Great ideas and visions are fantastic when/if they transpire (e.g. Apple’s innovations, Facebook, the original BlackBerry.) But truly great ideas and visions are few and far between as we all know. So where do you find inspiration and ideas for the next product rollout or the next big thing? Crowdsourcing is one answer that pops up – get a larger pool of ideas from which you can fish.
Think about the popularity of crowdsourcing these days – it is no surprise, really. The court of public opinion is an old concept – technology has changed how you collect the data and how you manage the crowd toward the intended topic. This approach made its way into game shows starting a few years back (e.g. “ask the audience” on Who Wants to be a Millionaire). I’m guessing that more often than not, the crowd steered the person in the correct direction. The bevy of analytics associated with “Likes” and “Following” on social media sites all point to the power of the crowd.
This is certainly not a foolproof approach. You have to make sure the statistics experts have a chance to sanity-check the makeup of “the crowd” you are using:
- Do they have at least some knowledge of the topic (asking the crowd at the mall about quantum mechanics likely will not yield useful results.)
- Have they been influenced/misled/misinformed in some way? (Has the local press recently been full of stories from one party in a popular public argument, or was there a largely circulated misprint concerning a given topic?)
However, over the years, the tidbits of research that I have run across indicate that in general, people will try to steer you in the right direction, and percentage-wise they have a pretty good chance of being right.
So if you are rolling out a new product line, or an extension to your existing product line, and you don’t have a huge budget for big ticket market research, analyst opinions, trend research, surveys, product consultants, etc. – what DO you do?
Marketing without a license here – my simple answer is: ask your customers – crowdsource it with the crowd you know:
– They voted with their pocketbooks for you already as a vendor/supplier.
– They know your product and services.
– They stand to benefit from any improvements you make.
I know – not a novel concept. But it always amazes me just how few companies follow that practice, or give it short shrift as they incorporate it into the bevy of ways they will evaluate the potential success/failure of a new product.
And of course it’s not the end-all answer. If you’re selling toasters today, and want to get into jet engines tomorrow – chances are your existing customers won’t be of much help (unless you count GE or Pratt & Whitney employees among your toaster customer base). In fact, you may get very negative reactions in this case (if you start selling jet engines and putting all your R&D and Support resources into that LOB – those toaster customers know where this is going, and may not be so supportive or helpful.)
Call it market research, call it focus groups, call it crowdsourcing, or call it simply listening to your customers – in my experiences as the engineering guy ”marketing without a license”, I found it to be one of the most valuable, inexpensive, and useful tools in my tool belt.