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Guest Opinion: Harnessing the Power of the Consumer Innovator

1 Apr, 2014 By: Russell Williams, Invention Home Response

Early last year, a colleague and I sat in a meeting with a large multinational corporation discussing innovation opportunities. Its CEO had established a three-year, 15-percent revenue goal tied directly to new product innovation. While 15 percent sounded modest, it was no small feat for a company doing $5 billion in annual revenue — it was looking for $750 million in annual revenue tied directly to new product innovation within three years.

Fortunately, they realized that internal product development could not be their only focus. They would need to develop a strategy to look outside of the company in order to drive a continual stream of new innovation opportunities that could either be licensed or acquired to achieve this goal.

I have seen more and more companies realize the need to seriously pursue product innovation sourcing strategies as a key component to long-term revenue growth. Simultaneously, I have witnessed the steady and consistent rise of consumer innovators becoming a valued source of external innovation opportunities.

Consumers Become Solution Providers

Today, consumers are becoming a powerful and undeniable force in product innovation. The primary drivers are the proliferation of technology and information and how it has empowered consumers. As consumers experience and recognize problems in their daily lives, they do not wait around for a new product or product improvements to be introduced in the market.

A 2011 MIT Sloan study analyzed the impact of consumer innovators in three countries: the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. The study found that there was a paradigm shift to consumer innovators becoming major sources of innovation and that millions of consumers were innovating. They also found that on average these consumers were more likely to be educated or possess a technical background.

The study also compared cumulative product development spending by consumer innovators to what corporations were spending in each country. It reported consumer innovators were spending 33 percent of what corporations were spending in the United States, 144 percent in the United Kingdom and 13 percent in Japan.

Industrious consumers who succeed in taking their ideas from concept to reality have become a valuable source of innovation for the continuously product-hungry DR industry as well. How does a company tap into this potential goldmine of consumer innovators?

5 Ways to Tap Innovators

Make it easy for inventors and other idea generators to submit their information to you. Add a website link for inventors that clearly defines your submission process, including a submission form. Require enough information to make a decision on whether or not it interests you, but not so much information as to overwhelm the submitter.

Good ideas are fleeting and the broader you cast your net the better. Define your product focus in broad terms; don’t focus on too narrow a segment.

There are companies in the industry that can help you define and implement a hunt for new products. Consider partnering with a retailer that has access to the consumer innovator daily via their stores and print ads.

Become inventor-friendly by promoting yourself to the inventor community. There are many ways to do this, such as using social media, posting to inventor groups and message boards, issuing a press release targeting inventor publications and blogs, and joining the United Inventors Association (UIA). Also, many trade shows (including Response Expo) feature inventor areas and have sponsorships available for corporate partners.

You should have a process in place capable of handling a large number of submissions reliably and efficiently. Good communication is key in maintaining your reputation in the inventor community.

Achieving Your End Results

If your goal is to continue growing your business through product innovation, you must consider all sources of opportunity. The time is ripe to harness the power of the consumer innovator by implementing a strategy that brings those ideas to you. ■

About the Author: Russell Williams

Russell Williams

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