Featuring commentary from Jennifer Adams, SVP- Communities
Want to know whom to thank for the fact that you can order your iced latte using the Starbucks app? Or why Dell eliminated millions of tons of packaging materials and made more of what it uses recyclable and biodegradable? Those ideas didn’t come from the companies’ innovation labs, but instead from customers who were engaged in co-creation through online communities set up by Starbucks and Dell.
But such long-term online engagements can become expensive and time-consuming to internally manage. So organizations are turning increasingly to an online platform known as a digital hive to engage customers who are eager to share and develop their ideas about everything from new products to the customer experience on a short-term project basis. Molson Coors Canada, for example, used a digital hive to revive an ailing beverage, Rickard’s Radler, into a top-selling product for the brand.
Though they share much in common, digital hives focused on innovation are distinct from both online communities/panels and traditional market research techniques. For one thing, the hive platform — with discussion boards, live chats, surveys, co-creation challenges, blogs, and more — is agile, low-cost, and simple enough that a particular hive can be launched in less than a week. Innovation hives are also unique because they are focused on a particular topic or challenge for a more limited duration (generally three months or fewer) and their membership is comprised of a smaller group of forward-thinkers (usually 100 to 200 people).
Even though they are short-term and inexpensive, digital hives are a particularly powerful source of new ideas that can help companies find innovative solutions to specific questions. For example, ORC recently established a 12-week digital hive for a large pharmaceutical company. The hive involved 100 customers participating in weekly online activities including journaling, brainstorming, and discussion boards.
The goals of the hive were two-fold: The first was to uncover customer pain points in adult nutrition products where particular health benefits were deficient or missing altogether; the second was to initiate a co-creation phase wherein hive participants ideated, refined, and developed promising ideas to meet those customer needs.
The hive yielded quick results, and the ideas were delivered to the company’s product design and development staff. Emboldened by the help they received from market research, the company’s R&D were able to move some products quickly into the concept stage via a facilitated intra-company ideation event, where hive members were invited to consult on this next innovation stage via a live video chat.
Fast and Flexible
This is just one example of many. What makes hives so effective is the ease with which they can be adapted and refined to foster new types of innovation to meet very specific challenges. Their flexibility and low cost also mean that companies can generate, consider, and pursue far more ideas than in the past. In some cases, that may include input from experts, who can supply insights for consumers to build on. But what ultimately makes digital hives such a potential fountain of new ideas is that they quickly and deeply engage a network of people who have a personal stake in a company’s success.
To learn more about ideation in the innovation process, read “Strategic Innovation: Riding the Wave of Disruption”.