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What Is Ideation? How Can It Help My Business?

Ideation is defined as the process involved in generating ideas, including gathering information on ideas and collecting thoughts about those ideas. Ideation is used to make improvements to existing products or services, in addition to generating new ideas and concepts for future developments.

Ideation can be applied both internally and externally.

When ideation is used internally, businesses seek to gather ideas from their employees, who work on and develop the products and services. Internal ideation often consists of group activities such as brainstorming sessions and prototyping (depending on the industry).

When ideation is used externally, businesses usually target their pool of existing customer since who knows their product better than those who actually use it!? Customers have the knowledge to provide businesses with ideas on product/service improvements, so most external ideation efforts are directed this way.

How Ideation Can Help Your Business

Ideation is one of the most necessary components of a business strategy, and if you don’t have a process for ideation, it’s unlikely that your business will see constant improvement and will therefore be unable to deliver what your customers actually want.

While it’s important to get ideas internally, it’s more important that ever to get ideas from your customers.

Your customers are the ones who actually buy and use your product or services, so being able to deliver what they actually want is the key to success. Getting ideas from existing customers will not only help you retain the customers that you already have, but it will allow you to transform your products and services into more attractive options for other consumers.

What this means is that you need a viable way to collect customer feedback and a way to analyze this information so that you can draw conclusions about what customers want.

Benefits and Impacts of Online Communities

Customer feedback provides you with all the data and information you need to make your product and services better. Fortunately for you, in the right circumstances, customers will eagerly to provide you with feedback and ideas for improvements.

By offering your customers a place to provide feedback you get two benefits for the price of one:

  1. You can collect ideas about how to improve your product (ideation)

  2. You improve your customer experience and brand loyalty

Now that’s a win if I ever saw one – who doesn’t like a two for one?

Now, let’s get into some specifics about how ideation can help your business. Here are the four main benefits:

  • Ideation generates ideas to improve products and services

  • Ideation generates ideas for future product/service development

  • Ideation can help improve customer loyalty

Ideation generates ideas to improve products and services

As discussed above, gathering feedback on existing products and services is one of the most important aspects of a business, and is a core component of external ideation.

A successful company needs to be open and agile in their business approach; it’s about consistently adapting to the needs and desires of the customer.

To successfully design a customer-centered product or service, you need to know what it is that your customers are looking for. Once you know what it is that your customers actually want, you can improve your products and services and stay ahead of the curve.

An example would be learning that your customers are demanding to access your website via their smartphones and think you should make your website more mobile responsive. With this feedback, you can work to improve your website and deliver a better customer experience.

Ideation generates ideas for future product/service development

What will be your businesses next big product or service release? How do you know that it’ll do well? Is there a demand for it?

Well, ask your customers! Or better yet – just listen to them, then ask questions.

If you provide a space for your customers to share ideas, you might be surprised at just how many good ideas there are out there. Why hire staff to come up with great new ideas when you can crowd-source knowledge and get ideas straight from the people who spend the money?

Ideation increases customer engagement

Customer engagement refers to the methods by which a business reaches out to its customers in order to establish a relationship and increase brand loyalty. Connecting with customers and asking for their input on products/services is one of the best ways to engage a customer.

Customers want to be heard and they love it when businesses look to them for ideas. One of the best ways to keep your customers engaged is to ask them for their ideas, opinions and feedback on your products and services.

Ideation can help improve customer loyalty

Statistics show that price, while important, isn’t the only reason why customers feel loyal towards a brand. In fact, 80% of customers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. So, price aside, other factors that can increase brand loyalty are:

  • Value

  • Quality

  • Experience

All of the factors that increase brand loyalty can be increased and improved through ideation. It’s as easy as simply asking your customers what you can do to improve. Asking is caring – something that a lot of customers feel they don’t get too much of. 68% of customers who left a business actually left because they felt the business didn’t care about them. So asking is really the first step in fostering a sense of loyalty around your brand!

