Co-creation is just the starting point of structural collaboration

Home Co-creation is just the starting point of structural collaboration

The past few years, we’ve seen the birth of many great and successful co-creation cases in the marketing landscape. Doritos asked consumers to develop a TV advert for the Super Bowl. Lay’s crisps asked consumers for new flavours and snack manufacturer Mora developed a new croquette in collaboration with consumers. Co-creation is currently on every marketer’s checklist. Experimenting with this “new†work method is smart. However, it should go beyond a marketing campaign, which it usually was in the most of the examples mentioned.

Of all companies, 3 percent has some sort of experience with developing a new product together with its consumers, according to an InSites study. In most cases the collaboration is started as a sort of pilot project. If the test proves to be successful, structural collaboration is expanded.

Vitamin Water: from once-off co-creation to collaboration

This is what also happened at Vitamin Water. At the start co-creation was an item on a checklist. But it evolved into a structural working method (check: Contagious). In order to develop a new flavour, Vitamin Water asked for the help of its fans on Facebook. They built a subpage, named ‘flavour creation lab’. Fans made suggestions and others could vote for them. The most popular flavour was effectively launched in the shops and the inventor received 5,000dollars cash. The brand discovered that its fans were really enthusiastic and decided to continue the co-creation. The next co-creation asked fans to design the packaging and even the name of the innovation was created together with the fans. The new product became a success. During the co-creation period the number of Vitamin Water fans doubled, to 1.3million. Ever since then Vitamin Water has continued creating new concepts together with its fans via large, open communities. Something which started as a once-off campaign is now part of a companies’ philosophy.

From co-creation to structural collaboration

A mere 8% of co-creating companies involve their consumers in the launch of a new product; co-creation is usually focussing on sparking new ideas. Even if consumers are constantly involved in inventing new products, there is not always room for structural collaboration. In many cases it even feels a bit like opportunism by the brands. Sometimes a once-off co-creation action can have a great result (Lay’s has done a very, very great job), but sometimes there is a boomerang effect.

A good example is the trendy brand Moleskine that had a lot to explain to its fans after it had asked for help to develop the new logo. Many Moleskine users are designers and had the impression that the brand showed little respect by asking this. Designing is what they get paid for to do, why do it for free for Moleskine? Hence the title of this article: Co-creation is just the starting point of structural collaboration. Take a step further and dare involve the customer structurally in your company’s decision-making.

Structural collaboration means that customers are involved in all aspects of your company. This includes coming up with ideas for new products, pointing out new consumer trends, launching products, thinking along about your content strategy, helping you to map your touch points and making them conversation-worthy, coming up with an advertising campaign together with you, and even determining your prices. A recent Harvard Business Review article (‘The contribution economy’ by Scott Cook) states that all company questions are solved better when all companies are open to a collaboration with their customers.

Furthermore a recent survey by the Wageningen university (Joyce van Dijk’s master thesis) proved that a packaging which mentions ‘co-creation with consumers’ on its packaging will sell more than a product without such a mention. In other words: consumers have more faith in each other’s judgment than in the judgment of a company. Welcome to the conversation era, welcome to a time where consumers have taken power over brands and marketing.

5 ways to involve the customer in your decision-making

In order to structurally integrate the market’s input and give consumers a true voice, a company can appeal to these 5 possible sources:

  • Your listening culture: The feedback from the conversations observation is valuable for making decisions. By constantly taking into account the feedback given spontaneously by consumers, you already use their input. This is an indirect collaboration.
  • Constant communities with collaborators: It is a great way to go to create a platform for your own collaborators where they can talk with each other and exchange knowledge. Your collaborators have a lot of knowledge and are full of good ideas. By combining this in a community you will increase the efficiency and the interaction between your people. It is the ideal way to create new ideas among each other. In a modern company every collaborator helps to build the future. A proper open platform for collaborators facilitates that.
  • Constant large open ‘communities’: These communities are accessible to anyone. The most famous one is of course the Facebook fan page. Apart from the main page you can create separate subpages where you can co-create with your fans. So you talk very openly about your plans and everyone is involved.
  • Constant smaller closed ‘communities’ with company fans: Gathering 50 to 150 fans of your company in a closed community offers numerous opportunities. Involve them in the co-creation of new products, new adverts and other decisions made by your company. The benefit of this community is the implication of the participants. These people know they will have an impact. The benefit of a closed community is that the competition cannot join you. When you are working at a pioneering innovation, it is handy to talk about it to fans within the virtual walls of your own company. These conversations offer the necessary in-depth to deliver concrete value for your company. Prof. dr. Moenaert calls these communities ‘strategy squads’: small strategic customer teams which can dramatically reduce the duration of strategic planning by intensely collaborating with a company.
  • Short-term ‘communities’: In order to intensively collaborate with your customer during specific projects, a short-term community is a handy tool. You can invite people from your large open community to become part of a smaller work group.

All communities can be either temporary or long-term. Communities can be set up for a specific project (e.g. a product launch). You can compare it with a fair versus an amusement park (as our @tomderuyck loves to say). A fair –comparable with a short-term community – is fun, but an amusement park – a long-term community – is much more fun and also more interesting in price per attraction. Running an amusement park however will demand much more effort than building a fair.

The result of this intense collaboration between your company and the market is that decisions are no longer enforced by the powers that be. As soon as decisions are made in collaboration with the market, there is a structural collaboration. That is how the consumer is said to be present in the boardroom. The majority of the decisions are taken in collaboration. In every aspect of the company the client’s voice is equally valuable as the management’s and that of the collaborators. Do not hesitate to consider literally including a customer in your board of advisors.

Other ways of involving the consumer

In this article I present five ways of structurally including the vision and feedback of customers and collaborators in your decision-making. Do you see any others which I may not have spotted?