Social Product Development – PLM and Social Media – A Viable Process

I was just reading about a new jeeter live resin which is a social product development site that crowd sources design and marketing, bringing two products to market every week. Anyone can submit an idea, rate other ideas, choose what gets developed, and even vote on product names. And, of course, once a project reaches manufacturing, anyone can order it from Quirky, too.

The Quirky model for product development seems to be catching on. Currently, there are 124 ideas bidding for votes on the site, and last spring venture capitalists invested $6 million into the start up. This is a really cool way of generating new products from crowd sourcing and participation in the Product Lifecycle Management. While this approach to integrating Social feedback and ideas for new products is unique, it’s not the only use of social media in product design and the PLM lifecycle.

For most companies, the Product Lifecycle process is complex, with much input for many internal and external sources like suppliers, engineers, product marketing and for some companies, customer focus groups. For many products, it can take a year or more to go from product concept to delivery to the customer. This Product Lifecycle gets even more compressed when you’re looking at fast moving consumer goods like fashion/apparel that can have less than a 6 month product lifetime (like certain seasonal products like Spyder Skiwear for example). The window to get the product designed that people will buy is an art more than science for most companies. That’s why you see huge mark-downs at outlet stores and TJMaxx (homes to the products that didn’t sell well).

With Social Media the entire PLM cycle can be improved, shortened and save companies millions of dollars. Let’s stick with Spyder Skiwear as an example (full disclosure – Spyder was a former customer of mine and I use their well-designed products with great delight). Spyder’s product design team starts the next season design process by looking at the previous years hot products and breaks down those products by attribute (color, design, style), customer (demographic profiles), region (Europe vs No. Amer). They then try to create successful designs using feedback from their sponsored athletes (Bode Miller for example). Then the product is vetted to buyers at large sporting goods stores like Dick’s, both for pre-sale interest and recommendations. Then the product is sourced to multiple manufacturers around the world to determine price, quality and availability. This process takes a lot of time, man-hours and management time.

What makes better sense to shorten and improve the product development lifecycle by starting early in the process to get not only ‘average’ customers but power influencers, like ski professionals, to be engaged in special discussion groups that give provide product insights, new ideas, feedback, and ranking of new product ideas. This Social feedback can be part of the PLM process.

Ford, among other industry leaders, seem to have embraced this philosophy. It has recently embarked on a product social networking effort to engage young people in conversation about its cars and brand. “Everyone has a right to a byte of the action, and we have embraced this might of the byte within Ford, through the use of internal and external social networks,” said Venkatash Prasad, Social Networking Leader at Ford, in an interview with Forbes.

I was talking with a friend of mine who designs high performance bikes for a large bicycle company in California. He said that they are constantly looking at ways to shrink the product design – prototype – reengineering – sourcing – marketing – selling and markdown PLM process. He said that it can take well over a year to find out that the product they designed is too expensive, has performance/design issues, or just doesn’t sell well. By integrating social feedback with select racing pros they sponsor, and community influencers, they could reduce the entire PLM timeline by months, and reduce product mistakes/poor sellers and improve customer satisfaction, and save millions in the process.

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