Michael Fruhling's Blog

A bunch of stuff about innovation…

Open Innovation Cures Blackberry Thumb!

Posted by mdf4u on May 24, 2010

The following story is fictional.  However, I’ve applied and proven the priniciples described in client engagements.  I hope it prompts you to think about its potential applicability to your business.

Mary Sellers, Marketing Manager with an OTC products company wishes to pursue new products for young people suffering from Blackberry Thumb.  Blackberry Thumb is a repetitive strain induced hand injury caused by excessive text messaging.  Mary’s research shows that significant numbers of young men and women (aged 13-19) suffer from this condition.  Further, trends show double digit annual growth rates.  Importantly, there are no products being sold at food/drug/mass market retailers that specifically address this condition.

Mary and her colleagues have concept tested topical analgesic products.  These are similar to many available OTC products like Aspercreme and Ben Gay, but are positioned as being specially formulated for Blackberry Thumb and other repetitive stress disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome.  The results are generally favorable, but consumers do not perceive the products as especially unique.  After consulting with an orthopedic surgeon, R&D manager Joe Hale suggests a regimen consisting of the topical remedy, intermittent cryotherapy and joint stabilization to help address pain and swelling associated with Blackberry Thumb.

Joe contacts bfs innovations (!) and asks me to identify some potential solutions for him to evaluate.  Drawing inspiration from other industries, I contact a company that uses a flexible silica gel technology in cold packs for physical therapists. Joe fashions a demi-glove prototype using this material.  It provides excellent relief without causing discomfort.

Mary is very encouraged by Joe’s thinking and the productprototypes.  She incorporates the “Cool Hand” concept into  qualitative consumer research.  Young male consumers in particular, are very enthusiastic about the new idea. They see the system as truly different and something that they personally would use.  They liken the glove to “wearing a cast” “…it’s like a war wound”.   They also like the topical remedy…”It’s for me…it’s not my parents’ medicine.”  Mary and Joe have identified a promising product system that a significant portion of the target audience finds appealing!  They realize that their work isn’t done, but they sense that they’re on the right track.

I trust that this example helps describe the possibilities of applying external innovation in creative collaborations. You’ll note that in the example above, external innovation was introduced during the concept development process prior to the product concept having been fully defined. When Marketing and R&D collaborate early in the concept development process and incorporate well-reasoned external inspiration, they can create exciting product options.  Contact me if you’re interested in discussing and in employing this approach.  You’ll be glad you did.  It works!

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