Crowdsourcing – Part 2 – Consumer Electronics

April 28, 2011 |  by

CES 2011Recently an industrial design firm asked me to develop a market research plan. The approach included qualitative interviews of IP phone industry key players and typical users. Later a focus group would comment on a product prototype. So, I wondered, could crowdsourcing be a viable alternative to the focus group?

CE companies use crowdsourcing in product development. Dell’s IdeaStorm allows consumers to vote on features they want to see in Dell products. Intel and Asus created WePC, which doubles as an Asus sales site and a serious attempt to gain community input into the PC design process. Having access to a loyal fan base can be an ongoing source of free ideas and labor. The practice builds interest in the brand and creates communities of users. It’s often cheap and fast research. And, given all of the online and social media tools available today, it’s easy to implement. Why create a product and offer it to consumers when you can optimize two-way communication on the Internet and learn, before putting in too much time and effort, exactly what it is they want in the first place?

Focus groups come at quite a cost – both time and money. They are only one means to an end. Like other data-collection methods, focus groups research is an excellent methodology for many kinds of consumer research but not for all. Times to use it are when:

  • Relatively little is known about a given product (service, etc.)
  • Dynamics of a group best elicit respondent opinion
  • You want to personally observe reactions to the product
  • You need to probe to understand
  • Results are needed quickly
  • Actual dialog can be used to develop surveys for subsequent quantitative research

Crowdsourcing is not smart when attracting and registering a crowd is not feasible nor when proprietary or competitive considerations do not allow public airing.

When major development or budgetary decisions hinge on the results, I’d argue that crowdsourcing could add a valuable data point to a comprehensive research plan. It could provide input for product developers, designers and creative directors but certainly cannot replace them. And it is not a replacement for focus groups.


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