Madison Electric Products – Turning the telescope for innovative product development

ASeymour    October 20, 2015
Madison Electric Products Sparks Innovation Center

Madison Electric Products Sparks Innovation Center

Industry: Electrical

Contact: Rob Fisher, Vice President of Marketing, Madison Electric Products


The Brand Establishment

myMadison blog




tED Magazine (The Electric Distributor Magazine)

Brad Huff Post

Simply Measured Blog

The challenge

What began as a rebranding exercise turned into one of the most successful new product innovation programs that has garnered more than 400 suggestions, 7 product groupings and 53 product SKUs, three of which are now being carried by Home Depot.

Rob Fisher, Vice President of Marketing with Madison Electric Products, joined the company in 2008.  Recognizing that the electrical industry was witnessing an evolution as millennials joined the ranks as electricians and, that in the process of developing and introducing new products into the industry, close to 90% of electrical fittings are commodity-based, Fisher had some fresh ideas about how to make a mark for Madison Electric Products.

“The Sparks Innovation Center is the industry’s first crowd-sourced approach to New Product Development.  We had an opportunity to climb to the top of the mountain, put a flag in it and take the lead,” Fisher explains.  “Electricians are creative people.  We get real ideas from the field where no two jobs are ever the same.”

Sparks Innovation Center

Sparks Innovation Center

According to Fisher, the industry itself was getting a bit antiquated.  “As a thought leader, you need to create your own tribe of followers,” Fisher explains.  “You need to speak to them in their own language.  Transparency is what it’s all about.  Social media offers the opportunity to show people your real brand”.  He adds, that people ARE the real brand of a company.  And borrowing a concept from The Brand Establishment, “Turning the telescope” inward  instead of outward, the answers Madison Electric Products were looking for had literally been there since the inception of the company.  “This company was built on entrepreneurial innovation starting in 1929,” says Fisher.  “It was very obvious, very quickly, that no one was leading the industry in terms of adopting new techniques – social media, digital marketing, technology, thought leadership.”

Madison Electric Products was founded in Cleveland in 1929 by Earl Atkinson, an electrician and inventor of the Madison Clip, one of the electrical industry’s most relied-upon and favorite products, still to this day.  It was owned and led for many years by Bob Starr. At the helm of Madison Electric Products today is President Brad Wiandt and his team of experienced electrical industry veterans.  And their brand statement reflects their roots, but points them definitely in the direction of embracing a disruption.

In alignment with this philosophy, Madison Electric Products began a quest to strategically leverage social media—an endeavor that earned it one of three 2011 Best of the Best awards.  “Digital communication—and, more specifically, social media—is forcing companies to shift the way they communicate,” said Fisher. “When I first joined Madison, social media had been around for a little bit, but our industry was lagging behind in getting into it. Now I see some other companies starting to get behind it full force, but I do feel that we were an early adopter in this industry.

With social media, Fisher saw the opportunity to build stronger connections their customers, distributors, media, and other industry influencers while also leveraging the medium to reinforce Madison’s new brand positioning, all with a voice of authenticity.

Madison Electric Products Twitter feed

Madison Electric Products Twitter feed

Madison Expands Its Sparks Product Innovation Center to Engage New Markets

In a June 2015 news release issued by Madison Electric Products, the company announced the enhancement of their crowd-sourced product development platform – Sparks 2.0, offering process improvements to inventors and plans to expand to low-voltage, data communication and home DIY markets.

According to the release, since first launching in 2010, Sparks has successfully shortened the time between idea formation and commercialization for Madison’s partners while also growing the company’s portfolio.

An incubator for new and innovative products and concepts, Sparks Innovation Center welcomes all idea submissions, regardless of what stage they are in. Madison’s experienced new products team then evaluates concepts and tests for factors such as cost, manufacturability, patent infringement and testing requirements.

 Fisher utilizes mainstream social media platforms for his marketing efforts – including promoting the Sparks Innovation Center. “I use social media to launch products – to research influencers and establish a set of targets for some immediate successes. “

Because the company also recognized that time spent online must be time well spent, the social media strategy —which includes a company blog, LinkedIn and Facebook pages, and a Twitter account—was designed to increase awareness among key audiences, drive traffic to the website, and enhance the company’s position as a trusted resource within the industry.   The center sports its own web presence, capitalizing on the the continued collaboration of the Inventor/Partners through myMadison – a blog where prospective contributors can learn what its like to work with Madison Electric Products first hand.

Inventor/Partners – How does it feel to contribute creatively to the growth of a company

myMadison – Greg Hearth – from Long Island, NY was the first to go through the Sparks Innovation Center with his specialized Smart Box outlet box. His partnership with Madison Electric Products began in 2009 and continues to this day.

myMadison – Michelle Laramee – a Rhode Island electrican, took an idea to terminate ground wire bond connections and protect the copper (copper theft is a real issue to contend with) to the Sparks Innovation Center.   “Our inside engineering team made it manufacturable,” explains Fisher, and making it competitive in the marketplace.

Lessons learned:

Madison Electric Products’ President, Brad Wiandt explained in an article by the Huff Post in March 2013: In 2010 my company, Madison Electric Products, introduced the Sparks Innovation Center, our industry’s first crowdsourced approach to product development. From the ideas submitted thus far, we’ve launched six signature products and have three more slated to hit the market in 2013. As a result,

Madison’s sales are up 30 percent, driven by an increase in new products sales of more than double our sales growth.

Crowdsourcing works for the manufacturing industry because it supports four key development pillars.

  1. Closes the R&D gap
  2. Shortens the development lifecycle
  3. Eliminates risk
  4. Merges creativity and business accumen

Michael Sgambati – founder, CEO of ChaddrBox, Simply Measured Blog, concurs, suggesting that social media can fuel research and development on the cheap by building a community, and following some simple engagement tactics such as:

  • Posting questions on Twitter, asking how to improve a product/service
  • Setting up a contest that takes users submissions
  • Have fans send in video submissions via Instagram or Vine saying what they do and don’t like about a specific product/service
  • Set up a voting system on Facebook
  • Utilize Snapchat to have fans send in pictures with new product ideas
  • Listen and engage

Crowdsourcing New Product Innovation – stretching the concept

Fisher was asked to speak about his concept of crowdsourced approach to new product development at several conferences, including the 3DCIC – where the aerospace and defense industries were eager to learn the tactical approach that Madison Electric Products used to develop products, solicit and bring ideas to the table. When Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are listening…you may just have something worthwhile to share.

Sparks Innovation Center – How it Works







Submitted by: ASeymour, University of Waterloo

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