What are companies doing differently today in order to come up with new ideas and create products? Companies that successfully want to innovate are turning to the most important person in any transaction: the consumer. The consumer can now contribute to the conversation between a company and its business development team, through social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter. It isn’t just about having the consumers provide feedback about products or experiences either. Now, companies are looking to consumers for free innovation, which is readily available through many social media platforms. And consumers want to voice their thoughts too!
As Eric Von Hippel and colleagues wrote in Social Business: What are Companies Really Doing?
“This traditional innovation paradigm is fundamentally flawed… consumers themselves are a major source of product innovations.”
The concept is brilliant. Why not look to the purchasers of your product to see if they can think of anything more exciting or a better idea than what your company is currently doing? In the end, you need to connect to your consumer anyway, so why not do so from the beginning? And it’s not costing you anything to ask for feedback. If anything, your consumers are engaging more with your products and overall brand experience.
So who’s harnessing the voice of the consumer to innovate?
Frito-Lay has had much success. In a food and health-crazed world, Frito-Lay did what many would have thought be a nearly impossible task: have consumers obsess over new flavors of potato chips! And fans of Frito-Lay did so all through a Facebook App. With the endorsement of Iron Chef Michael Symon and actress Eva Longoria promoting the “Do Us A Flavor” contest, Frito-Lay invited consumers to submit their potato chip flavor ideas for a chance to win $1 million in grand prize money or one percent of their flavor’s 2013 net sales.
Frito-Lay was able to use the Facebook App as a hub for innovation. Instead of spending hours of time and loads of money on focus groups, Frito-Lay went directly to the consumer for new ideas. Usual consumers of the product were now given the chance to share their ideas for the newest flavors, and new consumer targets were reached with the prospect of winning a great sum of money. A win for the consumer, and a win for Frito-Lay.
Stephanie Clifford highlighted the success of this contest for the New York Times in July 2012, Social Media Are Giving A Voice to Taste Buds. Ann Mukherjee, chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay North America, was quoted:
“It’s a new way of getting consumer research…We’re going to get a ton of new ideas.”
This media contest provided a voice for the consumer, innovative thinking, and millions of new flavor profile ideas.
In order to really understand what its customers want, Gilt asks consumers to vote on which products to include in their sales through Facebook. Gilt sets up Facebook chats between engineers and consumers to help make business decisions. Elizabeth Francis, Chief Marketing Officer of Gilt, states in the New York Times article Social Media Are Giving a Voice to Taste Buds:
“It tells us exactly what customers are interested in… It’s amazing that we can get that kind of real feedback, as opposed to speculating.”
Gilt can post a picture of a product on its Facebook page and on almost every picture, there is at least a hundred comments or likes or a combination of the two. Consumers are now the ones telling Gilt which items to put on sale, because they can share their preferences and vote on the company’s ideas that the company. Consumers are innovating and working for the brand by providing insights.
Everyday, or on at least most business days, Sprinkles tweets out a secret word. If you follow the company’s Twitter handle or Facebook page and you go into a local Sprinkles store and whisper the “secret phrase” to an employee, your $3.50 cupcake is free. Most consumers would not normally follow a cupcake on twitter. What is the point? What deep insight are you going to learn from seven bites of red velvet deliciousness?
But by following a specific flavor of cupcake online through Facebook and Twitter, an avid cupcake consumer can learn about new flavors and promotions, like free cupcakes. Sprinkles uses the social media to learn about its customers too. It is an open forum to discuss favorite cupcake flavors and which flavors customers are hoping to see in the future. The company even asks its customer base where its next location should be!
Even though I don’t eat cupcakes a lot, because I had learned of the free cupcake promotion while working in Washington, D.C., I would check online everyday to see what the secret phrase was. I would often find myself going into the store and getting a cupcake, even though I normally wouldn’t have thought about doing so.
So what does all of this mean?
By giving consumers the means to be the innovators, products and ideas will be improved. But there is a major issue with these social media platforms as a source for gaining insight into consumers wants, likes and needs: Not all demographics are represented on these social media sites. Many people don’t have access to the Internet, and others don’t know how to use these sites, programs, or apps. Where are their insights found?
Companies have an upper hand now. They can just go onto Facebook, or tweet at their consumer base and ask for ideas, or thoughts on experiences or products. Companies can also offer prizes for people to join and innovate for them. This drives new consumers to their social media outlets in hopes of being the big winner.
For those using social media actively, what an amazing opportunity this is! We can work to produce better products from the brands we already love! We can share our thoughts and our feedback, and be taken into consideration when a company makes a decision.
By joining or participating as an innovator for a company through social media, we as consumers identify ourselves as part of a group, and a new community of people with similar interests is formed. We not only provide the company with valuable insight but also expand our own network of people with whom we ‘connect.’
But where does this leave the demographics that are not represented? Where is their feedback being heard? Isn’t it the crowd over 50 years old that continues to purchase the same products and brands that may really have the best ideas from using the products or services so often?
With that said, it will be interesting to see where all of this new information and preferences is put to use. Will we just use it to determine cupcake and potato chip flavors? Or will we be able to utilize all of this innovation and engagement to work on something like, sustainability or equal rights?