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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Creative Consumers?

I attended a session at last year's IIR The Market Research Event that discussed “creative consumers.” They were nearly reverently described as “consumers” serving as paid ideation session participants; this, after passing personality tests (both oral and written) and receiving creativity technique training. They were lauded for being able to write dead-on concept statements.

According to Marla Commons, co-presenter from Research International, the firm has a panel of at least 250 “creative consumers” with varied backgrounds available to corporations. In reviewing some profiles, one “consumer” has been doing this for 17 years!

Kraft Foods (the other presenter) applied the technique to design service concepts. “Creative consumers” were included at a one-to-one rate with corporate executives (or “drones,” although the term was never actually used) to inject creativity. The first day-long session produced 154 ideas from five custom exercises; these were narrowed eventually to 15 for further development in a second day-long session.

A couple of observations (recognizing that I do ideation primarily in a B2B environment):
  • The best ideation sessions don’t require 50% creatives. At 20% of participants, they can really drive creative instigation while remaining participants contribute to other business aspects being explored. Going higher saps the diversity critical for innovative ideas.

  • Lack of diversity can hamper the evaluation phase. Interestingly, two later rejected concepts shared to show the group’s creativity both fell apart based on density requirements. Not enough volume in a certain time period usually signals major problems. Density isn’t necessarily a concept driving CPG, but it’s a challenge readily apparent to service marketers since time is a perishable resource that can’t be inventoried. Here's where a little more diversity in a group could have been beneficial.

  • One hundred fifty-four ideas isn’t that remarkable a number. We’ve seen 500 or 600 ideas from a more diverse participant group. The number of raw ideas is highly dependent on what your session objectives are and using the right tools to help realize your goals.

  • It’s ridiculous to call these participants “consumers.” While companies want to feel they’re involving real consumers in the ideation process, that’s suspect. They may have familiarity and experience in the topic. But with the testing, training, and pay involved ($500-$1500 daily), they’re really “part-time, informal creative staff members.” Seventeen years in, somebody doesn’t enter a session with a completely fresh “consumer” perspective.

This is an intriguing concept, but appears to be misrepresented and oversold. The funniest moment was during Q&A when someone asked apprehensively if the creative consumers could travel. I turned to the guy next to me and asked, “I wonder what they eat?”

Probably special pellets to generate creative sparks!

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