CMG: Co-creating with customers is rising in product innovation

Marketing consultancy's latest report, The Customer: Your #1 Resource to Innovation, sets out why customer interaction is so important in product development and innovation

How CMOs and brands are better interacting with customers around product development and innovation has been put under the spotlight in a new report by US marketing consultancy, CMG Partners.

The The Customer: Your #1 Resource to Innovation report is based on a series of interviews with marketing and business leaders discussing the changing dynamic around customer engagement when building new products and services.

The report notes the emphasis now placed on customer interaction in what CMG labels the ‘M&3Cs’ of product development – market, customer, capabilities and competition – thanks to rising opportunities for customer engagement through digital, social and mobile channels. It also advises companies to keep their eye on the customer, rather than focusing on the art of innovation for its own sake, as well as embrace agile methodologies for product development.

The report then outlines six approaches CMOs are taking to innovate and establish best practices around better conversations with their customers as a competitive advantage.

The first of these examples is from database management vendor, Informatica, which has formed ‘productive advisory councils’ featuring select customer groups that participate in the full product development cycle. According to its VP of product marketing, Ravi Shankar, the company ran five product advisory councils last year featuring key customers that looked at the impact of trends including big data and mobile.

“When we conduct our product advisory councils, we get a sense of how the customers are moving in a particular direction related to those trends,” he stated in the report.

Shanker said the first driver in modern product development is Informatica’s current customer base of hundreds of enterprise-level software clients.

“We invite them to come to us and say ‘I need X, Y and Z to be done on the product so that I can take it to the next level’,” he stated in the report. But that’s not to say the focus is purely on customers.

“The second driver we need to understand is the company perspective in terms of where the company is going, what kind of features we are talking about releasing and how that may impact the sales cycle,” Shanker said. “The third driver is market movement. I need to know where the market is moving from a trend perspective.”

Another example detailed in CMG’s report is Samsung’s use of mobile customer data to inform new product releases and products. The vendor’s general manager and head of global services, Chris Jo, explained his team leverages data and interactions with customers in multiple ways, sometimes forming a community base to drive interactions, or using its app store to engage via comments.

“It’s not just one-way. We strive for two-way communication so we make sure that we really understand what our customers want – whether they are complaining or complimenting,” he said.

A third example listed is tax and accounting firm, Thomson Reuters’ use of customer forums and focus groups for product development and customer experience improvements. According to its CMO, Tobias Lee, a big challenge it faced was collaborating more closely across functions in the business. At the same time, capturing early customer and industry feedback is also something it’s striving to be more proactive about.

“To build specific forums, we partner with professional associations,” he said. “For one association, we planned a strategic sponsorship of their event with a session around the tax executive. We hosted that forum and use it as a launch pad for a new product called Checkpoint Catalyst. It was a hybrid of a controlled release and a show-and-tell.”

CMG partner, Mark Chinn, said CMOs and product leaders are increasingly faced with better informed and more demanding customers.

“Those leaders who engage their customers for new product insights and innovation – and who act on those insights – have the competitive advantage in today’s market,” he claimed.

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