Big fans: Brands are turning to loyal customers for product ideas

Brands across industries are increasingly tapping consumers for advice.

Many of us are sitting on a treasure trove of inventions that we’re sure would be hits if we just had the chance to pitch them.

A bunch of various Lego characters stuck to a gray lego board.

Turns out, we might. In the toy industry alone, major brands have opened up the invention process to fans, per The New York Times:

  • Lego launched its Lego Ideas program in 2008 to gather product ideas from fans. Designers can submit their concepts, and anything with 10k+ votes will be considered for production. Around 100 meet that minimum annually and 56 have reached production.
  • Mattel has Mattel Creations, a site that hosts crowdfunding campaigns for fans of its brands and sells limited-edition collectibles.

Not only do sites like these help toymakers source ideas, they also aid data collection that can be tricky in the D2C space.

Rather than relying on old-fashioned focus groups, companies like Lego can move toys into production knowing tens of thousands of customers are already interested.

It’s not just toys…

… Other businesses have dabbled with involving fans in the idea generation process.

  • PepsiCo has continually tapped consumers to help the brand launch new flavors. The Frito-Lay “Do us a Flavor” campaign to create a new potato chip flavor received ~4m submissions.
  • Movie production studio Legion M lets fans invest in movie productions and take a cut of the profits.
  • NASCAR’s Fan Council is a community of 10k fans who serve as a sounding board for the company on marketing and event decisions.

Companies like Porsche, Starbucks, and Hasbro have also experimented with crowdsourcing campaigns to let fans choose new products.

While there are plenty of pros — increased brand loyalty, data collection, idea generation — allowing fans behind the R&D curtain is a delicate balance.

For example, the customers saying they’d buy these cherry-flavored potato chips are clearly out to sabotage.

Get the 5-minute news brief keeping 2.5M+ innovators in the loop. Always free. 100% fresh. No bullsh*t.