How creative consumers outperform lead-users in finding new concept ideas



Lots of different consumers!


Last year, we attended ESOMAR’s Qualitative 2010 conference in Barcelona, when Hyve and BMW presented their co-creation experience called Co-Creation Lab. Despite the criticism about the project, this initiative is certainly one of the few serious co-creation campaigns in the automotive industry. The above slide of the presentation, however, is a little confusing: How many different types of consumers should be integrated in the process? Does it make sense to segment consumers in so many different groups? While we don’t have any answers to these questions, let’s take a look at an emerging type of consumer: the creative consumer. His creative mind is a valuable resource to feed the co-creation process. Anywhere in the process and in any industry.



Innovation live! How "clunkers" became mountain bikes


It’s Eric Von Hippel who started the race to identify specific groups of consumers who could help companies develop better products and services. He called them lead-users and defined them as people who (1) face specific needs early, and (2) seek to obtain a beneficial solution to these needs. We won’t dig out the story of the mountainbikers from Northern California again, but that’s exactly what happened: A minority of bike riders took cruiser bicycles, mounted motocross handlebars and balloon tires on them, shot down the hill; and the first mountain bike was born. After these inventors (lead-users, cutting edgers…) came along some people who liked it (trend watchers, cool hunters, early adopters, whatever…) and amplified the trend, until it grew into a mass movement.

If we hear this story again and again, it’s because it is a unique story. Today, this kind of innovation doesn’t only come from lead-users anymore as companies need to open their eyes wider to get fresh insights from a larger group of consumers. Those who scout innovative users will not only have to go out and meet people, but they also need them to share their experience and to tell relevant stories… Meet the emergent customer. « Emergent customers have a unique ability to wrap their head around new concept« , says Professor Donna L. Hoffman, who created a scale to identify them. Their personality and their processing abilities enable them « to engage in a synergistic process of visualization and rationalization« , she continues, before giving further insight into her research. The emergent customer:


  • Is open to new experiences
  • Has both verbal (rational) and visual (experiential) processing abilities
  • Perceives himself as creative and has, indeed, a creative personality
  • Is optimistic by nature


What’s the point of this? Professor Hoffman’s research shows that ’emergent customers’ significantly outperformed lead-users, early adopters and regular consumers (control group) in creating appealing and useful product concepts. They push ideas into new territories, to which non-emergent customers can give feedback and assess attractivity for them. « Innovation is a team sport after all« , says Drew Boyd in his blog post. We agree with this. We call ’emergent customers’ « creative consumers » (1% of the most creative of all consumers). Whether they are called « emergent consumers » or « creative consumers », we know that they are hard to find and engage. But if you are looking for genuine breakthrough innovation, the rewards are worth it!

About Yannig

Yannig was Marketing Manager at eYeka, responsible for PR, communication and research. Interested in marketing, innovation and design-related topics, he also loves to free his head by cycling, running, reading or drawing. Yannig, who holds an MSc from ESSCA School of Management and a PhD from University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, tweets under @YannigRoth and blogs at
This entry was posted in Research and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to How creative consumers outperform lead-users in finding new concept ideas

  1. Pingback: They are 150 000 creative minds! | eYeka Co-creation Blog

  2. Michael Hunt says:

    There is really nothing new here in what you are saying. These same ideas were floated by Berthon et al. four years ago, probably in a more eloquent way. See Berthon, P. R., Pitt, L.F., McCarthy, I., and Kates, S. M (2007) When Customers Get Clever: Managerial Approaches to Dealing with Creative Consumers, Business Horizons, 50, 1 (January-February), 39-47 See also The Economist, January 2007 – These authors coined the term « creative consumers ».

    Ian McCarthy at Simon Fraser University is also doing really serious work on the « creative consumer » phenomenon

    • Yannig says:

      Thank you for your comment Michael,

      there’s nothing revulutionnary indeed, I totally agree with you. However, there are differences between the paper you state and the one we’re talking about in the blog post.

      Ian Mc Carthy’s paper focuses on the way companies deal with creative consumers. Donna L. Hoffmann and her colleagues, however, have developped a scale to identify these people. They also proved that these « emergent customers » gave new product ideas that were much more appealing to mainstream consumers (check out pages 38 and 39 of their research paper). This is new I think, no ?

      • Nat says:

        Am currently looking for a scale that could identify different type of consumers, where in fact consumers would be medical patients. I appreciate this might sound far off from your subject but I believe there actually is a parallell beween the medical world and the commercial world… (Stephen W. Brown being one of the marketing specialist having tried to use the marketing strategies (quality service 7P to it) to run a medical practice « PATIENT SATISFACTION PAYS » and wrote a book about it).
        Any how, I am studying at UPMC in Paris (CHU Piité Salpetrière) as continuous learning, a week per month.
        If you can accept the fact that marketing theories could be applied « carefully » onto the medical world, we could exchange further on this as I am not the expert you are on the « consumers » subject but would love to understand some part better; as we have trouble defining the different status of a patient following a new french law requiring the involvment of patients alonside doctors such as lead users or perhaps emergeant consumers… not sure !
        Anychance you would devote some time to talk further about this?

    • Yannig says:

      Thank you Ian for the links. I read your blog post in February already, and I think your framework and the four attitudes towards creative consumers (discourage, resist, encourage & enable) make a lot of sense. The conclusion of your paper could even be eYeka’s sales pitch 😉
      « Firms that are able to master this fit and proceed to collaborate with creative consumers will discover an innovation and marketing capability that integrates consumers into their organization, one that presents enormous potential to successfully co-develop and even share intellectual property »

  3. R Brocklington says:

    Not too much originality here! This stuff has been published before

    • Yannig says:

      Thank you for your comment. Our aim was mainly to illustrate an « academic finding » in a visual way somehow, not to reveal a breakthrough finding 😉 But we appreciate your feed back !

  4. L Ryan says:

    i am puzzled by differences between lead users and creative consumers (almost confining how lead users operate to an earlier point in time. Wouldn’t you also expect lead users also work with de-featured products; as well as creating new ones? I wouldn’t expect to see lead users asking firms for permission to adapt and modify existing products.

    What is not clear in either piece is the difference between (and therefore the different uses) between generally creative consumers and (domain specific) lead users.

    I think you would find documented Esomar papers during the last decade where Research International developed a process using creative consumers called Super Groupers.

    • Yannig says:

      Thank you for your comment Lee. You highlight a difference by opposing « generally creative consumers » (openness, inventivity, manual/visual) to « lead users » (deep knowledge, specific skills), but I agree that fundamentally both types are interesting for innovation.

      Maybe that’s why one of Eric Von Hippels most recent papers ( uses the term « consumer innovators » rather than « lead user ». And regarding your reference to so-called Super Groupers, I only found this dissertation ( featuring FMCG-giant Henkel, and their description is not detailled at all. Would you have more material about that?

  5. Pingback: Why consumer creativity is at least as important as lead userness | eYeka Co-creation Blog

  6. Pingback: Research shows higher creative engagement of lead-users and emergent customers | eYeka Co-creation Blog

  7. Pingback: Crowdsourcing new product ideas works, research shows | eYeka Co-creation Blog

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse de messagerie ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *