• Elaine Tait

Crowdsourcing Innovation – Sparking a Conversation on Innovation with Consumers

Are you familiar with the J. Crew Pocket Dial? Well, if not, it is an iPhone case that doubles as an interchangeable silk pocket square. Pretty cool, right? We believe that this item is, indeed, a great product idea. But, the architect behind the birth of this product is even better–Jimmy Fallon, host of The Tonight Show. After simply observing the fashion-related challenges his male coworkers experienced struggling for a polished place to store and carry around their iPhones on a daily basis, Jimmy developed the idea for the J. Crew Pocket Dial. As he shared with his guests in 2015, when announcing the launch of this product during his show, “I just love coming up with ideas”. Well Jimmy, so do we. Inspired by the story behind the origin of the J. Crew Pocket Dial, we set out to learn more about consumer-generated and crowdsourced innovation.

In today’s infinitely connected digital world, consumer-led content and advertising is flourishing, with endless outlets to both gather and communicate that content. However, it was unclear to us just how often and through which means consumers could, and do, directly generate product ideas for organizations. We know that consumers indirectly generate ideas for companies each and every day through formal marketing research tactics like focus groups, ethnographies, surveys, etc. For example, at Great Lakes GrowthWorks we spend most of our time and effort procuring and synthesizing insights from consumers through these formal qualitative research methodologies. While these efforts are where our passions and our expertise lie, we also recognize and appreciate that innovative ideas can come from anywhere, directly or indirectly.

So we set out to explore how innovative ideas more directly come to life through a brand’s consumers, customers and/or users who are eager to bring to the world a product that addresses an unmet need in their life and, hopefully, many others. While our research and exploration led us to many exciting examples and processes for consumer-led innovation, we wanted to showcase a few companies who have opened their doors to consumer-led ideas while also summarizing the format each company chose to enable the flow of information.

Company: Lego

Format: New product ideation and design submission website, Lego Ideas

Do you have a unique idea for a Lego set? Fan-designer Andrew Clark did when he submitted his model and product idea to Lego. Andrew’s Dr. Who Lego set launch is a recent example of a customer successfully moving from product submission to the shelf. Lego provides consumers, like Andrew, with a clearly defined process that begins with the development and submission of a model, corresponding photos and a detailed product description. Following the submission, any idea that gets over 10,000 supporters goes to Lego Review, where it is evaluated against a core set of criteria. Any product idea selected during the Lego Review process gets refined and produced by Lego’s designers and production team, and the inventor is recognized for his or her efforts as the product’s architect, receiving royalties on the sales.

Company: Starbucks

Format: Customer experience, menu and product enhancement ideation community, My Starbucks Idea

My Starbucks Idea is first and foremost a community for sharing information. For Starbucks, this outlet is not only about generating new product ideas, but also about facilitating discussion among eager consumers willing to share feedback and thoughts on all of the ways (product or customer experience-related) that Starbucks can improve its offering. With My Starbucks Idea the organization opened the door for customers to share any ideas, big or small, directly with a dedicated team of Idea Partners who are responsible for reviewing all submissions and bringing the most innovative and/or the most accepted among the community to key decision makers in the organization. My Starbucks Idea has been around for some time now, and during that time has sparked the offering of Sugar Free Syrups and alternatives to Dairy / Soy milk.

Company: Frito-Lay (Brand: Lay’s)

Format: Product voting, contests and consumer-led portfolio decisions with Lay’s Flavor Swap

Interested in an opportunity to win $250,000? All you have to do is help Lay’s with product lineup decisions by voting on which flavors stay and which flavors go in the company’s Flavor Swap campaign, launched on February 8, 2016. The innovative sweepstakes places two flavors against one another in four different “matchups”. The result, eight flavors will be narrowed down to four – all driven by consumer votes. While the contest / sweepstakes format is nothing new for CPG companies, it is a clear and direct way to validate brand decisions by inviting input directly from consumers and sparking a conversation that ultimately gives the power to the people.

In addition to the three companies above, many (if not most) Fortune 500 companies today provide a structured outlet (most often a website) for consumers to directly submit their ideas to the organization. Companies like Apple, P&G, 3M, Lego, Hershey’s, GE and Ford, just to name a few, all invite and welcome customer generated new product ideas. In addition to the invitation to submit, these companies also clearly outline the upfront cautions that consumers should take when making submissions. While most consumer submissions will never see the light of day, organizations that open the door, and their eyes, to receiving ideas from anywhere and everywhere will never have to wonder if the next best thing just passed them by. And, it doesn’t hurt that these outlets showcase to the world a company or brand that is willing to listen to and connect with its customers – customers who are passionate enough to initiate a conversation and share ideas with an organization.

Our team is constantly observing and connecting with consumers and the world around us to understand how and where to drive positive impact on that world through ideas that inspire growth and address unmet needs. Jimmy Fallon addressed an unmet need by observing those around him in the office and finding the right path to bring that idea to life. And, the Pocket Dial is not only innovative but also charitable, so it gets extra bonus points with us. All of the net proceeds of the Pocket Dial go to David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a Kenya-based charity that is one of the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation programs in the world.