Let Customers Develop Your Product?

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by: John Caddell

The above-linked article from Sunday's New York Times highlights how certain companies have engaged users to help design their products. An excerpt:

Over the last few years, though, [designer John] Fluevog hasn't just been presenting ideas about shoes and style to customers; he has also been soliciting ideas from them — encouraging brand enthusiasts to submit their own sketches for leather boots, high-heeled dress shoes, even sneakers with flair. He posts the submissions on his company's Web site (fluevog.com/files_2/os-1.html), invites visitors to vote for their favorites and manufactures and sells the most promising designs. He calls it all "open source footwear."

Now, that's interesting and new from a consumer-products standpoint–building relationships with your customers by inviting them inside and allowing them to contribute to the products they use every day–perhaps the packaging, or the product itself (the article mentions Threadless.com, which uses customers' submitted artwork to adorn its t-shirts).

What about IT products for business customers? In one way, having your customer design the product is very 1980s, when consultants approached large companies with a 8.5"x11" pad of paper and said, "Tell us what you want, and we'll build it for you."

By the 1990s, customers had had enough of that. After downsizing and other cost-cutting, they told companies, "You're the expert. You build it, and we'll evaluate whether we like it." And thus application developers like SAP, Peoplesoft and Amdocs grew and thrived.

Now, though, at another level, customers are developing the products again. With the flexbility of web-services architecture and easily-customizable business process automation tools, vendors are selling components, and customers are assembling them (with help) to their own needs. And so, just like in music, the 80s are back… only better.

And that creates a problem for marketing–how do you promote and sell a product that looks completely different in each installation?–which is a subject for a later post.

Original Post: http://shoptalkmarketing.blogspot.com/2006/06/let-customers-develop-your-product.html