This excellent case story just tugs at my product manager's and innovator's heart:
Once just plugging away as an old-school hiking boot company, Merrell has stepped into the core of the outdoor industry by developing a dynamic, bottom-up strategy, tapping into the kind of network that can ensure they never lose the ability to hear their customers. You’ve probably seen Merrell’s Jungle Moc. It’s the comfortable slip-on shoe that nearly everyone wears and many companies have copied. After Merrell introduced it, the Jungle Moc became a cultural phenomenon that literally doubled the size of Merrell’s business. Unlike so many other companies who stumble onto some real innovation that resonates with the market, only to ride the trend into oblivion, Merrell wanted to find a way to continually fuel innovation. With Radar’s help, Merrell set up a global network of people, all trend translators [aka early adopters], who could consistently give them quick and vital feedback.
To develop this network, we used the principles of networking to find the right key voices that could offer the best inspiration to Merrell. The resulting network has been used for feedback on both tactical and strategic questions. Merrell has used it to get global inspiration for innovative point-of-purchase displays; they have also used the network to understand how Merrell’s entry into a new category of business would be received. Most of the time, companies get this kind of feedback only after it’s too late, when ideas have already been conceptualized, dollars have been spent, and egos are on the line. This all too typical path amounts to finding inspiration in the context of justification. And that doesn’t work. [Bingo!]
With a preexisting network, on the other hand, Merrell can answer questions in the context of discovery well before anyone is committed to a specific idea, either financially or psychologically. This is precisely how Merrell has gone from being a small hiking boot company to a global force in both the fashion and outdoors industries, picking up Footwear News’ 2001 Brand of the Year award along the way.” [Now this is a branding campaign.] - Beyond the Brand, by John Winsor