This is the third of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on ‘How should firms collaborate with customers and/or value chain partners to co-create new products and services?’. Here is the next perspective in the series:
by Mark Prus
Collaborating With Your Consumers for Innovation… Good Idea? Bad Idea?
I have been a Marketing Director, an Innovation Director, and a Market Research Director at a top tier consumer packaged goods company. So I guess I can answer this question from three different perspectives.
If I wear my Market Research Director Hat, I want to believe that consumers have all the answers and if I design the proper research I can get at those answers. Alas, when it comes to Innovation that is not easily done. At our company Market Research was involved in very early stage Innovation work (to gain insights that can be used to predict consumer needs) all the way through in-home evaluation of products (to make a go/no go launch decision). Consumers provided great input all along the way, but it was much easier to get good consumer input on the back end of the process. To gain insights that can drive front-end innovation you need to spend a ton of hours to understand your consumer and in the end the process is much more of an art than a science.
If I wear my Marketing Director Hat, I know I can gain input from consumers on my Innovation activities because I am good at reading consumers. But consumers are not good at reacting to things they cannot see, touch and feel. Most innovation activity involves abstract ideas or “White Card” concepts and those are very difficult for most consumers. Fewer than 10% of people are “multi-sensory” and so the vast majority of people cannot effectively provide feedback by reading words on a sheet of paper. You need to bring the ideas to life and engage people’s senses.
If I wear my Innovation Director Hat, I am a visionary person and I want to believe that consumers can participate in that vision and help me shape it. However, very few consumers have the same visionary abilities (if they did they would be working in Innovation and you would have screened them out of any activity!). Furthermore, I might get frustrated when consumers just “don’t get it.” Not everyone can appreciate the brilliance of an emerging idea!
Putting it all together, I do believe that consumers can play a major role in developing Innovation. Companies like Procter & Gamble would agree as P&G has been at the forefront in consumer involvement and also has been a leader in Open Innovation, as evidenced by the number of new products they have launched in the past few years that came from outside the company.
In the end, you really cannot complain about having consumer involvement in the Innovation process, but you can make a lot of mistakes by assuming that consumers will provide great input at every step of the way. You also might discover that consumers tend to be good at making incremental improvements or evaluating smaller ideas, whereas developing bigger breakthrough ideas is something that is beyond their capabilities.
You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on ‘How should firms collaborate with customers and/or value chain partners to co-create new products and services?’ by clicking the link in this sentence.
Mark Prus is a marketing consultant who offers a name development service called NameFlashSM.