Brian Bednarek shares an exclusive with WhichPLM, around shared intelligence. Brian is the founder and CEO of MESH1, which connects brands with a global network of customer testers and converts their feedback into data-driven insights that take the guesswork out of pre-market product development.
The concept of pre-market product testing is nothing new. Brands have long known the value of gathering customer feedback and insights as a critical component of R&D. What’s changing in the digital age, however, are the methods used to generate and catalog that same information to maximize its usability across all segments of an organization.
Let’s consider this scenario: ABC Company conducts testing on a new product, amassing valuable customer feedback that can be used by members of its merchandising, design, marketing, sales and distribution teams. Data points are carefully logged into spreadsheets, summarized in written reports and perhaps even woven into casual lunchtime conversations. But the findings themselves are buried on the hard drive of the one employee responsible for managing the test. All the insights the company invested such time and resources to gather are confined to a single laptop, unusable until that individual manually releases them. One by one, other people and departments line up to digest and apply the data to their work. Taken to the extreme, the company’s access to the information depends upon that specific person’s continued presence in the department and ongoing employment at the organization itself. R&D processes begin to slow, product improvements lag and ABC Company’s competitors seize the opportunity to take the market lead.
ABC Company’s grave error was failing to utilize a testing, archiving and formatting protocol that allowed collective access to those same customer insights. A sharable platform could have made the game-changing difference, putting data into all the hands that could put it to use – simultaneously, strategically and successfully.
Learning to Share
Shared intelligence should be fundamental to any brand’s internal strategy. Once gathered, customer feedback on an individual product must be made immediately and readily available across the organization. Representatives from different departments need to be free to evaluate data from their own perspectives and make real-time decisions that affect the product and its trajectory. Strategic choices can then be made simultaneously about design, inventory and branding without slowing down the pace of the product’s lifecycle.
Nimbleness and data transparency also have the power to bolster a brand’s partnerships with external segments. For example, a company might choose to share certain customer insights with ingredient suppliers and retailers as a way of demonstrating its market responsiveness.
A PLM Concern
When data is easily and instantly shareable, product decisions can be made very quickly. This approach also helps take guesswork out of the pivotal decisions that must be made for a product to be customer-ready. Wasted resources are minimized as product decisions are made jointly across disciplines. The result is a more efficient process that accommodates even the tightest product development timelines.
Developing products using a platform of shared intelligence is one of the surest way to strengthen relationships between a brand and its target customers. When products reflect the specific requests that have been issued by users, it proves that those customers have had a voice throughout the process. Resulting products are more deliberate and purposeful; they more naturally align with the interests and needs of the customers who will buy them. Users feel heard, they feel valued, they feel involved. Few things contribute more powerfully to brand loyalty.
Elevating the Market
As more brands incorporate the voice of the customer into their development practices and embrace the strategic value of shared customer intelligence, the industry will continue to improve as a whole. Just as a high tide raises all ships, a customer-responsive product development approach has the power to raise the quality bar across all brands. Users will come to expect to be heard and they will buy accordingly. On the other hand, companies that don’t adapt to systems that allow them to stay nimble will slowly but surely sink.
There is virtually no point in gathering customer feedback if it can only ever be digested by one person – or even one department – at a time. When feedback is isolated, it festers. Instead, findings must easily, broadly and simultaneously be put to strategic use by a variety of people who can come at the information from their distinct but complementary perspectives. Streamlined product development processes depend on data that is accessible and shareable.
When product decisions are made collectively, the improvements are more intelligent, the results are richer and the rewards are greater.