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Don’t just listen… watch

What consumer should your company target to get ideas from? Is it via a co-creation website and the consumers that participate in those – idea hungry consumers who know they have good ideas that should be heard?

Or is it via observing consumers thinking aloud in their own environment, consumers that aren’t targeted by the ideas they have, but simply because they use your product?

Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Co-creation, open innovation etc, have volumes and volumes written about them around the world and they’re a fashionable way for companies to sound like they are on the money and ‘ahead of the curve’ on innovation. It’s a fantastic platform to gather ideas and to involve the consumer. But as one of the comments in this article states, does the follow through match the intent? So many people think they have ideas, and if they’re not responded to or actioned does that make the consumer more or less happy?  The hard work, as with an innovation funnel, begins when you try to turn those ideas into reality. I’m sure you can think of examples where you have had an idea you have passed on which hasn’t been implemented – doesn’t feel great, isn’t particularly motivating.

Let’s say you are able to keep processing these ideas – how are you asking for them in the first place? Is this getting all the ideas that are out there? Ask the question in the wrong way – i.e. tell us your ideas on how we can get better – is not necessarily the way to get to the good ideas. By showing people the problems, the issues, or just talking about the subject, accidental ideas will come out of that. Let the professional’s listen/watch the consumers and you’ll get the ideas from that.

Let’s say you get the questions right – what people will participate? People that want to participate – the active consumer – a valuable bunch, but not necessarily your target market, certainly not your entire target market. According to this brilliant video on co-creation from Hyve 1100 users joined BMW’s interior idea contest and submitted around 750 ideas (no detail on whether that was across 10 people or across 750 people).  What if they had observed the same number of BMW drivers, had watched them in their cars, would have got more ideas, better ideas?

There is an argument that states good ideas come to people best when they’re not expecting them. When they are thinking or doing something else. They may not even realize that they have done something that is of value, that is an idea.

So what about channeling the thoughts of the general consumer. The masses. Understand how they use your products, how they talk about it, how they store it, how they open it, how they consume it, how they dispose of it.  There are no promises made to the consumer – you’re not asking them to solve a problem that you think you have. You are asking them to show you what they do. Ideas will fall out of that very quickly.

It’s what (the guru of webpage usability) Jakob Nielsen calls ‘Thinking Aloud’ and the theory can easily be transferred to products. He defined it as, ‘you ask participants to use the system while continuously thinking out loud – that is, simply verbalizing their thoughts as they move through the user interface’. Replace ‘system’ with ‘product’ and ‘move through the user interface’ with ‘use the product from start to finish’.

He notes the upsides of ‘thinking aloud’ as firstly that it serves as a ‘window on the soul’. But also, that it’s cheap, robust, flexible, convincing and easy to learn.

Interestingly the downsides, in our view, are actually very resolvable if consumers are filming themselves in their own homes without any prompting from a moderator. These downsides include ‘unnatural situation’, ‘filtered statements (vs. brain dump)’, biasing user behaviour & no panacea.

But can you get the consumers to participate? Sure you can. In terms of participation, according to this survey from Cint, 90% of consumers prefer to undertake market research via new technology – when asked what made them more inclined to carry out market research for a brand, 55% said “show me the money”; 34% said free products and 6% vouchers. So paying people direct for every video they make uploaded on their smartphone seems like it would work? That’s good.

Not all companies can afford to run co-creation platforms, however valuable they may be to ones that have them; many would not be a success if they did, as they simply aren’t fashionable enough to get enough users involved. However, all companies can afford to run observation programmes using the basics of the ‘thinking aloud’ methodology and gaining hundreds of ideas in the process without the pressure of having to act on them all.