As marketers, Conversation is what we crave. Particularly in the Business to Business space, where Demand Generation is so important, moving past a broadcast message and into a conversation means you’ve achieved at least the first part of creating demand: engagement with your target.
Our company has always faced this challenge of creating conversations. Our products are often considered a capital expenditure; so in difficult economic times, many are reluctant to show interest in them, even if they can solve their critical business issues.
Facing this challenge, among many others in our market space, we turned to Open Innovation as a strategy for growth and differentiation. We’d always been known as a flexible company; our products were the most adaptable in our industry, and we frequently performed customized services for our clients, from software to project management. We felt that Open Innovation was the next step for growth and the right path for a company that was already pointed in that direction.
There are strong cases to be made for Open Innovation from a Manufacturing or an Operations perspective, and these often focus on topics like customization through modularity – a small number of parts, plus innovative thinking can build out to a quite broad series of products. There are many case studies from those perspectives, in everything from software to commercial trucks. And that’s great from an Engineering and Operations perspective. But from a Marketing perspective, the case for Open Innovation is less obvious.
Working to find the Marketing case for Open Innovation, for us the focus fell to the “Open” part of the equation. To our team, the idea of a transparent business seemed to stand at odds with the way most business happened in our industry – perhaps in most of the Tech sector. So as a part of our strategy, we created a mandate for ourselves in two parts: Openness and Collective Ingenuity.
It’s right there in the name…you can’t have Open Innovation without some level of Openness in your business. For some companies, this means granting external access to documentation, internal resources, blueprints or even trade secrets. For us, it meant a lot of those things, plus a full-on embrace of Social Media, including all of the normal routes (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube), as well as creating a focal point for our new, transparent approach. In 2010, we launched IngenuityWorking, our own community, to do just that.
Through IngenuityWorking, we turned our entire company, from the Customer Service Representatives to the CEO, out into the web in an interactive forum, and then opened up the doors to our entire customer ecosystem. Although we didn’t know exactly where the discussion might lead, we knew we had enough of a crowd, between employees, business partners, and users around the globe, that we’d quickly see interaction. In addition, we plugged in our Help Desk, our Engineering Team and our Knowledge Base, so that those folks with problems and technical questions might look to IngenuityWorking as the place to go to converse with both experts and their peers.
There are plenty of buzzwords that spring to mind here, like “crowdsourcing” and “social business,” but all of those aside, for us the benefit came down to this: For years, marketers have looked to desk-based market research, telephone research or focus groups to find patterns, themes, hot and cold topics onto which they can adapt their messages, branding and offers, in order to drive business forwards.
With Open Innovation and IngenuityWorking, we instead get so much more insight than with any other method; every day, in every language and on a broad range of topics. Most of these insights will be unprompted and unplanned, and therefore surprisingly valuable. And this is what we call Collective Ingenuity. With over 15,500 unique users a month and 42% returning three to four times a week, Ingenuityworking.com has in fact become a primary vehicle for expressing our Open Innovation strategy.
We’ve even begun conducting our field trials through IngenuityWorking, and through discussion with and among our testers, we’ve maximized our collective insights. As an example from our most recent trial, real-world testers pointed out that they required their devices to be “always on,” receiving signals even when recharging. After a quick discussion between users and the product development team on IngenuityWorking, a software update was crafted and rolled out, providing administrators the ability to control this behavior. With successes like this behind us, we are excited to test future devices using this process and feel confident we are selling a product that not only has our engineering team behind it but our customers as well.
With this approach, for us it’s now all about conversations. Listening to, starting, dropping in and out of conversations with colleagues, customers and competitors the world over. It also forces everyone internally, from Marketing to R&D, Legal and Sales, to converse in a much more engaged way – using the “language of the conversation” and not just the language of their function!
None of this is to say that Open Innovation is a Marketing-centric phenomena. In fact, it’s Company-centric, from the C-suite down. But for us in every function, it is a way to continue creating relationships with our customers, differentiation for our products, and positions us to astutely address the needs of markets as they emerge.
Tim McCarren is director of marketing, Americas, at Psion, a technology company manufacturing extremely rugged mobile computers and PDAs for use in business and industry.