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I think crowd sourcing is really interesting – it allows ideas and products that may have never seen the light of day to find an audience and market. Rather than relying on centralized decision making, it allows the market to vote – it really is a very pure form of product Darwinism (although arguably only certain market segments participate in crowd sourcing). That is what companies like KickStarter offer.
However, the other feature it offers is easy aggregation of market feedback and input. It has never been easier to get the thoughts, feelings, and input of an entire target market in order to get the end user involved in the design process.
Here is my question though: why have mainstream products, such as Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), started crowd sourcing information? Let me share a potential example.
Crowd Sourcing Jam
In a previous life I worked at Smucker Foods of Canada. Like most CPG companies, Smucker’s invests a large amount of money in R&D – a large portion of which goes to user testing.
One of Smucker’s largest products is Smucker’s jam. The product is vetted over and over by focus groups to determine the optimal formula; this costs both time and money, and the results are usually statistically inferred (i.e. sample a group of 100, then apply the resulting distribution to a market of one million).
A Better Way to Build a Product?
The question arises, is this the best way to test and build a product? When communication with customers has never been easier, there must be a better way to get feedback and in depth data about what the customers think of the product, and what improvements they would like.
Here is where I came to the thought of crowd sourcing product feedback: let the customers build the product they are buying
Example: Customer Designed Jam
So, continuing with the example of jam, what would a crowd sourced jam look like? How would it function?
Firstly, in terms of feedback gathering, make a simple website where customers can use some kind of proof of purchase (maybe a code under the lid?) to enter quick information: too sweet? too sour? too thick? too many seeds? Make the process very easy, very quick, and high level.
Reward customers for providing feedback with coupons, free product, etc. – make it worth their time – after all, you are saving money on user testing that can be spent here. Additionally, reward involved customers with social status – provide titles such as “top contributor”, perhaps even including top contributors on the product labelling locally or nationally.
Then, monthly, quarterly, or yearly, release a new product that incorporates the customer feedback that has been received, and highlight the changes on the product label (i.e. “we made it a little sweeter and took out some seeds, because that’s what you wanted”).
The feedback could be done locally, state/province wide, or even nationally. While providing valuable feedback to the product itself, the data set you could obtain doing an exercise like this would also be priceless.
You would start to understand taste trends by geography and demography. You would see how the trends were developing, be able to better identify opportunities (such as if everyone wanted a more bitter jam), and better tweak your existing products to fill the voids.
It would be a double win: a better product tailored to the market, and a better understanding of the market itself.
Additionally, I believe that by involving users in the product design process, you develop more loyal consumers – who wouldn’t want to buy a jam they helped make?
If properly compensated, consumers are more than willing to help companies improve the products they offer. Established firms need to recognize this and use new technology mediums to reach out to their consumers and start involving them in the decision process; it will lead to a better understanding of their customer, a better understanding of their product, and a better understanding of how to meet the demands of both.