Co-creation is a trend today. Some companies experiment it, some others are still reluctant…How do academics perceive co-creation? How do they describe value that collaboration with consumers brings to business? Recently we interviewed Marketing Professor Emmanuelle le Nagard from ESSEC Business School about her vision of co-creation and participative innovation.
How do you define co-creation?
This term has definitely become very trendy. Although it is used in many contexts, it’s best to have a precise definition. For me, co-creation with consumers (or potential consumers) means inviting them to partake in a creative task and contribute to the creation of a new product or service. It’s definitely a new trend but to go even further, it’s necessary to clearly define the terms. What’s interesting is that in academic literature, we can find more or less the same recurring examples. But there are many new emerging practices that would be interesting to shed light on.
Is it a trend or a necessity?
Co-creation is necessary because people aspire to create ; they enjoy giving their opinion and participating. Co-creation therefore responds to customer desires.There is really a new participative trend, which is linked to internet culture: there is a tool that pushes people to share their opinions in all fields. There is also a need for recognition and visibility… Ultimately, generations that grow up with the internet will integrate this participative culture into their morals and values. At the same time, this also means numerous advantages for companies. It’s often difficult for a marketer to have a clear vision of the entire market and to understand the needs of the consumer in advance. In co-creation, consumers can become engaged in earlier stages of development (beta tests, etc.).
Is it a new concept?
What I find paradoxical is that even in marketing, there is the notion that one needs to engage with the consumer. What is new, however, is the fact that users can do more than traditional tests (ie: we offer something and you tell us what you think); they can actually help create. And it’s even more recent to be interested in an even larger panel. In traditional marketing literature, it’s similar to the idea of a lead user: the idea of a small number of people that are experts in the field – who are avant-gardist and creative and willing to propose their ideas to companies. It’s been more or less used by companies for a certain time now but what is new is to be able to reach a wider range of consumers – thanks to technology and various internet platforms.
Co-creation will transform the innovation process and studies. It will be like prior to the development of tests and studies. Consumers will want to give their opinions more and more…
What makes companies hesitate vis-à-vis co-creation?
There are a number of challenges for companies that want to make co-creation a part of their internal innovation and development process. Customers are both citizens and activists. And they all feel that they can be marketers; they can all give their opinion and judge ideas. This vocal aspect can make companies hesitant when it comes to co-creation because they feel a loss of control. GAP is a prime example: when the company wanted to change its logo, consumers spoke out and gave their opinions. But we will definitely see more of these types of examples. For companies, the idea of “revenge” can perhaps arouse a bit of fear but that doesn’t mean it should be stifled. One should learn how to manage negative feedback, how to respond, listen and gain from the participation and creativity.
So how does one integrate co-creation into the innovation process? When a product already exists and a consumer arrives with ideas that don’t correspond, the company can be worried about not being able to transform these ideas into a marketable offer. There is also a communication challenge: the company may think “what do we do with all these new ideas? If we don’t take them into account, will it be used against the company?” There is also the perception vis-à-vis these types of co-creation initiatives; companies may worry that it creates competition for their marketing teams or that consumers lack enough skill and competence. Are the ideas pertinent? Are they doable and exploitable? This tends to become a bigger concern with more technical projects. Some companies also feel that consumers who co-create will give an opinion about everything happening in the present but may not be able to give opinions about the future; they don’t know how to anticipate the future, while we have the means to do so.
What is missing from the current debate on co-creation?
There is still a lacking clear vision on how to identify those who contribute the most and the specific characteristics of a creative consumer. It’s definitely different for co-creation that takes place prior to innovation and co-creation at a later stage. There is still a lack of data regarding consumers to involve in early and late development stages. The latter must be experts in the given field, whereas generating ideas in the early development stages puts the emphasis on creativity rather than expertise. And we still don’t know how to manage it entirely. Is it necessary to have experts in order to generate ideas? Are they necessary for testing products?
What advice would you give innovation directors before they try co-creation?
First and foremost, they should know that it isn’t necessarily going to be less expensive. It’s also necessary to consider co-creation with the entire innovation process in order to understand where to insert co-creation into the innovation cycle. It’s also necessary to consider how the generated ideas will be used. Finally, it’s also a good idea to have indicators in order to properly evaluate the co-creation experience; often, the process will generate good results but it is difficult to know what makes them good results.