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Interacting with the Audience

Companies are, by and large, really bad at interacting with their audience. Companies create this really big counter across which they do business.

Ignore those behind the curtain. Focus instead on the great and powerful Oz...
You see, corporate big wigs are worried about lawsuits and trade secrets and proprietary information and embarrassment. That is so very much the wrong concern.

What the big wigs really need to worry about is something that never occurs to them - the secret sauce that happens where the customer interacts with the front-line employee. That's where all the money is made. So many great ideas and opportunities happen right there. But few employees are trained to recognize them, and managers - particularly those higher up - are never close enough to see it even if they are trained to recognize those nuances of better business.

What would happen if you brought the customer into the company, behind the curtain, and let them interact with you on business development?

Non-disclosures and secrecy and hush-hush. Compliance and regulation. White knuckles abound.

My goodness but that takes all of the fun out of it. Gone are the spontaneity and creativity of freeform innovation amidst the eggshell back-pedaling that happens at the introduction of a new idea. And yet it's the customers, if they were allowed to just open up and talk about their experience, who would help every employee see a better way.

What if a company openly put their ideas on the table and encouraged people to chime in and help grow the concepts?

Some companies have tried some form of this concept.

Of course, like all other consumer goods companies, Kraft has an open line to its customers, toll free numbers where customers can call with questions, complaints or ideas for new products or improvements. In the past, however, nothing happened with this input. The WSJ quotes Mary Kay Haben, Senior Vice President for Open Innovation at the company, "We would have said, 'Thank you, but we're not accepting ideas.'"

This has changed now with the launch of a new consumer web site where everyone can submit ideas for new products, processes, advertising or whatever. Kraft in the moment is in the desperate move to re-invent itself. While the company owns some of the best known brands, including Oreo cookies, Philadelphia Cheese, Milka chocolate, and Jell-o, it has struggled in the last years to generate the profits it used to have in the past.

And like many companies, after a first stage of heavy cost cutting, Kraft is now focusing on innovation. And realizes that it will miss too many opportunities by just relying on its internal resources.

Or how about this:
In 2005 an amazing thing happened. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and other major Web brands started crowdsourcing. They opened up formerly proprietary code for some of their key API's (application programming interfaces) to the world's freelance developers. Realizing how much global creative energy there is to tap, and how limited their own resources were by comparison, these companies took a 180 degree turn on the "not invented here" freeway and struck a blow for raw, rampant innovation. Their assumption was that others would think of things they might not. And they were right.
Do you know a company struggling to retain its past strength? As the US heads toward a down economy, struggling companies won't be hard to find.

So I ask: what's the real harm of putting ideas out there for open discussion?

The great value of the large company is that it has the resources that help it move faster when it chooses to do so. If an openly collaborated idea has merit, the brand and the resources can work together to move the idea to reality faster than any other entity might move it. And let's say that other companies knew about the open ideation. Hey - companies deal with competition all of the time...

So is trade secrecy the real concern? Or is it change...

Because a good idea made public might mean that the expectations of the audience are now set to anticipate the launch of the good idea into production. Which, of course, requires movement.

ETC: More about this from Starbucks...

by Brett Rogers, 5/12/2008 10:38:04 PM


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