Co-Creation, a new Business Strategy

1. Co…Er, What Sorry?

Co-Creation. Essentially collaborating with your customers to solve problems and develop ideas via a unified perspective and approach. It often involves customers/ consumers working directly with a client organisation to define and create anything from its business strategy and communications to products and even experiences.

Consumers are often experts in their own right, whether the tech addict helping generate new mobile applications or the housewife helping repositioning a globally renowned air freshener. Whatever their background or particular expertise, Co-Creation is about approaching them as equals and partners in the creation process.

2. Sounds a bit free-form and risky…

Not at all. Co-creation isn't about handing over complete control to ‘the crowd' (although crowd-sourcing and harnessing crowd wisdom is often one stage in the process) but a model of open invitation.  The Co-Creation process can span many disiplines and backgrounds with ideas generated and validated by producers and consumers together.

Working co-creatively means interacting  constructively with your audience to generate ideas together not just listening to their opinions via the classic stimulas/ response model that dominates the market research industry. It's about translating business language into everyday words helping to evole concepts into more lifelike entities.

3. Ok but why not "Co" create and why now?

The interest in Co-Creation has ramped in line with the recent dramatic changes across the communication landscape. Alongside the evolution of the Internet it's near-impossible to overestimate social media's influence in empowering consumers.

Not just in voicing their opinions, but in creating and distributing their own content and as active stakeholders ub the brands they consume, in setting a new agenda for producer-consumer relationships.

In many ways the advent of Co-Creation is a corollary of these developments.

Social media has created a real-time collective mind where people are becoming used to on-going interactions (not campaigns), immediately (not asynchronous responses) and closeness (not ivory tower distance) to the brands they admire.

That's forcing businesses to switch open and collaborative approaches where they have to listen, engage, and collaborate with their audience with their audiences in shaping what they do in order to stay relevant.

Brands have always placed great store in listening  to their customers, but in the current economic climate staying close and staying constantly close has become more important that ever.

4. Ok so how's it done?

There are many different approaches but the heart of the model we've adopted at Face is typically a face-to-face workshop. The ideal involves a multi-staged approach incorporating insight generation/ opportunity shaping, ideation, validation, and refinement. We often talk about reversing the research funnel starting by consulting the crowd, moving on to work with defined online communities, then collaborating with an intimate group of co-creators.

5. The exploration and crowd-sourcing phase

Using social media monitoring, we scan the public social Internet to derive insight around a particular brand, category, occasion, need state, or demographic. We then analyse this content and use the resulting insights to define a research agenda to take into a crowd-sourcing phase.

Harnessing the wisdom of the crowd helps drill down further into these insights. Crowd-sourcing can be used to uncover problems and divine top-line solutions to a particular issue. This phase is also useful in quantifying opinions and issues; to ask qualitative questions of quantitative samples.

A second stage typically involves convening a bespoke online project community to explore any hunches, hypotheses, and issues in greater depth.

6. The Co-Creation phase

As outlined above, the Co-Creation phase brings together the professionals and consumers to brainstorm and problem solve, capitalising, developing and building upon the insights, understanding (and potentially the initial solutions) derived in the initial stage to produce "worked up" solutions.

Encouraging creative thinking and ideas in people who might not ordinarily consider themselves "creative thinkers" is something of an art, honed by carefully structuring and facilitating both the workshops and the wider process. Everything must be fine-tuned to make the face-to-face part as effective as possible.

7. The Validation phase

Where time and budget allow we advocate taking workshop outputs back online for further refinement and validation.

One invaluable aspect of Co-Creation outputs is the fact they're articulated in consumer ‘language' rather than marketing speak. Taking concepts back online exposes them to a further relevant and constructively -critical audience that can pick ideas apart on the level of individual words and phrases. They can also comment on visualisation and other aspects  of the articulation to help ensure ideas are expressed as clearly and relevantly as possible.

8. How are people using it, and how successfully?

There have been several high-profile examples of fruitful Co-Creation projects, including Unilever's Lynx/ Ace Twist campaign and Nokia which is using Co-Creation in its development of concepts and future usage and functionalities.

One recent Nokia project , aimed at securing relevance for the brand in the upper end of the marketplace, saw it engage with a community of tech  leaders to explore  problems and shortcomings in the smartphone category.

Armed with the highest-ranked and rated problems (as identified by the crowdsourcing stage), the resulting two-day Co-Creation workshop united a number of highly-engaged, tech savvy consumers with Nokia's designers and design researchers.

This is Co-Creation at a very high level super users and producers collaborating on materials that eventually became part of Nokia's concepting and design agenda for 2012.

9. What makes Co-Creation so valuable?

Driven by broadening array of clear, tangible benefits, more and more businesses are beginning to recognise the value of Co-Creation  as a valuable approach to both business strategy and consumer engagement.

It helps break the R&D ‘yo-yo' effect, wherein clients go back and forth between creative agencies, research, agencies, and their audience. By working with consumers, rather than directing stuff at them and hoping it will stick, producers get a real sense of what works and what doesn't.

Idea's emerge, develop, and are refined and validated with the audience in real time. No need to wait around for endless tests.

In so many cases, the proof really is in the pudding. Time and time again we find co-created concepts outperforming siloed concepts in quant tests and across all manner of benchmarks. Consumer articulation and validation  at the point of idea generation means outputs are richer and more complete and, ultimately, that ideas can move to realisation (and to market) more quickly and cost-effectively.

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