Inviting Consumers to Innovate

Smart companies are embracing the notion that sometimes the best ideas come from unexpected sources, outside of their four walls. Crowdsourcing and cross-industry partnerships, modes of innovation involving consumers, competitors or other surprising partners, are becoming ingrained in business strategy, as companies move away from traditional problem-solving.Unilever is taking this concept one step further with the launch of its online platform "Open Innovation". In its quest to design a product that is both environmentally and user-friendly, the company has opened its doors to ideas from anyone and everyone, including those individuals who will ultimately buy and use its products.

The company, who launched the website as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, isn't shy about listing the challenges Unilever is facing and what it needs the public to contribute to its process. Some of the projects currently listed on the website include: a more sustainable shower, an active ingredient that helps prevent viruses without relying on harsh chemicals and an alternative to sodium that would reduce salt intake. Businesses and individuals alike are directed to the Open Innovation Submission Portal to upload all types of solutions for review, with the hope that one might be the next big idea.

By seeking submissions from the public, including its own consumers, benefits for Unilever are two-fold: the company taps into previously untouched innovation from a new pool of creative minds, and, it has the opportunity to profit from the intimate knowledge that can only be gained from someone who interacts regularly with its products. By incorporating the end consumer in the innovation process, Unilever has learned to embrace a very integral and powerful stakeholder. A company can have the very best and brightest scientists and innovators at the table to solve important problems, but it runs the risk of ignoring a powerful proposition: a problem-solving product that's made for consumers, by consumers.

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