Collaborating with Customers to Innovate
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Collaborating with Customers to Innovate

Conceiving and Marketing Products in the Networking Age

Emanula Prandelli, Mohanbir Sawhney and Gianmario Verona

The book enriches an important debate in management and in academia on the new product development process. It encompasses marketing approaches and is sharply focused on the opportunities that digital technologies have created for involving customers in collaborative innovation, and actionable recommendations for putting collaborative innovation to work.
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Chapter 7: Virtual Knowledge Brokers

Emanula Prandelli, Mohanbir Sawhney and Gianmario Verona


INTRODUCTION While firms can benefit greatly from engaging directly with customers and communities of customers in virtual environments (VEs), our premise in this book is that direct engagement is not enough. To fully leverage the power of virtual environments, we propose that firms need to combine direct channels of customer connection with mediated channels that include virtual knowledge brokers (VKBs). These actors manage their own virtual environments and provide these environments as a service to firms. In doing so, they extend a firm’s scope of interaction to include knowledge that comes from diverse and previously disconnected sources (Verona et al., 2006). VKBs are the virtual manifestation of knowledge brokers (KBs) – third parties who connect, recombine and transfer knowledge to companies in order to facilitate innovation (Hargadon and Sutton, 2000). In the physical world, KBs have traditionally taken the form of innovation and design consulting firms (Sutton, 2002; Hargadon, 2003). However, in the virtual world, VKBs take the form of information intermediaries who leverage the unique capabilities of the Internet to absorb valuable market knowledge for innovation. VKBs’ activities can be more diverse, their reach is broader, and their influence on the innovation process is qualitatively different. Table 7.1 provides a comparison of operators who use different mechanisms to facilitate innovation. In physical environments, firms can autonomously innovate or they can involve KBs like the design firms IDEO and Design Continuum to support their innovation activity and obtain specific design solutions. In virtual settings, firms can...

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