The global pharma company GSK looked to the lead users of its cold and flu products to understand a range of possible innovations, both in terms of improvements and more radical leaps using a modern version of a tested technique.

Looking for lead users is a 30-year-old idea. Since the MIT Sloan professor Eric von Hippel began thinking about lead users in the study of innovation, it has become an interesting if quite slow and cost-intensive method of finding new ideas.

Effectively, lead users “are actually the true pioneers behind very radical early concepts”, explained Sandro Kaulartz, Chief Research Officer, Social Intelligence & Analytics at the research firm Ipsos. Many innovations claimed by companies are often scaled concepts created by lead consumers, he told the IIeX conference in Amsterdam.

Von Hippel’s method is a system for searching for and then engaging those users. “However, the method has long-suffered from a lack of practicality, because of the cost of time required to find these people.”

The project would apply the method across user-generated data on the internet and parse it using machine-learning algorithms to surface “innovations that people develop, share, and talk about”.

First, the project began scraping the open web for user-generated content to then push through a semantic filter that used machine learning – backed up by expert validation – to find new ideas.

The eventual results, based on the hundreds of thousands of cold and flu comments and posts in the UK began to point to general directions of travel in the industry, such as organic or natural ingredients, along with a handful of emerging needs. (For the full insight, read WARC’s in-depth report: How GSK learned to kitesurf: understanding lead users for better innovation.)

“This allows us to have a platform to start working with consumers to build the solution,” said James Sallows, Global Marketing Excellence – Insights & Analytics at GSK. “Allowing lead users to drive us into new areas innovation has to be the way for us to find those true spaces.”

Sourced from WARC