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l-r: PhD student Colin Campbell and professor Leyland Pitt

Companies can’t dismiss consumer hackers

February 10, 2011

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Companies need to embrace the new wave of consumers who are tinkering and altering their products, according to an award-winning study by researchers at SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

Their findings come in the wake of some high profile hacking of proprietary technology offerings, including the unlocking of Apple’s iPhone 4 and the hacking of Microsoft’s Kinect gaming device.

Doctoral student Colin Campbell, professors Leyland Pitt and Ian McCarthy, and a U.S. colleague examined the phenomenon of “creative consumers”—those who hack, tinker and mess with firms’ proprietary offerings.

"Creative consumers are becoming a major force in the business world," the authors wrote in their paper, Creative Consumers: Awareness, Attitude & Action—Instrument & Preliminary Results. "They are adapting, modifying and creating."

For example, it was Apple’s customers—not the company itself—that adapted the iPod for podcasting, which has evolved into a new form of media broadcasting. But there is also potential danger when customers tinker with certain pharmaceutical products, or with safety features on automobiles.

That’s why the researchers developed a scale—or checklist—that firms can use to examine and explore their own attitudes toward the creative consumer phenomenon.

“By being aware of the phenomenon, knowing what their attitude towards it is, and being able to determine the actions they will take toward it, firms will be better able to deal with creative consumers,” say the researchers.

The article received the best paper award on the Strategic Marketing track at the Australia and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference held in Christchurch, New Zealand in December 2010.

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