Consumer Driven: finding the right consumer-centered innovation methods

Over the past years I have been invited to speak at many conferences about consumer-centered innovation methods, and how we at the LEGO Group tap into our community of fans when developing new products. There is an increasing interest in this subject, as companies realise that it is often especially lead users who are significant innovators and are able to articulate opportunities and unmet needs better than many others. However, although recognising the value of these innovators, companies struggle to understand which approach to use when, and how to balance the opportunities highlighted by lead users with the needs of a broader audience of users.

This essay explains the thinking and methodology I have worked to define at the LEGO Group. It provides a framework for thinking about user-centered innovation and which consumer groups to involve when, as well as how to assess the company innovation portfolio to identify the areas where consumer driven or user-centered innovation can add the most value.

Originally I wrote this essay as part of my TRIUM EMBA program and have been told it will be featured as a case study on the executive marketing and business courses at HEC Paris. In the interest of moving the debate further on this subject I wanted to also share the essay here on my blog, and welcome your thoughts and reflections on this. I have licensed it under Creative Commons so you are welcome to use it for non-commercial purposes if you reference it and also share your writings. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Download it here:

Consumer Driven: The role of consumer affinity in selecting consumer-driven innovation methods

Creative Commons License
Consumer Driven: The role of Consumer Affinity in selecting Consumer-centered innovation methods at the LEGO Group. by Cecilia Weckström is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You might also like the part II of this post – which delves into using technology to drive a realtime feedback loop for the truly consumer driven company

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Cecilia,

    Thank you for sharing your essay, it was a very interesting read.

    It would be interesting to analyze the framework you described and the different kinds of research that are needed at the different stages of the development process or for different products; as It seems that “research and innovation methods” are approached in a variety of ways and by a variety of professionals.

    I find it interesting how researchers now come from different disciplines ranging from psychology, business, design, anthropology, sociology, etc. and how we have many types of research that go all the way from the more traditional fields of market research to the newly introduced design anthropology and user experience. I was also impressed when I cam back to the States and I found programs like the MBA in Design Strategy from the California College of the Arts… a total blend between design, business and consumer driven research.

    What I consider most interesting about IDEO is their ability to introduce things like “design research” and “design thinking” to the industry level in order to support innovation efforts. IDEO opened the door for using co-creation and participatory design methods that are conducted by a range of professionals that generally can speak from the humanities and the design side in order to dig deeper into the consumers’ feelings and ideals and translate insights into innovation and design drivers.

    It seems like the type of methods vary greatly with the different approaches. Design researchers are very interested in finding stories behind people and in the “why” and “how”. The methods might be mostly hybrid, qualitative and participatory in the majority of occasions and the samples are reduced to a small representative of the population in order to immerse deeply in their lives. The approach here is not on how to increase revenues or how to increase brand loyalty… but how people live, what is their past, future and present and how this translates into design. In some occasions, design researchers also support stakeholders by introducing design thinking methods such as brainstorming and creative workshops.

    When I speak with market researchers on the other hand, there seems to be a focus on greater research samples, quantitative methodologies and statistical representations. We even find differences on the way we interview or approach consumers, where design researchers take a step back and let consumers tell their story through research stimuli, while market researchers go directly to the point in a more succinct approach.

    Each approach is a step towards knowing the consumer, and each hopefully leads to innovative outcomes, but it would be interesting to integrate these with the framework you propose. I think it would help companies to understand the kinds of teams that are needed and when and in which areas of the company, in order to have a well-rounded innovation process.

    Finally, if you ever find the time, I think you would find interesting to read about Liz Sanders’ work (a lot of it is actually done in Denmark). All her research and professional work is based on the premise that all people are creative and that, given the appropriate stimuli or toolset, or holding the right conversation, they can manifest their past, present, ideal and future experiences. I think this idea is the pillar of consumer-driven innovation.

    1. Cecilia says:

      Hi Catalina. Thanks for the comment and Excellent points. Reminds me of an interview recently where the user-driven approaches were contrasted with market research as kind of opposites that are in conflict with one another. In my view that an unfortunate simplification and also what you are alluding go is that there are benefits of both.

      The trick is about the timing, where early front-end exploration can benefit hugely from the inspiration that ethnography and consumer co-creation can provide, and later in the process as the value proposition begins to take shape, a more marketing research driven approach is useful to validate and confirm the direction. Roger Martin in his book about design thinking talks a lot about how we need to embrace both ways of enquiry to get to the bottom of a problem.

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