The Customer is in Control

I’ve often said that your customers control your brand…but they can control alot more too. This is a blurb from Tim Manners via reveries….

About three-quarters of attempts at innovation fail because of the way
corporations go about it, says Eric Von Hippel of M.I.T., as reported in
The Economist (3/10/05). According to Eric, who is also about to publish a book
called Democratizing Innovation, the mistake is that the firms typically send
market researchers out into the field to identify “unmet needs” and then turn
the results over to product-development teams. He says they should instead
identify “the few special customers who innovate” and invite them in to
brainstorm the possibilities.

NOT FOCUS GROUPS. Am I making myself clear? These are not focus groups. These are customers as your R&D. Take a look at these examples from Tim…

GE Healthcare calls these special customers “luminaries” and they meet
regularly to discuss GE’s latest technologies and how to turn them into
products. You know, to bring good things to light, or life. Imagination at work.

Staples, the office supplies retailer, applies a similar concept but in a
different way. It held “a competition among customers to come up with new ideas.
It got 8,300 submissions,” according to Michael Collins of Big Idea Group, which
helped Staples stage the competition. One result is a new product called
“wordlock — a padlock that uses words instead of numbers” that Staples will
launch this spring.

About two years ago, BMW “posted a toolkit on its website” that allowed its
customers to suggests ways in which the carmaker “could take advantage of
advances in telematic and in-car online services.” About 15 of the 1,000
customers who used the kit were invited to meet with BMW’s engineers in Munich
and some of the resulting ideas are now in concept stage.

Sometimes, however, the customer innovation happens whether the marketer
asked for it or not. For example, back in 1997, Lego was about three weeks away
from launching a build-it-yourself robot development system” called Mindstorm,
when about 1,000 hackers “downloaded its operating system, vastly improved it,
and posted their work freely online. After a long stunned silence, Lego appears
to have accepted the merits of this community’s work: programs written in hacker
language may now be uploaded to the Mindstorms website.”

In any case, as Eric Von Hippel notes, the conceptdoesn’t cost much because
many customers consider being “listened to” compensation enough. As BMW’s Jeorg
Reimann explains: “They were so happy to be invited by us, and that our
technical experts were interested in their ideas. They didn’t want any

Free R&D that you know works because the true consumers/users/fans of your product are designing it. Open Source is where it’s at.

Maybe you don’t need to jump in this deep…but you do need to listen to your customers.

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