A recent global survey of CEOs identified innovation as the key driver of business growth. The executives also agreed that their companies rarely found a successful way to innovate because of lucky accidents; instead, they needed to foster a culture of innovation in the executive suite.
In turn, executives needed to communicate the benefits all through the company.
Management Needs to Rethink How They Do Things
The survey's respondents often found that they needed to break through some management resistance before they could infuse their business with an innovative culture. The top executives did not necessarily believe that their managers were inherently opposed to change. Instead, the top executives thought that middle managers had been trained to focus more on efficiency than on innovation.
Efficiency may be one of the main goals of many innovations. At the same time, it usually takes some time to work out the bugs in even the best new inventions. It's also possible that a particular company's middle managers are very good at their jobs and still not the best innovators. For some businesses, a better source of inspiration comes from the people who actually buy their products.
How Can Your Customers Help Your Company Innovate Better?
To understand how customer-driven innovation might work, consider some examples:
- Reader-produced content: The internet offers publishers a way to gather content from multiple sources. In the old days, a reader might hope to have a rare letter to the editor posted. These days, many top newspapers and magazines accept articles, pictures, and videos from their audience. These publications can benefit from more diverse kinds of content and greater engagement.
- Customer-designed clothes: An online store called Threadless solicits customers for new T-Shirt designs on their website. Their weekly contests encourage hundreds of site visitors to contribute and vote on the designs. Winners may get store credit or cash prizes and bragging rights. The company gets plenty of attention via social networks and their business site.
Most marketers will tell you that customers provide the best source of information about their own buying choices. Certainly, businesses have relied upon sources of information like marketing surveys or promotional programs for many years. By actively engaging customers in the innovative process, companies can keep their customers as excited about new developments as the employees are.
When consumers participate in the process, they are also more likely to spread the word to friends and social connections. Some customer-driven innovation may particularly help attract the Millennials, a generation that likes to enjoy a connection with the companies they patronize.
Cautions About Customer-Driven Innovation
Of course, businesses still need to keep their overall goals and company mission in mind when they begin to rely on their customers for new ideas. Even the savviest customers won't understand or care about a company as much as experienced insiders do.
These are some cautions to keep in mind before you let customers help with innovation:
- Company representatives should be wary of only listening to a very vocal minority of customers who might not represent the majority.
- Be aware of overextending your company in a vain attempt to please everybody.
- Make sure the process really provides a benefit, test customer innovation on a sample.
Who Can Help Your Business Innovate?
At ICS, we understand that your company needs both the right people and the right technology to innovate and grow. Implementing customer-driven innovation tactics may take collaboration between marketing, IT, and finance. You may also need to bring in experienced executives that can help foster an innovative culture within all levels of your organization. We already know these people and hope to connect with you soon to provide you with all levels of talent.