Co-Creation: How to Involve Your Customers in Innovation

Co-Creation: How to Involve Your Customers in Innovation

Every day, every one of us comes into contact with hundreds of products and services in the course of living our daily lives. Hundreds.

Just think how many products and services you come into contact with on your daily commute, for example.

You get up, you get dressed, you go out to your car.

Think of how many products there are right there, just in that small trajectory.

The bed you sleep in. The soap you use in the shower. The breakfast cereal you eat. The clothes you wear to work. The car you drive.

And even if you don’t do these things…

Even if your morning routine resembles nothing like this, and instead you sleep in a canoe and not a bed, use body wash in favor of soap, drink bulletproof coffee instead of eating cereal, wear gym shorts in your stay at home day job and get everywhere on a hipster skateboard rather than drive…

…. the result is the same.

Every day, you interact with trusted products and services… the brands you are familiar with and opt to use again and again.

This effect even holds when you go out seeking new products. A survey by Nielsen suggests that 60% of consumers would rather buy new products from a familiar brand than make the switch to a whole new brand.

Sound familiar?

And yet, with a few rare exceptions, I bet there is room for improvement.

Hardly ever are you so satisfied with a product that there is nothing you could suggest to make it better.

And so what, right?

Well, the fact is, there has never been a better opportunity in history for you to stand up and demand more from the products and services that serve you every day.

The advent of the internet, and most particularly the rise of social media, has meant that the conversation is now two-way, and not a dead end street.

For virtually the first time in the history of the modern world, you have a chance to communicate on an equal footing with your most trusted brands … and participate in changing products and services for the better.

The name for this? Co-creation.

Co-creation is the process by which companies and organizations work together with their customers to create and improve their products and services – that is, to innovate.

The truth is, a little magic happens when co-creation occurs.

There are clear wins for the customer of course. These come in the form of more satisfactory products and services, a deeper sense of engagement with the brand, a feeling of giving value and being valued by the company.

But there are also wins for the organization.

Deeper customer involvement with the design process is likely to mean deeper customer satisfaction and deeper customer loyalty. Delivering to customer specifications rather than company objectives means less operating in the dark when it comes to identifying what exactly customers want. Being able to strip out what isn’t working and focus on what is means greater efficiency and productivity.

Wins all round.

Co-Creation: Some High Profile Examples

So how exactly does co-creation play itself out in the corporate world? As this trend has gained traction, more and more big name brands are finding new ways to involve their customers in the design process.

Here are some examples:
• Lego has been a leading light in the co-creation space for some time and is an inspiring example of what happens when co-creation works well. The Lego Ideas website offers a streamlined process whereby customers propose ideas for new kits, garner support from other members (10,000 supporters qualifies ideas for an official Lego review), undergo a review, and if successful, see their idea transformed into an official LEGO product. This is surely one of the most transparent product creation processes out there today.

• The IKEA Home Tour Program is an excellent example of co-creation played out in the new media space. The program, filmed in documentary format, follows five IKEA employees as they work in close collaboration with customers to make over their homes. It is now on its 210th episode and is a great vehicle for IKEA to showcase its products and services while also deepening engagement with its customer base.

• Starbucks have achieved dizzying levels of customer engagement with their mystarbucksidea website. The website functionality allows customers to propose and upvote ideas on all aspects of the business, from choose-your-own Frappucino to the addition of automatic door openers so that those overloaded with coffee and pastries won’t have a nasty accident on the way out. One of the best aspects is that Starbucks directly publicize updates on which ideas have been successful so you can directly track progress back to the original idea.

3 Steps to Getting Co-Creation Happening Within Your Organization

Despite the simplicity of the concept, co-creation can be quite complex in its execution.

Here we present three steps towards getting it on track within your organization:

1. Decide what you want to achieve through co-creation and why

One of the keys to successful co-creation is to know what you are trying to achieve and why before you begin.

Co-creation efforts can be costly, so this point is particularly pertinent if you will be justifying the co-creation budget to the powers-that-be. Buy-in from senior management will be critical to success.

Perhaps you are trying to reach new audiences… deepen loyalty and engagement with existing customers … develop cutting-edge products and services … edge out the competition … any or all of the above.

Just be clear on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. The ‘how’ will follow.

2. Explore your co-creation options

As suggested by Brian Solis, it can be helpful to run a small trial or pilot project as one of your initial steps.

This project will be exploratory in the sense that all you are trying to do is to work out where the ‘edges’ are … what is possible for co-creation, where the opportunities are to get customers involved with product and/or service design, and how best to get it off the ground.

As an example, this could be a competition that you run, with the best customer suggestion being produced as a limited-run variation on one of your products.

Or it could just be that you extend your current design process to include focus groups or structured interviews.

Whatever you currently do, the point of this step is that you do something different to take your organization out of its current product/service development comfort zone.

3. Develop and implement your co-creation action plan

If the verdict comes back favorably after Step 2, it’s time to pick it up a notch.

Take your learnings and work them up into a detailed co-creation action plan: a strategy for implementation that sets out exactly what you are going to do, who you are going to do it with and how you will do it.

There is no one-size-fits-all for co-creation, so while you can take your lead from the examples documented here and elsewhere, it will be important that the action plan is unique to your organization.

Remember also; all good action plans include provision for reflection, review, and documentation of ‘lessons learned’ in preparedness for the next action cycle.

Involving customers intimately in your organization’s design and creation process is not just good for customer loyalty – it’s also good for business. Guessing at what your customers want is like throwing darts in the dark – not only is it dangerous, it’s unnecessary.

Organizations prepared to step outside their comfort zone and take the co-creation plunge will be rewarded with much better products and services, deeper engagement and lifelong fans.