Successful Innovations Enable User Creativity

Everyone loves new gadgets.  Innovative products are part of our daily conversations, and the most inventive ones often become aspirational.  However, many of the companies who create these innovations overlook valuable opportunities when they fail to ask why their customers love them, and how to use those insights to turn customers into brand advocates. 

Products that successfully redefine categories do this very well.  Consider GoPro, the maker of small, wearable or mountable high-definition video cameras. In 10 years GoPro has grown into a $2 billion business. For a consumer electronics company, their camera technology and functionality has only changed incrementally. In comparison, the company has invested in growing the software, apps, and wide variety of accessories that support the creation of user-generated content.  A wise investment, considering this content has been viewed on GoPro’s YouTube channel over 200,000,000 times, and now boasts nearly 2 million subscribers.

In contrast, some of the biggest product launch failures likely overlooked key consumer behavior when creating their product. They created new functionality that is complimentary to the core product, when they should have developed ways for users to apply their creativity to how and why they use the product.

Consider Facebook Home, the company’s mobile-based application for Android that launched last April. Facebook Home promised an immersive fully-integrated experience that put people first.  The app did exactly that. But presenting content from Facebook that dominated the entire screen did not allow for user customization of other apps.  While the idea was sound (putting people before apps), it overlooked the fact that many of those people bought an Android specifically because of the personalization options it provides.  Mark Zuckerberg later noted Facebook Home gained users “much slower than expected,” and more recently unbundled their messaging app from the mobile app to give users more choices.

Brands looking to improve products and create new ways to communicate with their audiences can learn from these examples by applying three approaches to their innovation practices:

What people create with products is as important as how they use them. 
GoPro’s success has much less to do with cutting-edge electronic hardware improvements than it does with improving the tools and accessories that help their users create and produce their own content.  They  learned  this by paying close attention to the types of content customers create, how they create and share it, and helping them do that better.  

Get creative about where you engage. 
Communicating with customers is as much about timing and appropriate message as it is about selecting channels where that content has the most impact.  For example, promoting a social cause on Facebook may seem like the best platform to garner the most impressions. But engagement on LinkedIn may be significantly higher and ultimately more broadly influential because the platform targets members with affiliations to humanitarian organizations and social advocacy.

Look, listen, test, and learn to identify and develop new communities. 
Tests can be very inexpensive, lend incredible insight, and help avoid large dead-end investments… provided the tests are asking the right questions (see approach #1).  The key to successful testing is knowing that success or failure are treated with equal value, that you do both quickly, apply what you learn to test again, and scale what works.

By definition, innovation occurs when someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service.  And online communities are full of those someone’s.  Customers and prospects indirectly (and often directly) tell us what they want by how and what they share and create.  As marketers, we need to get better at knowing how to listen, when to respond, what to provide, and where to engage.

Presenting sharable content across social channels is certainly a step in the right direction. However, providing customers with an opportunity to share experiences where the product plays a supporting role provides reciprocal value to brand and customer, and more opportunities for brands to differentiate themselves as both provider and enabler. 

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