Back in 2020, I published a thought leadership paper titled, “Bigger Innovations Need Bigger Data.” The crux of the report centered around the idea that we can use the internet as a source of innovation to identify emerging and unmet needs and detect corresponding “user innovations” in a category. 

As innovation research has long shown, it’s the users (i.e. consumers) who are the real pioneers of innovation, not the companies and manufacturers. For example, the first personal computers were developed by lead users, as were the first personal 3D printers. Even the new medical apps built into our smartphones and smartwatches were first conceived of by hackers (von, Hippel, 2017). Companies have been on the hunt for these so-called “lead users innovations” for years but were deterred by the cost of sourcing them. Enter: social data. 

Online conversations are a gold mine of innovation opportunities – primarily because “lead users” are generally willing to share their ideas and hacks with peers via the internet. Given the sheer volume of social data available for almost any subject, it seemed obvious that brands should harness the web to fuel their innovation pipelines. 

The Ipsos team, in partnership with the MIT Innovation Lab, ultimately evolved this concept into our “Innovation Spaces Method” – which we’ll discuss further in our upcoming webinar on March 8th. In sum, the method gathers user-generated data, applies AI-models to surface needs and innovations, then maps the landscape of unmet user needs and their trajectories to uncover innovation opportunities. Now, this process fuels many of our clients to define and commercialize innovation opportunities. Here’s a look at how our team partnered a multinational pharmaceutical company, to spot user innovations:

Identifying future innovation spaces for GSK

The cold and flu management category is a crowded market with a large variety of treatment options and formats that are yet not very well understood by consumers. We helped GSK to map the emerging needs landscape and identify future innovation opportunities that are deeply grounded in changing preferences, behaviors and lifestyles.

As a first analytic layer, we explored the evolution of unmet needs in the cold and flu social data landscape over the past 3 years from over 340,000 consumer signals in the United Kingdom. The need mapping lens revealed that preventive regimen and ingredient safety in the context of child treatments are the fastest emerging consumer needs.

We also discovered that the need for more natural, probiotic and DIY treatments to strengthen the immune system are already well-established but still on the rise. At the same time, the obvious functional effects to fight symptoms, reduce fever, improve sleep and cure fast remain stable and critical needs. Interestingly, these steady needs are voiced by consumers with more negative emotions, mainly due to the ineffectiveness of available ‘over the counter’ (OTC) products. On the other hand, the rising needs of ingredient safety, naturalness and probiotic treatments see more positive consumer engagement.

After mapping the need landscape, we applied the AI agent to decode user innovations that correspond to these emerging needs. Even though we narrowed the data universe with a focus domain of natural, probiotic, microbiome remedies and solutions, we discovered a whole cornucopia of DIY remedies, solution prototypes and product hacks.

The user innovation ecosystem in the cold and flu category revealed a wide range of simple but practical solutions such as a “blocked nose roller” created from perfume rollerballs to be applied under the baby’s nose to fight nasal decongestant and enable a good night sleep for parents and the infants alike. But we were also able to identify truly disruptive solutions off the beaten innovation tracks such as “antitussive cough stoppers”, suppressant remedies using a combination of ingredients to disrupt the cough reflex arc in the brain stem that makes the user stop coughing instantly.

For GSK, understanding how consumers create innovative solutions to satisfy their needs helped increase their consumer understanding and become more “consumer obsessed.” As James Sallows, Global Head of Transformation and Capability, put it,

“The resourcefulness and innovation of consumers is a key fuel to drive our own innovation processes and this approach has helped us understand how leveraging social data can provide actionable, powerful insights on unmet needs and innovation opportunities.”  

Want to learn more about how you can use social data to identify market opportunities? Register today for our webinar, “Unleash Your Innovation Front End With AI-Enabled Consumer Intelligence.”