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.
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!