The Art of Co-creation – And how it can work for you

While we have alluded to co-creation in previous posts, it is not yet something we have addressed specifically, so exactly what is consumer co-creation and what is its relationship with market research and how can you use it to help grow your business?

Co-creation in it’s broadest sense is simply where companies use insight from external parties as an input to product or service development.

As companies large and small become more agile and development cycles shorten, co-creation is becoming an increasingly popular source of creative input and constructive criticism to help ensure the future success of products and services.

There are many examples of how well known global companies have used these techniques.

Who are your potential co-creators?

These external sources could have a wide variety of links to the co-created product and many will have a vested interest in it’s success. The types of sources we are talking about will include, but is not limited to; existing customers, the general public, suppliers, distributors and retailers.

We will look at the role of each of these potential contributors to co-creation in turn:

  • Existing customers – Existing customers will be able to offer valuable insight as to what they like or dislike about your existing product, information that is essential to keep in mind as you begin the design phase. They will also tell you very quickly whether there is a market for your new product, would they buy it and if not, why not? Taking this information on board will prevent you from launching a product which doesn’t meet the demands of the target audience.
  • Also, it is exciting for people to be involved in the product development cycle of something new. These customers will form an emotional attachment to the product and will most likely be among the first few to try it out once it comes to market. Further still, they will become brand ambassadors, promoting the product to friends and family as they tell them about how they were involved in it’s creation.
  • General public – Consulting with the public will offer similar benefits to your existing customers, though they are likely to offer you a more objective opinion of your proposed ideas and may give you more honest feedback if they are not currently familiar with your brand. They can also tell you why they don’t currently use your product, or what they like about competing products.
  • Suppliers – Your suppliers want to see your product succeed so that they build a long-term partnership with a new customer; you! They will be able to provide input on the most suitable materials, they can share their pipeline / road map for new versions of their own products that may impact on your plans. Also, they will be able to work with you on the profitability of the product, helping you to select resources / materials that will enable you to make the most margin.

For instance, a furniture manufacturer consults their supplier of raw materials to co-create a new design of office chair. While they had planned to use material A, the manufacturer advises Material B, which they can source significantly cheaper locally, but with only a slight loss in quality. Material B is also shown to be more malleable, which suits the proposed complicated design.

  • Distributors / retailers – The companies that are taking your product out to the market also have a vested interest in the success of your product. If they can help you build a great product that they can sell at an attractive margin, then they benefit too.
  • Retailers will have valuable insight to the market, knowing how well competing products sell and at what price point.

You may be designing a chair that costs £50 to build, based on the materials and construction processes that you have planned, but the retailers suggests to you that these types of products rarely retail for more than £70 and at that margin they would be unwilling to stock your product. Based on this insight you may have to go back to the drawing board and look at how you can cut the production costs, or improve the quality to justify a higher price tag and worthwhile margin for the retailer.

This type of co-creation has also been shown to reduce your development costs, which should also contribute to better margins for you and the rest of the supply chain.

Collecting the information you need

You can use traditional market research methods to engage these different groups as you go through the co-creation process:

  • For instance you may choose to do an initial survey online of your existing customers to get their input.
  • You could adapt these questions slightly and use a platform such as Google consumer surveys or a vendor such as Marketest to take your survey to a wider audience and capture the opinion of the general public.
  • If you already work with suppliers, distributors and retailers, you could use an interview based approach to collect deep qualitative insight, or you could hold focus group type sessions to brainstorm ideas.

A great deal of benefit can be gained from encouraging interactive discussion between multiple parties, such as customers, suppliers and distributors in a these workshop style meetings. Forming a group such as this is often far greater than the sum of its parts, and can save you a lot of time running back and forth between people when they volunteer differing opinions.

Ultimately, whichever methods you decide to use, co-creation offers an excellent way to engage with your customers and suppliers at a deeper level than companies have done in the past. This interaction will help to build relationships that are beneficial to all, and will enable you to create products that are closer to the needs of your market than anything you have created previously.