The secret privilege of User Generated Innovation
Newton was an innovative PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) developed and marketed by Apple Inc., released in 1993. It was defined as a device that was ahead of its time by techies, and the marketers simply called it a device that nobody needed. Later, after the end of its production in 1998, it was called so many things besides an innovative product. It has been more than two decades since its disappearance, but would you believe if you were told that there is still a cult group of its users who are trying to keep Newton alive today by rewriting the operating system solely for the last device they own? They make a group that is hardly a little more than five thousand people, but their commitment to the product is unbelievable considering the leaps Apple has made in the smartphone and personal computer industries. The strange fact is that there is a guy who uses only the Newton he bought decades ago, and believes it is better than the iphone. It feels strange to learn that there are hardcore fans for this failed product all over the world including the countries like France, UK, Kuwait and Japan. They all keep their shrinking population alive and active with the annual world wide Newton conference.
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While Newton narrates a different kind of user innovation, there are other cases that show how users contribute to the growth and development of a product, and therefore the brand. There are many brands that heavily rely on user innovation even today. GE (General Electric) sells medical imaging equipment such as MRIs to skilled technicians at a lower price in exchange for the rights of their innovations as the company found that the technicians who put the machine to use everyday made certain technical arrangements to better the performance and made interesting improvements. Another global brand Lego worked with professors at MIT for innovative designs but shortly found that there are enthusiastic adult users out there in the real world who are better innovators. So Lego allowed them to post their designs on their website.
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Sports and sports equipment have an affinity for user innovation. Rodeo Kayaking took a commercial turn transforming itself into a $100 million business through user innovations. The tweaks and alterations that the users came up with were a surprise for the manufacturers. Mountain bike modifications using local information, surfboards modification and improving skiing equipment brought about significant benefits to the respective brands and manufacturers. Nordic sports equipment manufacturers such as Bergans and Exetrem recognized the contributions of the users and started to make them stakeholders of their brand equity. Even Nike+, a joint project with Apple, is a case for user generated innovation as the app turned out to be a free marketing portal that helped the brand keep in touch with the runners’ community. Finally, baby joggers may be the odd one out in this short list, but the joggers too have had their dose of tweaks and modifications which are popular for a long time.
So if you ask what’s in it for brands, this piece of information is not for you.
As brands care about user innovation, branding agencies too have a moral responsibility to care about it equally. This calls for a renewed attention to the word end-users. Users are a source of brand equity and value. The information that certain brand communities develop and disseminate contribute immensely to the growth of a brand. This set of cases reveal with evidence that the communication that happens between brands and users is something more than feedback, and it is called innovation.
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