Community Forums: The Best Ideation Strategy

There are essentially 4 main methods used to collect customer ideas, but community forums are by far the best method. By the end of this section, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The main methods used to collect customer ideas are:

  • Conducting research

  • Asking customers directly

  • Post-action feedback forms

  • Through an online community  

Let me explain.

Conducting Research

Many businesses will conduct customer research to get to the bottom of what makes their customers tick. What do their customers want, and what improvements could be made?

Some examples of the research methods that businesses use to get this information include, but are not limited to:

  • Surveys

  • Polls

  • Customer interviews

  • Focus groups

Conducting research at scale through the use of surveys and polls generally requires a deep pocket – these methods can be very expensive. You really just have to pay out and then cross your fingers and hope for a high participation rate. Unfortunately, the average survey response rate is only 33%, so don’t set the bar too high on this one or you might be left disappointed.

Asking Customers Directly

I’m sure you’ve all gotten this call at some point in your life. I, myself, get these types of calls all the time.

“Hello Ma’am, I’m calling from (insert company name), may I ask how satisfied you are with your services?” promptly followed by “is there anything we can do to improve your service?”

To which I’d like to respond, “well, yes, there is something you can do to improve – please don’t ever call me again 🙂 “

I should also mention that I only answer these calls after receiving them every day for weeks at a time. As it turns, out, statistically, 61% of people out there are just like me. Sufficient to say, this probably isn’t the best way to get customer ideas and feedback.

The other way that businesses can ask customers directly is through email, but the results aren’t much better.

Post-Action Feedback Forms

Post-action feedback forms refer to when a business asks a customer for feedback immediately after doing something. For instance, after using a live-chat option, the business will ask the customer for feedback on their experience and how it can be improved.

Post-action feedback is actually incredibly important and should be used as often as possible. Providing customers with an option to give feedback immediately after their experience means that the information given is fresh and can therefore tell an accurate story of a customers’ emotional experience with your brand.

While post-action feedback forms are best used for improving existing products and services, they can’t really be used to collect ideas on new developments.

This is where community comes in.

Through an Online Community Forum

Remember when I was talking about the 2 for 1 win when it came to offering your customers a place to provide feedback? The two benefits being collecting ideas (ideation) and improving your customer engagement and loyalty?

Well, I was mostly referring to a community forum. Through an online community, you can make the most of these benefits because a community itself already works to maximize these benefits.

An online community is exactly what it sounds like – a virtual, online community of people that gather over something that they have in common, which in this case, is your brand.

Community offers a platform that can have a number of different functions at once, including:

  • Customer support

  • Sharing ideas

  • Connecting with other customers

  • Learning more

Vanilla customer Xamarin, was looking for a dedicated space for their developers to feel heard and recognized. They had been finding communicating with their developers, who were based across 120 countries. Email communication wasn’t cutting it any longer. 

One of the biggest benefits they found through their community was the sheer amount of product feedback they were receiving, and how easy it was to capture and measure it through their community. 

In communities, customers can give feedback, share ideas and through ideation, and can comment and rate the suggestions of others (for example, with a thumbs up or down). Ideation within a community has one huge benefit – businesses can encourage and reward this type of behaviour through the use of gamification

The best part – when using an online community forum for ideation, the data within the community is easy to collect and analyze. This means that reporting is easy and you can quickly determine what the most popular customer ideas are and exactly how much support they have.

To summarize, using an online community for ideation has a number of incredible benefits, including:

  • Ability to determine how popular ideas are within the community

  • Ability to easily ask for customer opinions on new ideas

  • Ability to encourage customers to provide feedback and ideas with gamification

  • Ability to allow customers to vote on ideas

  • Ability to allow customers to comment on ideas

  • Ability to sort ideas

  • Ability to easily collect and analyze the data

Concluding Thought

Okay, so we know that community maximizes the benefits of ideation, but unfortunately, not just any ol’ community will do.

What I mean by this is that a community built on a social media platform is a lot different than a branded community.

While each is still awesome (because communities themselves are awesome) a branded community does a better job at optimizing the points above. The cherry on top is that a branded community also adds more benefits, including protecting personal privacy – but that’s a story for another time.

A Simple 7 Phased Approach To Community Building1