Editor’s Notes: UGC? Try UGP!
User-generated content, or UGC, has been one of the hottest trends, and thus, buzzwords in recent years. Part media revolution and part marketing innovation, UGC takes the form of customer product reviews, blogs and sites that allow participants to share images, videos and text (think MySpace, YouTube). Not long ago, at least one of these media forms would have been alien to the masses. Now, UGC is fast becoming commonplace. And that means it’s time for the next acronym.
Let’s call it UGP, which stands for user-generated product. (I have no hopes that this term will stick, but seeing that the only catchphrase for this process is Patricia Seybold’s “customer co-design,” I thought creating my own would be appropriate for at least this column.) UGP goes beyond the solicitation of input on product features to instead encourage customers to take part in all the design phases of product development. The philosophy behind this approach is simple: Two brains are better than one, especially if one of those brains belongs to a smart customer who cares as much about the final product as your own teams.
For example, Slim Devices, a tech firm that creates network-based devices for streaming music, developed its Squeezebox product with the help of an outside community of engineers and music enthusiasts. Hundreds volunteered their time and experience for no more than the privilege to help invent a great product and, of course, the bragging rights when their contributions made it into the final design. According to a December 2006 article in Fast Company, “Ears Wide Open,” the company finds that “cultivating customer-creators of all stripes gives Slim access to talent that it otherwise wouldn’t have.”
But Slim Devices isn’t the most radical example of UGP. A new Scottish single malt whisky distillery is based on the business model of “consumer-owners,” where the customers have invested in the product years before it will be ready for consumption. As co-creators of the Ladybank Company of Distillers’ whisky, customers will be able to take part in the whisky-making process. This process will take anywhere from three years to a decade or more—talk about long-term value! But ownership of the final product is just one aspect of being a co-creator; in fact, Ladybank is a club that will offer members annual shares of the whisky as well as access to the distillery and its private rooms for functions.
While UGP might be a bit mind-boggling at first, the really cool thing is that companies can let the concept take shape in whatever way makes the most sense for their business model and customer base. To learn more, I encourage you to check out Seybold’s new book, “Outside Innovation” (Collins, 2006).
—Hallie Mummert, editor in chief