Sterilite launches crowdsourced product
Their “fresh scent” line of products includes a ventilating compartment to keep clothes smelling fresh during storage. The idea, to keep clothes smelling good while being stored, was generated by Keonte Smith in a Betterific innovation challenge.
For the crowdsourcing community this is a huge breakthrough. No doubt you’ve heard of other crowdsourcing campaigns, like the 1995 campaign to choose M&M’s new color. But that campaign, and other ideation campaigns like it, didn’t require any creative problem solving. It’s more of a marketing play.
We’re going to explore they whys and the hows. Why did Rich Ahern, VP of marketing and product development, from Sterilite pursue a crowdsourcing path to product development? What was the process from idea>concept>validation>testing>launch. How did he turn this idea into a reality?
Sterilite is the industry leader in a mature vertical. New products come out a couple times a year and retailers are constantly looking to Sterilite for their next big thing. For Rich and his team, one of the biggest challenges is coming up with brand new ideas. To gather new ideas, his team traditionally holds brainstorms, listens to end users and talks with cross functional teams. And they are relatively successfully at that process. But Rich and his team wanted to go out to the crowd, to generate new ideas within a group of qualified ideators outside the four walls of Sterilite. Because sometimes the ideas get stale in your own organization.
The Innovation Challenge – how and why it was constructed
The Betterific team and Rich worked on an innovation challenge that would lead to brand new ideas, to fill the pipeline of unique concepts to drive an exciting assortment of possibilities at retail.
Rich chose from the outset to keep the innovation challenge wide open, focusing on the product category, with no constraints except for a focus on analog solutions. This was an interesting decision from the outset, as most of Betterific’s clients give a rigid set of guidelines to try and direct Betterific’s design thinking member base. It ended up being a great move on Rich’s part. Primarily because he and his team were open-minded and willing to look at any idea that was unique and had mass-market potential.
The innovation challenge that was posed to the Betterific audience was: “My storage bins would be better if…How would you make the plastic storage and organization bins in your home more useful? Think about all the possible storage places and spaces in your home while considering function, aesthetic, and ease of use.” The incentive was $400 for the top idea. It lasted 1.5 weeks. 146 ideas were generated.
Lots of great ideas were submitted. The idea that led to the breakthrough was simple and ingenius:
Keonte Smith: “Wouldn’t it be better if there was a pocket inside to allow scented sheets to help keep clothing items smelling fresh.”
Evaluating and Prioritizing ideas
Sterilite’s main criteria for evaluating the ideas was, is the function easy to understand and desirable enough for the end-user to stand out in the crowd. In hindsight, it would’ve been good to bake the criteria in the innovation challenge. And moving forward, Betterific now tries to include that in all its innovation challenges.
They brought together marketing and product development to evaluate the ideas. Each member of the cross functional team was invited onto the Betterific platform to vote for and comment on their favorite ideas. That team has a deep knowledge of manufacturing capabilities, so they were able to evaluate ideas based on feasibility, as well as customer need and uniqueness. The group of about 12 then discussed those subset of ideas, in detail, during a few meetings.
The fresh-scented idea was unique and immediately generated that “A-ha” moment. The cross-functional team selected around 10 ideas to get tested, but this was the fan favorite. From Betterific’s experience, this is rare. Ideas don’t usually live in a vacuum – but rather require massaging, refinement and the bringing together of disparate ideas to create concepts. In this case the idea was pretty self explanatory and stood on its own.
Their designers then sketched out the selected ideas, which allowed them to dig deeper in their evaluation meetings. They used these meetings to brainstorm around how to make the ideas, or adjacent ideas, a reality.
An interesting insight Rich shared is that after the first round of selection, they try not to weigh in on whether an idea will work or not. They let the market and retailers decide. Even in their product executive committee, which is comprised of the senior leadership, they are pretty lenient with which ideas should be tested and reserve judgement until people outside the company have given feedback.
Hats off to Sterilite for that approach. It is an extremely user-centric approach – to begin with crowdsourcing and then reserve judgement until the retailers and end-users interact with the product is a great testament to why this was a successful project. That approach reflects a design-thinking methodology.
Testing, validating and Roll Out
Sterilite does not have a formal relationship with its end users, as it distributes its product exclusively to retailers who then sell it to the end-user. But over the years it has created a powerful end-user community to test and validate concepts. This batch of sketched up ideas was placed in the community, where they have clear benchmarks from previous tests. The fresh-scented idea scored well and continued on to retailers.
When Rich and his team met with retailers, they showed a number of sketched out concepts, from the Betterific community and internal brainstorms. When presenting the concepts, they included data from their testing and their expert opinions. The Betterific community was used as a data point in the positive – the fact that it was crowdsourced was certainly a positive but the product had to be strong on its own.
This idea was chosen by all of their top retailers to be rolled out!
All in all, the product took about 1.5 years, from idea-concept-selection-manufacturing-store shelves.
Betterific is a platform to connect brainstormers and ideators with brands to help co-create new products. To join the community, www.betterific.com. To sponsor an innovation challenge: http://innovation.betterific.com