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Making the consumer part of your innovation team

Often, when we think about the customer, we think of them only in their roll at the end of the process: when they are at the point of purchase. We brainstorm ideas in isolation, build them, and ask only then how we will convince the consumer to buy it.

This process needs to be flipped on its head.

The customer should come first. They need to be an integral part of the fabric of your brand. Instead of thinking of the consumer only at the point of sale, brand teams should be developing strategy and building products that have been influenced by consumer feedback from the very beginning.

Some might retort or cite the famous quote often attributed to Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” But that approach ignores the complexity of research, design, and innovation processes. Sure, when you ask consumers what they want, they may ask for certain low-impact features or suggest upgrades that aren’t feasible. However, as you dig deeper, you may find that they are attempting to address a larger need. It’s up to you to uncover what that is.

There are an incredible number of resources that will help you to understand, in great depth, the “who, what, where, when” questions. These questions are critical for your understanding of the consumer, but they cannot exist within a vacuum. To truly begin to understand them, and gather insights that lead to real impact on your business, you need the context behind this data, you need to answer the “why” questions. When you engage in conversations with consumers, you’re able to dive deeper into these nuances and uncover larger needs that the ones being stated. A faster horse? Why do they need to travel long distances quickly to begin with?

Many forego asking the “why” because they perceive it as too difficult, or “impossible to scale.” Perhaps that was true when the only option was to fly across the world to be stuck behind mirrored glass for hours on end, but we live in a digital age today. Brands can have access to the answers they need in a matter of days, without ever leaving their offices.

Many brands have begun weaving consumers into their innovation practices by launching team/enterprise-wide initiatives that facilitate building empathy and understanding for the consumer. By enabling everyone across their team to engage in conversations with consumers on a regular and ongoing basis, teams are able to develop strategy that is not only innovative, but is innovative because it is consumer-centric. When consumers feel heard, sales climb.

I will be presenting on the role of the consumer in innovation at Front End of Innovation. If you’d like to learn more about how to roll out a similar initiative within your organization, set a time to have a conversation with me at FEI.