Fiat Brasil’s Mio is an unusual car. Not only is this two-seater, city vehicle a clear design standout from the generic-looking cars found on Brazil’s streets, but it also originates from an odd source — the Internet.
The Fiat Mio is the first “crowdsourced” automobile. The company has received over 11,000 ideas from a community of interested consumers submitting thoughts on topics ranging from interior design to propulsion, via a dedicated website. The result is intriguing and sure to appeal to the program’s participants. Can this kind of crowdsourcing uncover new markets?
The Mio illustrates not only a pent-up demand for alternative forms of urban transportation, but also the popular appeal of helping to create a car, which can be one of the most visible forms of self-expression (BMW’s Mini understood this years ago). It provides the company with useful information about leading edge consumer preferences. However the people using the Mio website are likely distinct from the great majority of car buyers, and participants will probably be proudest if their input results in something that is obviously different from the norm. This is typically the case with crowdsourcing. Pepsi’s Mountain Dew DEWocracy program recently sought input on a new flavor — enthusiasts opted for a clear formulation that would stand apart from other Dew offerings. The insight from this kind of program lies in what it says broadly about changing types of demand, and occasionally in the originality of some individual suggestions. The actual product resulting from the effort is something that will appeal to participants, but perhaps not much further.
Crowdsourcing is a valuable source of information about new markets under a handful of conditions:
An alternative approach to crowdsourcing is illustrated by the telecom giant Vodafone. The company keeps close tabs on the changing use of its network and mobile devices. This week, CEO Vittorio Colao said that just 20% of data subscribers are using their devices for e-mail — less than the proportion using them for browsing or games. Vodafone uses this real-time input to adjust its network of applications, allowing subscribers to source what they want in real-time. According to Colao, “We need to avoid the closed, vertically-integrated models…We want a truly open environment…in which the OS, devices and apps are decoupled as much as possible.” Vodafone can learn from user demand in this environment to understand where to build its capabilities; for instance, it is enhancing its data network to better support entertainment apps and provide higher quality of service for some of these.
Too often, crowdsourcing can be a PR gimmick rather than a source of important business insight. While online voting has its place in industries catering to fickle popular tastes, the right kind of crowdsourcing can go far beyond selecting paint colors to generating substantive input into changing markets. Fiat’s Mio seems to have gone half-way to this destination.