Co-Creation Nation

Now more than ever, consumers are showing a sense of empowerment and a desire to play a greater role in the creation of the products they use.

Consumers are willing and able to co-create with both manufacturers and retailers -- sharing their ideas to fulfill needs that have not yet been met by the market. In this sense, co-creation can go far beyond simple product-customization (e.g. NikeID, where shoppers can build their own shoes from predetermined components and colors). Real forward-looking businesses are opening their R&D doors to the public -- and are exploring a much more symbiotic approach in which consumers actively collaborate and contribute to a product offering.

The advantages are fairly clear. New products often fail because businesses inadequately assess and fulfill consumer needs; co-creation can foster a clearer connection with consumers and return more value to them, while reducing the business’ risk of failure and research investment. At the same time, consumers participate for the potential financial payouts, social clout, and/or intrinsic fulfillment from the partnership -- it’s a win-win situation.



But co-creation doesn’t come without its challenges; businesses are easily discouraged by the increased complexity and diminished control from additional cooks in the kitchen -- communication management, sharing of intellectual property, information overload and production feasibility can quickly become intimidating as well as and costly.

Despite these obstacles, several businesses of late have successfully pressed forward with co-creation in various business contexts. 

Ideation and Development

Early-stage consumer research is commonplace; but opening up innovation and development even further to consumers can allow for unprecedented breadth and depth of inputs.

Samuel Adams is letting Facebook fans create their own brew in a crowdsourcing experiment, with an app called the CrowdCraft project. The fans’ collective feedback will determine the new brew’s color, clarity, body, hops, malt and yeast, which will be unveiled at SXSW in March. 

ASDA, the UK’s second largest supermarket, recently revamped its entire range of ASDA brand food products by secretly hosting over 200,000 blind taste tests with 40,000 customers. Renamed Chosen By You, the brand now sends a clear message of quality by not including anything that has not passed its strict customer taste test.

Toyota’s Ideas for Good campaign added an altruistic spin to co-creation by inviting consumers to imagine new uses of Toyota technology, outside of the automotive world, to improve our lives and make the world a better place. Thousands of ideas were submitted from across the country; the winning ideas were selected in May and are currently being developed into working prototypes.

Marketing and Feedback

Co-creating social interactions online is becoming increasingly popular. While many companies start and stop with forums for consumer comments and reviews, others have thought of new ways to boost awareness, spur trial, monitor experiences, provide support, and improve products after launch -- all by using the help of their own consumers.

Mountain Dew’s DEWmocracy campaigns are aggressive programs that allow consumers to vote for the brand’s next flavor, color and name, as well as submit logo designs and product advertisements to be judged by the brand’s own fan community. The latest winning flavor, White Out, was distributed throughout 2011, and a third DEWmocracy is rumored to appear this summer.

Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl campaign is perhaps the crown jewel of co-creative marketing. Out of all the commercials broadcasted during the event, Doritos’ two fan-made/fan-selected spots ranked number one on USA Today’s Panel and Facebook ad-meters.

The Takeaway

In many ways, co-creation is still young; pioneers are still figuring out how to overcome the diminished control and increased complexity that come with it. But a few things are certain: innovation is evolving before our eyes; the traditional active-business/passive-consumer market construct is rapidly becoming one of the past.

Co-creation turns each stage of development into a much more dynamic and creative process that potentially adds considerable value for both sides. Businesses would be wise to begin erasing boundaries they have with consumers and forging deeper collaborative relationships based on transparency and trust.

In particular, retailers may be able to leverage the rich card-data they have at their disposal, and utilize their stores as local “labs,” event venues, and/or regional test markets to more effectively access consumers, identify the best ways to collaborate, and encourage consumer participation

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