I came across this report the other day from the Nordic Innovation Center titled "Users' role in innovation processes in the sports equipment industry-experience and lessons". As I watched the live stream by PembaServes from the Outdoor Industry Association Unconference yesterday, the topic became timely as the group discussed how perhaps the outdoor industry has lost touch with speaking directly with and listening to its consumers.
The Nordic Innovation Center study is primarily based on case studies of how Nordic sports equipment and outdoor industry firms involve their users in their innovation efforts. The objective of the study was to focus on the identification of certain key user groups in the innovation cycle and the extent to which these users influence or take part in the technical design, visual design, branding and the product development processes.
The report identified the following categories of users to be particularly important to innovation in the sports equipment industry: user innovators (those who invent new/alter existing gear or use in new ways), professionals and sponsored athletes, enthusiastic amateurs, passionate insiders and chains or retailers. Details on why each of these user groups is important can be found in the report.
The research findings suggest that a systematic approach to user-driven knowledge and inclusion of it into a company may lead to new opportunities not yet recognized by the company. There are both short and long term benefits of user involvement in product development, with short term benefits paving the way for strategic insights.
The report recommends that user knowledge should be integrated into the core activities of any company and a system for its collection and inclusion be built up. Users, in turn, should be rewarded for participation in the innovation process. Rewards could include anything such as payments, equipment, privileged access to information, commitment to improving products and a feeling of community and partnership.
I recommend that anyone in the industry have a read of the report as it is extremely interesting, even if it includes stuff you may already know. You can download the full Nordic Innovation Center report here.