Let’s say you’re a leading consumer brand, and you’re looking for customer feedback during the NPD process. What do you ask, and how do you ask it? Who are you asking – is it the median user, or a brand passionate, a lead user? Do you go to your potential customers in the end, asking them their opinions on superficial aspects of the new product, or do you involve them from the beginning? For most companies, the answer is simple – customer involvement in the NPD process is a box to check after principal product development is complete, and the people asked for feedback are representative of the mass market.
But if you do nothing in the NPD process but play to the mass market, is there any innovation going on at all? The most innovative products challenge established norms and present such an alluring value proposition that the market adapts. Of course, it’s hard for established brands to radically shift market expectations while retaining brand equity. But what makes Lego’s Consumer-Led Innovation Teams so great is that the program harnesses the best ideas of their most innovative and influential customers, all while reinforcing their brand advocacy.
Lego’s problem was that, due to a wide gap in enthusiasm between median and lead users, their mass-market focused NPD process was spitting out bland, low-risk products that alienated the (quite serious) Lego enthusiast community. The stagnation led to a lull in sales – why upgrade your Legos, if the new ones don’t do anything cool?
The company attacked this problem by shifting their consumer involvement strategy in a refresh of their Mindstorms robot kit: where median users once gave binary feedback about already-developed new products, lead users would now give open-ended feedback at earlier stages in the NPD process. Lego engineers now work directly with brand enthusiasts – who are sometimes engineers themselves – and incorporate those learnings into even the early stages of the innovation process.
Of course, there are other benefits to giving Lego geeks the honor of a lifetime. Giving people that kind of access results in seriously shoring up brand advocacy among the enthusiast community, with members of the user panel actively promoting the new product in online forums and in-person meetups.
MREB members can check out the full case here. But I can hear some of you out there objecting: “Of course Lego can assemble a smart panel of geeks to give the company innovative ideas for free. That would never work in our business.” And maybe you’re right. Clearly, the degree of success that Lego had in involving lead users had a lot to do with the nature of the product – it’s a lot of fun, it enables creativity, and people have generally good memories of it from their childhood.
But here’s something I fervently believe: if it exists, there are people who take it quite seriously on the internet. Even a surface examination of social networks, forums and blogs will reveal people with the most obscure interests – and I’m willing to bet that, even if you sell industrial sealants or embedded systems, you’ll be able to find a good number of lead users/enthusiasts to boost your innovation efforts.
MREB members, for more on innovation and ideation, check out our topic center, as well as the rest of our work on involving leading customers in NPD.