Customer-Driven Innovation: Giving Customers a Seat at the Drafting Table

Aflac and LG Mobile Phones are just two of the many organizations leveraging user-generated content for product ideas and marketing insight.

"I Like You a Latte," "Let Freedom Ring," and "Nut N' Fancy" are just three of the 12 donut finalists competing in Dunkin' Donuts' 2nd annual interactive "Create Dunkin's Next Donut" contest.

The user-generated product competition last year produced impressive digital metrics. The campaign drew 130,000 online contestants, three million Facebook impressions, created 330,000 donut ideas, and tallied an average online engagement time of nine minutes. For Dunkin' Donuts, the contest proved to be an excellent example of crowdsourcing.

User-generated product design campaigns like Dunkin' Donuts' are attracting interest as companies see the value of leveraging these online "mass influencers," as Groundswell author and Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff calls them. At the Forrester Consumer Marketing Forum in April, Bernoff reported that mass influencers account for 80 percent of the impressions in social media. "It's important to recognize that you need to listen to what they are saying," Bernoff says.

At Aflac, customers vie for best video
Aflac, for example, is listening to ideas from its customers and fans by launching its first user-generated video contest called the "10-Second Challenge." The competition, which kicked off in March and took place on the brand's Facebook page and, encourages consumers to submit 10-second videos explaining what the name "Aflac" means to them. The grand prize winner will receive $25,000 and the nine finalists will each get $1,000.

James Wisdom, director of new media at Aflac, says the company wanted to shift from Aflac being a household name to becoming a household need. "We believe that if people understand what we have then people will buy it," Wisdom says.

The idea sprang from Aflac's recent television commercial featuring NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, in which he describes the Aflac brand in 10 seconds. "It got us thinking that if Carl Edwards can define Aflac in 10 seconds then maybe anyone can define it in 10 seconds," Wisdom says.

Wisdom was right. As of April, Aflac received 150 entries, was approaching 200,000 video views, 50,000 votes, and 1.6 million Facebook newsfeed impressions. That's a whole lot of brand recognition -- and because Aflac's internal studies show that customers who use social media have a higher propensity to purchase the product, the 1.6 million metric is a coup for Aflac. "We want to define and engage with customers in a space where they're comfortable and where they can interact directly with the brand," Wisdom explains.

Wisdom says that the campaign is part of an overall shift within Aflac to concentrate on interactive social media campaigns. In doing so, the marketing organization has integrated social media with customer service, monitoring the Aflac brand and responding to any service inquiries in real time. "We're taking a more proactive stance," he says. "One of the great things about social mediais it's the world's largest focus group. You get so much valuable information."

Aflac's "10-Second Challenge" will provide rich, valuable insight, which the organization also can potentially leverage for "free" advertising on video-sharing sites like YouTube, Hulu, and BrightRoll. Aflac has yet to determine if the winning video will be featured in a national television commercial, but Wisdom says that the company will more than likely continue launching user-generated campaigns in the future. "From a production standpoint, it's a great value," he say. "We will continue to look at it as an option."

LG asks customers to design phones
LG Mobile Phones is yet another company turning to consumers for ideas. In March the mobile provider partnered with Autodesk and Crowdspring to hold a contest that gives consumers the chance to design their vision of the next revolutionary LG mobile phone. The top three finalists will receive $20,000, $10,000, and $5,000 along with various Autodesk design software.

Joanne Daudier, product innovation specialist at LG, says her team developed the idea because they wanted to leverage the voice of the customer as a resource. "We wanted to use consumers because we wanted additional sources of ideas," she says.

In its third year, Daudier reports that LG has received 800 entries for this particular contest. In terms of brand recognition, she says the PR team is tracking the value and has determined that there's a heightened awareness about the contest. And the entries have assisted the product innovation team with tweaking various functionalities. If LG approves any ideas generated from this contest after the testing period, the beta products will take a couple years to develop. Daudier explains the value: "We will use this [contest] every year, as it helps us come up with new ideas to test."

The Aflac finalists can be found at Winners of the LG competition will be announced on May 14 at

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