Why Brands Should Seek Inspiration From Consumers
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Why Brands Should Seek Inspiration From Consumers

August 4, 2014

Jen O'Brien

Flipping through the TV channels last week, I landed on the Colbert Report just in time to see Colbert interview Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. As the interview was wrapping up, Colbert asked Musk: “What’s next? What’s the next thing you’re going to blow my mind with?” Musk’s response was brilliant. “What do you wish there was?” he pushed back on Colbert. It was a wonderful interaction – a company asking a consumer about the problems he is facing and his ideas on how to fix these issues. But consumers shouldn’t wait to be invited to a focus group or survey to share their ideas with brands. And – like Musk made Colbert realize – consumers shouldn’t sit around and wait to be wowed by the genius of others.

Flipping through the TV channels last week, I landed on the Colbert Report just in time to see Colbert interview Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.   The bulk of the interview was spent discussing the reusable rockets that SpaceX is developing and the reasons why Tesla has made its patents public.  But as the interview was wrapping up, Colbert asked Musk: “What’s next?  What’s the next thing you’re going to blow my mind with?”

Musk’s response was brilliant.  “What do you wish there was?” he pushes back on Colbert.

Colbert pondered the question for a few moments before going on to make a series of requests of Musk, taking the time to explain why each request was important to him and how it would help improve his life.

It was a wonderful interaction – a company asking a consumer about the problems he is facing and his ideas on how to fix these issues.  It made me reflect on some of the best research projects that I’ve worked on at Kelton; these projects have been the ones where our client has been open to digging into the problem space and co-creating solutions with consumers.

But consumers shouldn’t wait to be invited to a focus group or survey to share their ideas with brands.  And – like Musk made Colbert realize – consumers shouldn’t sit around and wait to be wowed by the genius of others.  When a company like Tesla unveils the “next big thing”, consumers shouldn’t be surprised; we should know what’s coming because we communicated what we wanted.  We should be involved in ensuring the products that our favorite brands make are useful to us and addressing our needs.  And brands should provide a forum for consumers to provide this type of feedback and participate in the creation process.

While social media has provided a forum for brands and consumers to interact on a regular basis, these interactions aren’t always productive.  Scrolling the Facebook comments for a few of my favorite brands, the posts made by consumers fell into one of two buckets – either extreme elation (e.g., “What a great deal! I love this place!) or extreme irritation (e.g., “This product broke after just one month!  Never shopping here again!”).  There was very little productive dialogue.

Starbucks has taken a step in the right direction by creating MyStarbucksIdea.com – the modern day “suggestion box” where consumers can post ideas for improving their Starbucks experience, view recommendations that others have made, and vote on the ideas that they like the best.  But the site isn’t well-known; I accidentally discovered it when trying to connect to the WiFi in my local Starbucks last year.  There should be signs in every Starbucks store encouraging visitors to go to the site!

Hopefully more companies will take steps to create this type of forum and also promote it to their consumers.  And hopefully consumers will use the opportunity to engage with their favorite brands in regular, constructive problem-solving.  Then market research can be used to test the mass appeal of these ideas and flesh out the top ones.

And to walk the talk, I’d like to close by engaging in some productive problem-solving with Target: I would love if functionality was added to your mobile app or website that would allow me to build my shopping list and then have it organize itself so that products in the same aisle are grouped together.  It would prevent me from having to double back to grab a product that I forgot (which happens on every trip) and would save me so much time!

Jen O'Brien

Vice President, Insights & Strategy

As Vice President, Insights & Strategy, Jen has significant experience managing a variety of quantitative projects including segmentation studies, brand tracking and message testing. Jen leads...

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