Crowdsourcing for product improvement

crowdsTraditionally, large companies depended on their internal and trusted resources for new product and service development. Today, the idea of companies outsourcing their R&D efforts to consumers has caught on. With the excess of online collaborative tools in the age of consumers as creators, companies are engaging with and listening to customers in entirely new ways. With easy access to loyal fans and eager customers, why not tap into the collective intelligence for product development?

Companies, large and small, are seeing the value of casting a broader net and are opening up the design process to the “crowd” (customers, vendors, employees, consumers, and experts). Several have launched dedicated sites with built-in community elements that allow customers to share, vote, and discuss ideas on the products and services. Anyone is invited to participate at such sites as:

Dell Idea Storm
My Starbucks Idea
Innovate With Kraft
P&G’s Connect And Develop

Users are invited to collaborate on design, packaging, marketing and even engineering. Gone are the days where consumers only consume. On their open innovation site, P&G asks the general public to consider a “partnership” with them and predicts 50% of their innovation will come from outside of traditional channels this year.

Apparel companies are profiting from the crowdsourced feedback model. Threadless produces T-shirts and startup Ryz produces sneakers created by members of their online communities. Members submit designs, vote on their favorites—the ones with the most votes go into production. Threadless has proven this model successful with $30 million in annual sales.

Businesses are benefiting from the wisdom of the crowds by creating products that they know people want. And now, businesses have people to help market the products that they themselves helped to create.

But how does the crowd benefit? Ideally, the public is getting better products – as well as other rewards for participating including money and recognition. At RedesignMe, participants are paid for input on new products. Businesses pay RedesignMe to invite the site’s members to participate in product concept challenges.

If a company decides to participate, they must be open to change, willing to listen, and ready to follow the advice of their customers. Consumers can see how Starbucks is responding on a section of the My Starbucks Idea site called Ideas in Action, “where thoughts become reality.” If a company has not envisioned this type of open innovation, they may be missing out. IdeaScale provides a white label solution for any site looking for product feedback. Traditional methods for product development are not necessarily gone, but companies that recognize and leverage today’s consumer culture are at an advantage. Why guess what your customers want, when you can just ask them?