Innovation's Big Missed Opportunity

Monday, 26 November 2012 06:30
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Many companies are exploring the use of social media to help inform their innovation efforts. I submit that most are currently totally overlooking a very rich source of "social" inspiration: external innovation submissions.

Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends.

Innovation's Big Missed Opportunity

Social media is thought to be a rich source of inspiration for coporate innovation efforts. Firms like NetBase ( utilize social media analysis tools to provide clients with a window to public discourse on brands and products. I contend that consumer product companies have in their hands, but currently overlook a potentially powerful "social" source of innovation inspiration: unsolicited external innovation submissions.

Currently, consumer product companies engaged in open innovation invest R&D resources to evaluate the technical merits of external submissions. I assert that marketers and consumer insights professionals should also be involved in this review process to help extract considerable additional value...separate from the technical aspects of the individual submissions.

What do I mean? An external submission generally offers a set of promised consumer benefits and product features within a proposed product execution. The product execution reflects the technical components within an overall product concept. Corporate technical resources review these technical components and frequently reject them. However, because the submissions are reviewed by technologists and not marketers/market researchers, companies largely overlook the submitters' attempts to articulate and address real consumer problems and needs...needs so strongly felt that they invent a solution to address it! This area of consumer needs mining and articulation may actually be where external submissions' greatest value resides.

Consider this example: a global consumer consumer product company that develops and markets toothpastes, toothbrushes and other oral care products regularly receives external submissions for various types of toothbrush sanitizers and storage products intended to help enhance toothbrush hygiene. I'm willing to bet that the product designs and technologies accompanying these submissions are routinely dismissed as being off-strategy or overly niche or inferior to known alternatives. Despite this, I suspect that the consumer insights that drove these invention submissions and others could still be worth mining and understanding.

To continue with this thinking, with all of the messaging done by companies to teach consumers that their mouths contain germs that contribute to bad breath and gingivitis, is it surprising that some consumers may feel that their toothbrushes may help promote the growth of (or at least may harbor) harmful bacteria? Is there any technical evidence that suggests that this is true (or not)...or that a sanitized toothbrush will help enhance consumer health outcomes? If they are not doing so already, companies should consider these "prompts" as opportunities and creative stimulus for insightful mining.

My point is that similar to social media analysis techniques, some proposed external solutions can spark questions about the underlying consumer psychology, beliefs and needs that drive them. This understanding can in turn, potentially present new product opportunities. With this in mind, perhaps marketing and customer insights should also be reviewing external submissions...and not just the technical folks.

What do you think?

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