Customer Innovation Guide: Core Competency 5

Mastering the Fifth Core Competency: Leveraging Peer Production and Peer Promotion

April 3, 2008

Have you made it easy for customers to contribute product ideas, designs, or products themselves? Can they add value to your products by rating and reviewing them as well as peer contributions? Do you empower, encourage, and reward customers for promoting your products, developing their own marketing material, promoting your brand as well as theirs? What processes, and tools to support those processes, must be put into place to encour-age and reap the rewards from peer production and peer promotion? See how you’re doing in this self-assessment guide and what work still needs to be done.

Have You Made It Easy for Customers to Contribute to and Promote Your Products and Services?

In my book, "Outside Innovation: How Your Customers will Co-Design Your Company’s Future," we specify the five core competencies to master:

  • Story-Telling
  • Community Building
  • Customer Co-Design
  • Open Development
  • Peer Production and Peer Promotion

For each competency, we provide context and a list of activities (methods/behaviors/programs) you should be implementing to reinvent your organizational culture around customer-led innovation. We also provide you with space to complete your self assessment: how well is your organization/division/department/group doing on fulfilling these requirements? We recommend that you identify those activities broken down into three categories (which mirror our Customer Scenario® Mapping methodology):

  • Things “We Can” Do —you already do this activity well.
  • Things “We Will” Do —you have already identified this activity as strategic to your organization, and you have a plan for implementation in place, complete with a budget and delivery date.
  • Things “We Should” Do —you aren’t currently committed to this activity, but you understand that you should investigate it and prioritize its value to your customers and to your organization.

Finally, we provide a place for you to make note of your next steps for each activity. We recommend that you include the name of a person who is to take responsibility for the next action as well as a target deadline for completion of that action.

COMPETENCY 5: Leveraging Peer Production and Peer Promotion

Beyond Open Development to Peer Production: Encouraging Customer-created Content

Lead customers, enthusiasts, academics, and subject matter experts will want and need to be part of co-designing and co-inventing the platforms and solutions that will tackle the world’s most complex and challenging problems. As we discussed in the guide to the 4th competency, Open Development, you need to take advantage of their brain power by making them part of your product/service development and production teams. You need to provide them with the tools to take your products and extend them with new innovations.

Customers who aren’t “developers” can provide innovation by contributing customer-created content to your products and services. Peer production doesn’t require programming. Customers can volunteer everything from designs for new products, ideas on advertising campaigns, content (text, video, graphics), or other inventions or creations.

For example, both CNN and BBC benefit greatly by making it easy for people to upload their personal videos of world and local events, often captured on the spot before the media has even arrived. National Public Radio (NPR) gets a great deal of content from its customers who call or email in with their thoughts. After going through a review process, the content is broadcast over the airwaves. By broadcasting this customer-created content, not only do these media companies save money and resources by filling valuable air time with great up-to-the-minute stuff, they also establish closer relationships with viewers/listeners who appreciate that their contributions are valued.

Media companies aren’t the only organizations that can benefit from having customers produce “product.” Threadless has made a thriving business by soliciting tee shirt designs from customers, having other customers rate the designs, and then producing and selling the highest rated shirts. Threadless takes advantage of two aspects of peer production: creating content and rating the success of other customers’ content.

There is a method to encouraging and take advantage of user-generated content. Kevin McKean, Vice President and Editorial Director of Consumers Union (CU), nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine and, points out the you need to structure the way that customers make contributions so that A) it is easy for them to do so, and B) you are able to add value to their contributions by mining the content and discovering patterns. For example, a well-designed food site that asks customers to contribute recipes wants to be able to then categorize the contributed recipes to make it easier for other customers to find (e.g., low carb recipes, Asian recipes, vegan recipes).

To effectively follow Kevin McKean’s advice, you need to provide the interactive tools and an environment in which customers can offer their contributions. The simplest approach is to provide forms with drop-down menus for selecting categories (Vegetarian, Chinese) and commonly-searched attributes (contains dairy, contains wheat, low-sodium). Over time, you can evolve categories and attributes to include the most commonly searched for terms. You can also add your own ...


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