Historically innovation has been thought of as a linear process starting with science and moving to application. Robert E. Stokes wrote a book on innovation, Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation, where he suggests innovation can happen much faster at the application level. Pasteur’s research was driven by a desperate need because he was solving food safety issues. Without the fierce level of application the science may not have been successful.
Today we have access to application of ideas like never before. At very little cost we can engage large networks of people to help test concepts, contribute ideas and get people to use inventions at early stages.
The old way of doing business
Throughout the commercial industrial age companies introduce highly developed products with large scale marketing programs to the masses. Starting with radio and television there was a high barrier to entry. Companies like Coke, P&G, and Westinghouse, that could buy mass media exposure became global brands. It was difficult for locally adopted inventions to become highly visible in the market without being on television or acquired by a larger company.
Today the playing field has evened out and with the right idea and lots of sweat equity and/or luck just about anything can become a household name.
The new business approach
The term ‘feature rich’ and ‘experience poor’ is often cited when comparing products like Microsoft Word to Flickr. Most consumers use about 5% of the features available in Microsoft Word. Flickr, the photo sharing site, actually started as a multi-user game. The photo sharing they introduced was so well liked by their users that they realized they were on to something and Flickr was born.
Today it’s all about solving a problem and bringing to market the minimally viable solution as quickly as possible. Leverage real user insight to shape the product into what people want. Create the most satisfying customer journey possible for the audience benefiting most from your product.
Even for traditional marketing, trends in market research show that social media (crowdsourcing) is enhancing and/or replacing more traditional market research.
Crowdsourcing solutions for innovation
InnoCentive – “Seeker” organizations and companies leverage InnoCentive to avoid the high R&D costs of hiring outside talent. “Seekers” post challenges directed at math and science experts and woo them with cash rewards if they can solve the proposed task. InnoCentive employs a network of PhDs to explain the terms of the challenges and provide feedback to the “solvers.”
Cash prizes range between $10k-$100k and to date, over $28 million has been awarded to solvers. In 2007 the Oil Spill Recovery Institute posted three challenges on InnoCentive, one which was solved by an oil industry outsider, John Davis. He was awarded $20,000 for designing a method to separate oil from water on oil recovery barges after the oil and water had frozen to a viscous mass.
Dell IdeaStorm – If a message board and Reddit had a love child, it’d look like Dell’s IdeaStorm. Anyone with an idea, complaint, or issue is invited to share it with Dell and its community, so long as they register first. Users promote, demote and comment on suggested ideas, permeating the most popular ideas to the top of the landing page. Dell curates and facilitates the conversation with the ultimate goal of implementing the good ideas. Unfortunately for the users, Dell cashes in on their ideas without offering compensation. To date, this co-creation platform has collected 16,000 ideas, implemented 400 plus and generated over 92,000 comments.
My Starbucks Ideas – Following Dell’s lead, Starbucks also launched a customer engagement hub with My Starbucks Idea. Who best knows how the people like their coffee better than the people themselves. Just like IdeaStorm members can vote ideas up and down and make comments. What’s different is that the Starbucks team is extremely active responding to ideas good and bad.
A customer “katerv” suggested that they bring back the quotes on the coffee cups. “katerv” garnered over 60 responses including a Starbucks employee: “I liked the quotes on the cups too. I’ve shared this idea with our marketing team. Thanks for your votes and comments.”
UserVoice – UserVoice brings company/customer co-creating to the masses, allowing any company to empower their customers voice. The feedback forum works much like IdeaStorm and My Starbucks Idea, but goes a step further by informing users when their ideas have been acted upon and allows for a more comprehensive idea ranking system. Similar tools include Get Satisfaction, Zendesk, Feedbackify, Kampyle, IdeaScale and SuggestionBox. UserVoice sells monthly subscriptions of its service.
The market has changed. Market research is at our fingertips where real people react to our product ideas. Invite people into your ideation process. Sometimes people don’t know what they want until they see it – but today you can show them early in the process and make sure it comes out just right.