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Lead Users

Part 5. Product Innovation and Management

  1. Nikolaus Franke

Published Online: 15 DEC 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9781444316568.wiem05018

Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing

Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing

How to Cite

Franke, N. 2010. Lead Users. Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing. 5.

Author Information

  1. Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Vienna), Vienna, Austria

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2010


Lead users are valuable external sources for companies seeking ideas and concepts for radical innovations. The need to systematically transcend the company's internal resources when innovating, particularly at what is called the fuzzy front end of the innovation process, is highlighted in the literature on open innovation. Lead users are defined as members of a user population who display two key characteristics: first, they anticipate relatively high benefits from obtaining a solution to their needs – may innovate as a result; and second, they are at the leading edge of important trends in a given marketplace – and thus experience specific needs far earlier than many users in that marketplace. These lead users are able to provide direct input in new-product development tasks and have often developed prototypes of new-product solutions for themselves or for their communities. The “lead-user method” is a managerial tool that allows companies to benefit from the creative potential of lead users. Usually it is described as comprising four phases: (i) the start phase, (ii) the identification of major needs and trends, (iii) the identification of users leading those trends, and (iv) the lead-user workshop, in which concepts are designed.


  • open innovation;
  • user innovation;
  • creativity;
  • radical innovation method;
  • customer orientation;
  • new-product development