(Photo by Tigran Hambardzumyan on Unsplash)

Everyone loves new gadgets. Innovative products are part of our daily conversations, and the most inventive ones often become aspirational. However, many of the companies who create these innovations fail to consider the sometimes not-so-obvious reasons why their customers and audiences love them, and how to use those insights to design experiences that turn customers into communities of brand advocates.

Incredibly successful products that are redefining categories do this very well. Consider GoPro, the maker of small, wearable or mountable high-definition video cameras, which in 10 years has grown into a $2 billion business. For a consumer electronics company, their camera technology and functionality has only changed incrementally in comparison to the software, apps, and wide variety of accessories the company has developed that supports the creation of user-generated content. Content that has been viewed on GoPro’s YouTube channel over 200,000,000 times and now boasts nearly 2 million subscribers.

In contrast, some of the biggest product launch failures likely overlooked key consumer behavior insights when creating their product. Instead, they often shape new functionality that is complimentary to the core product, instead of developing functions that provide users with ways to apply their creativity in relation to how and why they use the product.

Consider Facebook Home, the company’s mobile-based application for Android [which launched in 2013], and promised an immersive fully-integrated experience that put people first. The app did exactly that, presenting content from Facebook that dominates the entire screen and does not allow for user customization of other apps.

While the idea was sound (putting people before apps), overlooked was the fact that that many of those people bought an Android specifically because of the personalization options it provides. Mark Zuckerberg later noted Facebook Home has gained users “much slower than expected”, and more recently unbundled their messaging app from the mobile app to give users more choices.

Brands looking to improve products, and create new ways to communicate with their audiences, can learn from these examples by applying three approaches to their innovation practices:

  1. What people create with products is as important as how they use them. GoPro’s success has much less to do with cutting-edge electronic hardware improvements, than it does with improving the tools and accessories that help their users create and produce their own content. They learned this by paying close attention to the types of content customers create, how they create and share it, and helping them do that better.
  2. Get creative about where you engage. Communicating with customers is as much timing and appropriate message, as it is selecting channels where that content has the most impact. For example, promoting a social cause on Facebook may seem like the best platform to garner the most impressions, but engagement on LinkedIn may be significantly higher, and ultimately more broadly influential, by targeting members with affiliations to humanitarian organizations and a history that demonstrates social advocacy.
  3. Look, listen, test, and learn to identify and develop new communities. Tests can be very inexpensive, lend incredible insight, and help avoid large dead-end investments… provided the tests are asking the right questions (see approach #1). The key to successful testing is knowing that success or failure are treated with equal value, that you do both quickly, apply what you learn to test again, and scale what works.

By definition, innovation occurs when someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service. And online communities are full of those someone’s. Customers and prospects indirectly (and often directly) telling us what they want, by how and what they share and create. As marketers, we need to get better at knowing how to listen, when to respond, what to provide, and where to engage.

Presenting sharable content across social channels is certainly a step in the right direction, however, providing customers with an opportunity to share experiences in which the product plays a supporting role provides reciprocal value to brand and customer, and more opportunities for brands to differentiate themselves as both provider and enabler.

What brands do you think are innovating smartly by enabling user creativity?