Successful product innovation is always based on the voice of the customer. Of course, the trick is to make sure that product managers hear the Right customer voices. With participatory requirement gathering techniques, it’s never obvious which of your current customer’s product needs should drive future product direction.
Think about the creation of the automobile…
If Henry Ford’s product decisions had been directed via a customer focus group on transportation, he would have never created the automobile. He would have merely bred a more reliable horse.
Social media technologies are providing product managers with the opportunity for more authentic conversations with product consumers – methods that allow greater collaboration.
However, these less structured, “opt-in” approaches to customer collaboration don’t come without issues. Research at McKinsey has suggested that Web 2.0 technologies may actually give less meaningful results unless managed.
There are countless product innovation attempts where companies have tried to generate new product ideas by tapping suggestions from visitors to corporate websites. Many companies concluded that participants didn’t have the background, the skill nor the knowledge to contribute to meaningful product innovation ideas… and so the quality and yield of new product ideas proved to be very low.
Recently, I had a similar experience when I wanted to purchase new headphones for my iPod. To help select the best product for my needs, I thought it would be smart to research consumer reviews for the new Apple in-ear product. (After all, these are people who opted-in… a Tribe for Apple ear buds! )
The first customer review from Toronto was entitled, “Awesome headphones Apple!” The second review from “JB” is Brooklyn headlined… “A shocking miss for Apple.”
And the product reviews continued in a similar fashion… ping-ponging back and forth between joyous raves to complete trashing. I walked away wondering if these people were actually using the same product! What I realized was that the variability in the reviews wasn’t due to product… it was that the consumers weren’t using the same set of criteria as measurement. So it was impossible to get an effective read of how well the product actually performed against a set of quality metrics.
I think that social media companies like Communispace [Go HERE to their website] have the right approach to data collection for product innovation. Their approach is to create private communities where users are selected based on pre-established criteria and then invited to join the community. And like any community, people are allowed to opt-in and participate whenever they have interest in the current conversation.
The difference with a private community is that much of the outlier noise has been pre-filtered by making sure that the voice of the customer is one that has the highest probability of value creation. Without the proper selection of participants, Web 2.0 technologies may offer feedback that is no more effective than any other methods.