What do you get the consumer that has everything?

The key to a great present is knowing what someone wants even when they don’t know themselves, and just like great presents, great products (and services) are all about seeing what people want before they know themselves.

So if you build it will he, she, they come?

Starring Kevin Costner, the 1989 classic film Field of Dreams follows Ray Kinsella after he is inspired by a voice he can’t ignore to build a baseball field in a cornfield in the Midwestern US state of Iowa.

What’s important to remember here is that the field came before anyone wanted it, but once it was built the crowds came.

Netflix saw streamed content on demand was the way forward. Uber realised we wanted to personalise our ride experience.

Deliveroo decided it was time to bring your favourite food to your door.

Tesla saw the need for high performance electric cars. The pace of development goes on – but all these successes are based on the same premise; give the consumer what they want before they even know they want it.

History is littered with examples of companies and entrepreneurs who have done just this. Henry Ford invented a car for the masses, not a faster horse.

The McDonald brothers decided people could eat a take-out meal in bag made in minutes. Sony decided a Walkman was needed to listen to music on the go. And Apple decided we wanted a touchscreen telephone, a portable music player, wearable tech. The list goes on but as digitisation continues at pace more and more companies are discovering and capitalising on what consumers want.

Did you hear that?

In the age of social media, listening to your customer has never been easier and seeking their feedback can be hugely valuable. Lego is a great example of a company that continues to innovate by listening. Its ‘Ideas’ community is a dedicated online hub to the consumer who can submit ideas for new ideas, vote on existing ideas and feedback on the concepts they want to see brought to life in blocks. This strategy has seen them launch – and sell out of – sets dedicated to The BeatlesMario, Doctor WhoThe Big Bang Theorythe Caterham Seven 620R and even NASA’s Apollo Saturn V!

Remember, with every swipe of our loyalty card and visit to a website we’re telling businesses what we love, like and can’t live without, thus shaping our future shopping experiences. This pot of consumer data gold can be far more valuable than the long and sometimes risky road of innovation. So the question is, will your business be product-driven or consumer-driven?

Keep moving forward

Recognised as one of Walt Disney’s mottos, it seems obvious that innovation should be the focus of business today. But innovation is not always that simple.

It’s risky

Mini Disc? Windows 8? Wii U? Even some great innovators get it wrong.

It’s expensive

Without a strong financial base of funding, innovation can soon become a burden too great for any business and can quickly create cash flow problems.

It takes time

By its very nature it’s never been done before and it’s difficult to predict just how long it might take to develop and bring a new product or service to market.

So it's consumer-driven for the win?

In truth, there’s no right or wrong answer. Many companies will innovate to get ahead of the market and ultimately enjoy the highest rewards, but in today’s connected world if you ignore the customer you do it at your peril. Remember…

Being consumer-led provides certainty

If you ask the customer what they want and can deliver it, then there is a reasonable expectation that you will have some success, but this rests on the quality of your research and delivery. In the short term however, the risks of failure can be greatly reduced.

Being consumer-led can be cheaper

With a loyal customer base and technology-driven tools, being customer-led can be cheaper with the availability of deep data analytics, feedback and social media monitoring at very little cost.

Being consumer-led can create agility

With a known customer base, product or service, change is often incremental and opportunities can be maximised and monetised quickly without huge change programs.