

When the Rust-Oleum deck and fence paint team was thinking about acquiring a new product, they issued this constraint challenge: Imagine you could create a new paint. What would its magical properties be? The community came up with some truly unique ideas, including glow-in-the-dark stain, fence paint that could replace flower and vine support netting, and paint that repels mosquitos. Crazy? Or the next best-selling Rust-Oleum product?

The creative challenge

We’ve found that the very best way to tap into the Rust-Oleum community’s appetite for creativity, innovation, and friendly competition is through creative challenges—multi-step, gamified activity bundles that typically last 8-12 weeks. These research-backed innovation programs combine the best in Creative Problem Solving, Design Thinking, and Systematic Creativity to keep people freshly engaged and participating in new challenges.

At Chaordix, we design the creative challenge process as if we were publishing a magazine: a new issue comes out at a regular cadence, with a new theme, a new cover story and new content. It’s not obvious to participants, but our creative workflows take the community through a well-thought-out process that tests them creatively and allows the Rust-Oleum team to dig for deeper insights and ideas.

A creative challenge helps us play to the different strengths of our communities—some people will shine brilliantly at one task, while others will be better at others.

Creative challenges are simply the best way to maximize the enthusiasm and talent of a co-creative brand community.

A screenshot of a Challenge in Creator's Studio.

Continuous recruitment and engagement

Rust-Oleum continuously recruits for their Creator’s Studio community to encourage new voices and perspectives. Some 200 new members join every month, largely as a result of social media promotion. Chaordix helps Rust-Oleum, and all our other customers, plan their recruitment strategy to leverage their existing fans or parallel crowds using our in-platform communications suite of tools. The platform also makes it simple and easy for the brand to leverage social media—both their own and those of popular bloggers and current community members—to attract people to the community.

More Tips: How to develop an online community launch plan for purpose-driven brands

Once someone has become a member of the Rust-Oleum community, we work hard to keep them engaged. The gamification module built into the Chaordix platform makes it easy for Rust-Oleum to reward and recognize members with everything from increased community status to perks and giveaways, things that make members feel good about their relationship with the brand.

All community members earn Creator Coins for submitting and supporting ideas and can allocate these coins to support another person’s idea—if that person wins, supporters double their “investment.” The higher the level you earn, the greater the privileges you unlock. Surprise rewards increase the sense of fun and anticipation.

The success of the Rust-Oleum co-creative community is founded on feelings of mutual trust, fun competition and a strong sense of belonging. By bringing together a collection of people from many walks of life—united in their love for, well, paint—Rust-Oleum has succeeded in becoming a true participatory brand. Along the way, the brand has benefited vastly from deep and timely consumer insight, interaction and opinion that has allowed it to successfully launch new products, solidify its market position, and take a leadership role in its industry.

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