At first blush (okay, pun intended), it’s hard to imagine anything that would be fit for print in a post on a marketing blog. But in reality, NASA and the nudists in question are but two examples of an increasing trend we are seeing as marketers. If I said the answer is “open source innovation” would that allow for too many bad jokes? The truth is NASA has been a proponent of open source innovation since 2003 and in 2002 market researchers at Moen Faucets recruited 20 nudists to be videotaped while bathing to enhance their product development efforts.
Whether co-opting outsiders into helping you innovate as NASA does or getting creative with your ethnographic research as Moen did, we are seeing more and more members reaching out to their customers – and even their non-customers – for innovation help. Already NASA’s Centennial Challenge Program has resulted in technological breakthroughs orchestrated by a “regular guy” from Maine working alone in his dining room as well as a group led by an undergraduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Of course, just opening your doors to the outside world isn’t going to be a panacea that cures your innovation ills. While we are seeing lots of companies succeeding via social media platforms that engage customers in idea sourcing (see examples from Starbucks and Dell), the best marketers are leveraging their “specialist users” over their “mass customers” to drive real breakthrough thinking. From automotive companies to commercial paint manufacturers, we’re hearing more and more about the pursuit of customers with a unique skill set or unique need state that open more doors to innovative thinking that traditional research approaches – even one company that has successfully recruited “haters” of their products.
MLC members, are you curious about how the best companies identify and co-opt their specialist-user customers to jump start real innovation? Join us for more on this topic by attending one of our half-day Innovation Summits. The next session, on July 22, is being hosted by W.L. Gore, makers of GORE-TEX, and will include a tour of their world-class innovation center (40 minutes outside of Philadelphia). Curious about how your innovation efforts stack up against your peers? Take our innovation diagnostic and find out.