Are customers a source of ideas for innovation?

philmckinney | March 19, 2014


where are the ideas?

Of course, innovation should be customer focused. At a minimum, most companies will conduct a focus group, survey, or other market research periodically to gauge customer needs and wants. This data is provided to innovation teams, as one of many inputs, to help them frame the next new product or service offering.

Some innovators will reject such studies since consumers are known for only providing ideas that incrementally improve a product. The belief among most innovators is that customers don’t know what they want until we show it to them.

Rashik Parmar and his colleagues recently published an article, New Patterns Of Innovation, in Harvard Business Review (January-February 2014) introducing novel approaches to idea generation. One such “radical” concept acknowledges consumers’ ability to help identify solutions to their problems. After all, subject matter experts exist both within and outside of the company.

Furthermore, as the “internet of things” continues to grow, customers are willing to share more and more data with manufacturers and producers. Ideas for new products and services abound simply by analyzing the data customers are willing to share.  Its one of the reasons that some applications and services are free.  The value of the data exceeds the value of the product or service. As I’ve said before, if you are getting a product/service for free (e.g. Facebook), you are the product.

For instance, Vodafone can identify which customers are driving and at what speed. A high number of slow moving wireless devices signals a traffic jam. Vodafone capitalized on such information by creating an innovative and profitable business partnership with TomTom, a provider of navigation systems.

Cutting edge ideas are hard to find. Yet, most firms have a reams of data at their disposal. How could you use the data to create the next big idea?

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