7 Tips for Launching a Great Innovation Contest

by James Pasmantier

7 Tips for Launching a Great Innovation ContestAs GE launches its second phase of the highly successful Ecomagination Challenge, the concept of open innovation is becoming more and more mainstream. For this challenge, GE is asking for ideas to Power Your Home. Just as its name suggests, open innovation is an unrestricted concept adaptable to many applications and paradigms. From internal efficiency building to external calls for improved goods and services, when the core values of open innovation are maintained, like fostering an open dialogue and interaction amongst community users, it can be leveraged in so many creative ways.

Running an open innovation contest is no small task and every aspect must be considered. There are seven main areas to address and when handled properly they can lead to a very successful campaign.

1. Open the dialogue and invite all to join.

External marketing is a crucial ingredient to getting the word out on the concept, the timeline and the rewards involved in the innovation competition. The best way to kick off the marketing campaign is with an official launch by the higher-ups of the company, like GE did with their Ecomagination Challenge.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt launched the campaign to a room packed with press, key public figures, and top executives from GE and partnering venture capital firms, just the first step in GE’s massive marketing campaign for the contest. All the attention paid off in the end, as the Ecomagination Challenge was the largest and most successful open innovation contest of all time, pooling 70,000+ global users who submitted 3,000+ ideas and cast 120,000+ votes.

2. Gather as many ideas as possible but don’t let them weigh you down.

A highly successful campaign can gather thousands of ideas, which is why the management of ideas is a crucial step to success. Since timeliness are key to a campaign, an in-depth evaluation of every idea is not possible because it would take way too long. If GE were to wade through 3,000+ ideas it would take months just to review all the ideas, delaying the whole process for everyone involved.

One way around this problem is to leverage the wisdom of the crowd to find popular winning ideas, most commonly through a voting and demoting system. GE announced 13 total Ecomagination winners, the first of which was their wisdom of the crowd winner, Solar Roadways. Besides just having a popular winner though, contest managers must have a way to sort through the rest of the best and determine the ideas that are not only the most innovative but also the most implementable. This is most commonly done through front-end tools like SwitchBoard and the dissemination of tasks to management teams that can sort and evaluate ideas more efficiently.

3. Define boundaries to keep your users at ease.

Since private individuals are posting ideas in a public forum, you must define boundaries of intellectual property, designating ideas as sole property of the submitter through a more extensive Codes of Conduct or Terms and Conditions. On the Ecomagination website, for example, it explicitly says all ideas remain the property of the submitter. Maintaining this trust will further encourage participation in the contest because submitters won’t be afraid of having their ideas “stolen” or misused.

4. Set goals and expectations and make sure the public knows what you’re looking for.

Management of an innovation contest means managing internal expectations through clear idea flow estimations and set goals of what the enterprise wants to get out of the campaign. Setting goals will allow the public to know what to submit and it will allow managers to better evaluate and sort through the ideas. Internal expectations allow the enterprise the adequately judge the outcome of the contest when it’s over.

YTL Communication’s mYprize, for example, was clear from the onset that they were looking to get “the best 4G applications and devices out there into the marketplace.” The already narrow scope directed submitters even further, asking for ideas that, 1) Take advantage of high-speed and mobile Internet access, 2) Take advantage of a nationwide coverage of mobile broadband network, and are 3) Practical and Executable. Clearly defined actionable strategies make a contest run smoothly and efficiently, gathering ideas that are tailored to the exact goals of the campaign.

5. Maintain your community of users and always encourage Continuous Communication.

Besides management of ideas and expectations, contest managers must maintain the community, the actual providers of the ideas. This entails screenings and reviews of ideas, comments and blog posts, abuse reports and most importantly fostering continuous communication amongst community members. Open innovation would be nothing without the open dialogue, which is why forging connections is a top task for any open innovation manager. Communicating the progress and success of the community on an on-going basis is essential to attracting new users and encouraging continual participation. Community statistics and metrics—available to administrators through downloaded excel reports and reporting dashboards as well as through integration with Brightidea’s API—can help communicate the progress and health of the community. Also, regular meetings or touch points with your innovation community or managers, through in-person meetings or webinars, can be highly successful in maintaining a continuous dialogue.

6. Provide Support so the community knows you’re always there behind them.

To further provide for the continuous communication—especially given the contest is a public event usually with a lot of money involved—extensive support should be provided to users at all times. Throughout the GE Ecomagination Challenge, Brightidea acted as GE’s support portal, spending well over 300 hours supporting community members. Community questions, random requests and technical difficulties all must be addressed by the support team and of course in a timely manner. And when the campaign is internal, standards for browsers and users must be met to keep a high level of quality throughout the campaign.

7. The higher the Prize the better the turnout.

Lastly, the actual prize must be defined so the users know what exactly is at stake to win. A fundamental concept central to open innovation is the provision of incentives, an extrinsic motivator encouraging participation in any open call. When a campaign is run internally, employees are encouraged by motivators like increased internal exposure, improved working conditions and possibly even a raise or a bonus. But when a campaign is run externally, extrinsic motivators is harder to come by. Customers may be encouraged by getting improved goods and services, an increased relationship with a brand or the pleasure that comes with participating and interacting with an innovation community. When these motivators are not enough, however, a contest with a reward can go quite far in encouraging widespread participation and at a very high level.

In external contests especially, the higher monetary prize the higher the extrinsic motivation and the more submissions you are likely to get. As discussed earlier, you should have a prize for the wisdom of the crowd winner (i.e. the top vote getter) as well as your other winners based on key metrics and idea evaluations. Having the wisdom of the crowd winner will not only encourage idea submissions but it will also encourage longer participation within the community. Distinguishing the wisdom winner from your own winners will give credence to the most popular idea, while separately rewarding those ideas that best fit the company’s long-term plans.

What else are they saying about 'Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire'

Don’t miss a post (2,150+) – Subscribe to our RSS feed and join our Innovation Excellence group!

James PasmantierJames is an innovation management expert with over 12 years of experience and the Vice President of Professional Services at Brightidea. He oversees the success of all client innovation campaigns, in particular focusing on best practices and large-scale rollouts.