Crowd sourcing ideas for seniors - an idea who's time has come

[This is a guest post by Frank Leyhausen, General Manager of MedCom International, a German consulting company that creates campaigns and initiatives which are often based on research data from company-owned senior panels.]

No word is as closely related to the word innovation as the adjective "new." Therefore it is hardly surprising that the opposing term "old" is rarely used positively in innovation management context. The same applies for the word "young", which is easily associated with young, innovative companies as well as with young customers who are fascinated by the latest technology and trends.

It is of no surprise that little attention has been paid to the elderly as a target group in product development. However, this actually is surprising, because the generation 50+ is the fastest growing population in all major Western industrialized nations. This shows the paramount importance for companies to adapt to the needs of this population group - it would be careless to disregard this growing and affluent client segment. More than ever, the rapid demographic change requires the integration of experiences and needs of older people in the development process of future age-appropriate products and services.

Information on special customer requests and needs, whether for the old or young, are often very difficult to articulate. For this reason, companies are increasingly interested in involving customers closely in the development process in order to reduce the risk of a product or service 'flopping'. Thus web-based idea contests are becoming increasingly popular. In these idea contests, customers and other external participants can submit ideas as well as comment and rate the ideas of other participants on a specific subject area that has been defined by the organization. The internet offers ideal conditions to integrate the needs, desires and product knowledge of customers in the marketing and development departments of innovation enterprises.

Since 2010 MedCom has managed idea challenges focused on the needs of mature clients, the latest project will be an open innovation platform focusing on traffic safety for older pedestrians starting September 2nd at Zu Fuss? Aber Sicher! (On foot, but safely!)

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The first contest from May 2010 was called Just a Mobile. This contest gave innovators of all age groups the opportunity to participate in the development process of user friendly mobile phones for seniors. The idea was to collect input for useful mobile services in the health sector, such as mobile phones with an emergency call button or mobile blood sugar measurement units. In addition to presenting innovative ideas, exchanging opinions among the participants was also encouraged. Participants were given the chance to comment and analyze other participants' ideas, as well as indicate if they would be interested in buying such a mobile phone.

The contest delivered many valuable results. Particularly impressive was that, contrary to general belief, seniors are more than ready and willing to participate in an idea contest, 50% of the ideas came from the 50+ age segment!

And they were not hindered by the online nature of the Challenge - although some members met offline and discussed ideas before they finally entered into the contest. The contest was also very well received by the press and media. Out of 200 entries, the jury selected three winners and gave another spontaneous special prize to a remarkable group of participants, who surprised the jury with their elaborate idea.

From my point of view open innovation in an aging market is an excellent option. First off all it honors the experience of the overlooked group of seniors and take their needs into account. Second this group has the richest set of experiences of any. Seniors who are joining an idea challenge will often spend a lot of their time to present an elaborate idea, and the same applies for professional and personal caregivers who are full of 'front line' experience, and suggest innovations which might often seem trivial, but can make a major difference in a senior's life.

Note: Additional commentary from Frank about innovation and seniors, with a focus on the German market, here and here