I was intrigued when I opened Advertising Age’s Point Magazine in September to find an article by Michael Treacy entitled, Ignore The Consumer. Here’s what Michael has to say:
Companies spend billions on market research to divine the needs and wants of consumers and businesses. Yet the new-product failure rate remains high. And we’re not coming up with better product concepts by listening to the voice of the customer. Why? Maybe the customer isn’t worth listening to.
While I appreciate Michael’s point-of-view, it is often not that customers lead an innovation effort astray. Many times, internal agendas and politics get in the way of true innovation.
While we can all point out innovation in marketing and product development as springing from the brilliance of one mind – Treacy uses the oft cited iPod as his primary example – the truth is that most innovation happens when co-creation is at the center of the innovation process for a brand. That means involving not only the internal resources of the company and a team charged with innovating, but also the external resources of the culture and the customers.
In my upcoming book, Spark, I had a chance to interview a number of leaders in innovation including, Mark Parker of Nike, Marsha Skidmore of Herman Miller and Rob Bon Durant of Patagonia. These interviews only reinforced my belief that there is no formulaic process, but the need to take a more holistic, co-creative approach to brand innovation with out excluding anyone, including customers.
For a team charged with innovation, try to remember to allow everybody, no matter the level of knowledge, to participate in a positive dialogue. Likewise, develop a policy of more open communication, dialogue, connectivity and equality. Remember to focus on learning and experience versus accomplishments.
In regards to the company as a whole, it’s important to remember that innovation is not necessarily a top-down process but the necessary support and nurturing must absolutely be top-down. Innovation can spring from any part of the company-customer community, but ONLY if the support and encouragement for this environment exists at every level of the business. Remember to learn from failure, reduce bureaucracy and encourage companywide communication.
When involving customers, be sure to think about inspiration and not reliance. It’s all about progression. And progression is based on immersion. People inside the company need to stop sitting at their desks and get out to spend time with their customers in the context of their lives. Take a chance and strive to become an inspired protagonist in the market. Have fun by creating a culture inside the company that mirrors the customers’ culture. Nourish the playful interaction between the company and customers.
In interactions with the culture that surrounds a company, think about leveraging relationships with suppliers in more innovative ways. Develop new ways to engage with the community. Remember, you’ll never be able to manage it or control it. Participate in it. Make use of new tools, like blogging, to interact with your culture. Allow the culture to create innovation with the company.
Only by taking a more holistic, co-creative approach that takes into account all constituents can brands be more innovative in their marketing and product design and thrive in this competitive environment in which we all exist.