Fans of the Simpsons will no doubt remember fondly the episode where Homer meets his half-brother Herb, the wealthy owner of Powell Motors. In an effort to integrate Homer into his life he lets him design a car for his company. It was to be a car for the average every man, and Herb encouraged Homer to follow his instincts in creating a car that American consumers would want to buy.
The result was predictably catastrophic and cost so much to develop, and had such a high price tag, that Herb’s car company went out of business shortly after.
So the news today that Volvo are launching a Facebook app where they will ask customers to suggest features they’d love to see in upcoming models will no doubt cause many to cringe. After all, Steve Jobs famously eschewed focus groups because he didn’t think customers knew enough about what they wanted, and so he’d have to tell them instead.
The app is called You Inside and allows fans to upload images of items they keep inside their cars along with basic information about the vehicle and their lifestyle. Volvo will then analyse the information and send fans a personality profile based on what the inside of their car says about them.
It then plans to use this information to help design future models.
Jesper Andreasson, senior manager social media at Volvo, says: “We constantly want to learn more about our customers in order to make better cars – and hopefully this Facebook experiment will inspire new Volvo innovations.
“This app exemplifies how consumers insights and customer involvement is at the heart of our brand.”
Such customer involvement in product design is a fundamental part of building a sense and respond organisation rather than a make and sell one, but are Volvo going about it the right way?
Only time will tell whether customers care enough about the interior of their vehicles, or whether the deal breaker for them are other things such as fuel efficiency or exterior design. If interior design is not important enough for them then Volvo won’t get the breadth and depth of feedback to make changes worthwhile.
The general principle of opening up your innovation to customers and other stakeholders though is one I very much support so I’ll be watching this space closely to see how they get on.