Outsourcing your Product Brainstorming
It is counterintuitive that a company will not only avoid being secretive about its future products but they will also even ask external sources about ideas. Just look at Apple, Inc., and its total secrecy about the new iPhone 5. A lot of people think it signals a depressing lack of fresh ideas. However, in-house designers and developers fail a bit too much by completely misreading consumer trends and desires1. But how can you outsource product design?
Who knows what customers want best? Obviously, the customers themselves will know that. Who knows customer preferences, budgets, and needs? Again, the answer is the customer. And finally, who is an inexpensive resource with a vested interest in a functional product? The customer community is. It seems reasonable to tap this huge and cost-saving resource for the brainstorming process of product design. In fact, this method, also known as target costing2, is not new and is used by IKEA and most Japanese manufacturers. It involves a thorough analysis of the market to determine a combination of price and product features that are acceptable by the client. Conversely, most Western and American companies first design a product and then try to determine an acceptable price.
What are the benefits of outsourcing the product brainstorming? First of all, this process ensures that more customers will purchase the final product and consider it a worthwhile investment. Most customers will purchase it because of the good balance between functionality and price, while those involved in the design could do it out of emotion. Second, it gives a reliable estimate of the product demand so that the manufacturer can select the most efficient production scheme. Third, the product design will be practically free or low-cost so no expensive designers will be needed. Finally, this technique is a unique and powerful way to connect to your customer group, and improve your brand recognition.
However, these benefits are not easy to access. In order to outsource product creation, a company must have an active client community that it can easily access. Unfortunately, surveys, digital or physical, can only cover a fraction of the whole group. Social media, such as blogs, social networks, forums, websites, etc., can quickly, cheaply and easily connect the company with its clients and allow it to “ask the right questions.” Most people do not have the knowledge to be designers or engineers and will need external assistance from administrators and specialists.
After the infrastructure has been developed, the company can start to work with its community. There are two types of projects: 1) improving an existing product, and 2) crafting a wholly new one, and each requires a specific approach. Note that the company must give something in return, like charts with part price comparison, part physical characteristics, mechanism explanation, or in a word, become more transparent in order to facilitate client creativity. Concerning type one problems; simply asking for recommendations will produce a lot of good ideas, and to determine the most important ones, use social voting and preferences.
Type two problems can be tackled by utilizing a designing contest. However, you must determine the most acute problems or needs of your customers and their available budget beforehand. Then determine the rules of the contest; available parts, functionality, maximum production price, etc., and give rewards in the form of products or special benefits. Furthermore, you are not limited only to the first idea, so a single contest may produce a plethora of fantastic products.
Essentially, outsourcing your product brainstorming can be done cheaply and easily through modern methods of communication. The company will also benefit from an improved public image and loyal customer community.