Fiat Brazil engages the crowds with developing their new Mio concept the open source style. Three years ago this would of course have been revolutionary. Now however, with everything from domestic applications to video translations having been crowdsourced, this is hardly a surprise. Fiat opens up the discussion by asking: “what kind of car would we have have to make so that you would buy it?” (free translation I know, but this is more or less the idea). Admirable openness, some would say. I say it’s simply lack of a strong idea.
According to my FLIRT model of crowdsourcing, there are five main elements to successfull crowd engagement: Focus (what are we doing, with whom, and why), Language (what are the social objects that drive participation, what levels and modes of interaction do we want, who does the dialogue in the company), Incentives (which intrinsic, extrinsic, and explicit incentives will we employ), Rules (who gets in, what can they do, where are the lines not to cross) and Tools (where do we do this, with which tools, and how do we measure and carry forward the proceeds). In the following I’ll use this lens to briefly review the Mio initiative.
Their Focus is somewhat clear. Fiat wants a car that is personal but at the same time communal enough for the masses. The reason is clear: if successful, such a car will sell in the millions. To do this, they want to employ their potential end customers (I see their lack of focus to the prosumers is the first mistake).
Their Language is limping. The question they pose is a tad too broad to activate people on any meaningful level. By simply asking “what kind of product would kick ass” – especially when discussing a product as complex as an automobile – is a bit like asking people what kind of world would they like to live in (everybody’s answer will be along the lines of “in a world where there’s no hunger and no wars”). To engage people in all the different fields required Fiat needs to offer them a more solid gripping surface, at a minimum level by dividing the forum into separate categories and in this way helping people find their fields of interest more easily – people discussing engine specifications might not share a burning passion with people into interior design.
Incentives are quite typical for this kind of forum – and typically incomplete. People get points for the ideas they’ve sent, the ideas that have gathered votes and the ideas that have gathered comments. But this is only a mechanism for ranking people, not motivating them. What do you get with the points? Has this even been thought about? (agreed, ranking alone does provide motivation for some people, but is not nearly meaningful enough to drive participation in this kind of complex and long-lasting commercial project.)
The Rules section is delightfully progressive. All immaterial rights created within the project are shared under a Creative Commons license. Thus you can build those bug eye headlights also into your old Prelude without incurring a lawsuit. The project doesn’t really stir creativity with introducing arbitrary constraints that might help getting people over the blank page syndrome in a complex project like this.
The Tools are the very basic form, with a blog like interface exhibiting the ideas and features that enable ranking the ideas by a few different criteria. The environment is not overly enticing I would like to see more active encouragement to participate at different activity and intensity levels (also to share and promote the initiative in different channels). The minimum requirements are met in tentacling the initiative to different social networks, as the project has presence both in Facebook and Orkut (Brazil’s Facebook). At this point at least the profiles are pretty plain.
In addition it’s good to remember that while people on average are pretty good in telling what could be better in a product, they’re pretty bad (on average) in radical innovation or thinking things up from scratch. The iPhone could not have been conceived collectively and also Mr. Ford famously said that “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. Even P&G, the pioneer of modern open innovation, focuses its innovation efforts towards collaborating with companies and scientists and utilizes its end customers when testing these innovations and enhancing them. It’s a different thing asking “what would you do?” and “what would you do with this?”
All in all, at a time when every second company is engaging and having conversation, engagement is changing from being a competitive advantage to being more of a qualification factor; needed for functioning in the market in the first place. It becomes a competitive advantage when doing it by truly inspiring people, giving them something to stand for and also to stand against. This requires guiding people to easily finding areas where they can be of most help and where they also feel rewarded for their efforts. It requires also a clear but sensitive and responsive strategy on how to best leverege these people and their activities both internally and externally. It’s not enough anymore to open the conversation – it needs to be creatively framed and actively fed with systematic but ardent approach which is either loved or hated – but surely noticed. This is the only way of reaching true loyalty and advocacy. If you’re not generating buzz and impact, you’re in danger of becoming insignificant – and no brand wants that.
Naturally, the Mio project is still at the beginning and if there are people in the know heading it, the conversation and interaction will surely develop hugely. However, there are many things that could already be better. I’m sure all readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of mass participation and deep engagement, but as already my childhood mentor used to say: “Do it with style or don’t bother doing it”.