Consumers vs. Company Professionals in Idea Generation


(This post is based on the article: ‘The Value of Crowdsourcing: Can users really compete with professionals in Generating New Business Ideas’ by Poetz, Marion K. & Schreier, Martin 2012)

Involving consumers in generating new ideas though crowdsourcing is a relatively novel alternate source of product idea generation, previously being the exclusive domain of designers, engineers and marketers. Where some are wildly enthusiastic about outsourcing ideas to the “crowd”, others have been skeptical. The writers of this article join the debate and have both users and professionals from the respective company solve a relevant problem in the market for baby products.

The main question arising for this article is simple: who can generate better ideas for new products: the professionals or the potential users/consumers?

Theoretically, the findings of this study demonstrate that user ideas score on average higher in terms of novelty and customer benefit, whilst scoring somewhat lower in terms of feasibility. This shows that professionals are more capable of coming up with ideas that can more easily be developed in a marketable product. However, the average values for feasibility among all users were relatively high, contrasting greatly with average values for novelty and customer benefit.

More interestingly, however, the study revealed that the best ideas overall tended to be more heavily concentrated among users compared to the company’s professionals.

Practically, the findings suggest that crowdsourcing among users might complement the work of a firm’s professionals in the idea generation stage of NPD (New Product Development). Hence, the authors claim that the aim of this study was not to question the general importance of professionals in idea generation. Rather, that an “optimal” approach in practice might more often than not lie in a combination of the two groups, where professionals collaborate with users in some way. Concluding, the findings of this study constitute an important contribution to justify the more active involvement of users in idea generation.

In what situations can we expect similar results so that firms might derive commercially attractive new product ideas from users?

It can depend on the following 3 things:

  • The underlying industry or the respective product category, as well as the nature of the specific problem for which the firm wishes to innovate
  • The users’ motivation may be strongly related to their willingness to invest in generating new product ideas and/or to share them with firms.
  • The amount of ‘qualified’ users attracted. In the above case, the average quality of user-generated ideas was relatively high, indicating that in this specific case highly qualified users were attracted. This needn’t always be the situation

Summarizing, this study shows that the positive effect of users compared to professionals in idea generation is moderated by factors related to the users’ capabilities and motivations, as well as the design of the search and attraction process. The aforementioned factors hence determine when the findings could be replicated.

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Poetz, Marion K. & Schreier, Martin (2012), The Value of Crowdsourcing: Can users really compete with professionals in Generating New Business Ideas, Journal of Product Innovation Management , 29(2), 245-256

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