This is Pierre Berthon. In 2007, he published “When customers get clever: Managerial approaches to dealing with creative consumers” with Leyland F. Pitt, Steven M. Katesand Ian McCarthy (who commented on a previous post). In this paper, the authors distinguish creative consumers from lead users, and highlight how firms can react to (and leverage) this rise of consumer creativity. A very interesting piece of research.
Creative consumers differ from lead user are for several reasons: they work with all types of offerings (not just novel or enhanced products, the focus of the lead user), and they don’t necessarily face needs that will become general but often work on personal interests, which means that they often innovate from a love of experimentation and creativity. Thus, « the two terms creative consumer and lead user are far from synonymous« , the authors note.
We often talk about co-creation with special type of consumers for specific new product development tasks. If a brand wants to feed the fuzzy front end of its innovation process, the best way is to engage with consumers who are able to imagine new things, consumers who are really creative (or emergent customers). If the same brand wants to test and refine a new product before launching it onto the market, it’s probably better to appeal to lead users. But why do creative individuals represent an important asset with strategic importance?
- They exist, and are here to stay. With technology becoming more and more digitized, atomized, and interconnected, the potential for consumers to reprogram, adapt, modify, and transform offerings also becomes greater.
- They are a hothouse of imaginative ideas that the firm might not have the resources or the time to cultivate by itself. They offer an alternative to formal product development programs, which is still based on internal R&D and marketing. The challenge for firms involves recognizing that creative consumers exist and understanding how to capture and create value with them. Otherwise, the firm may lose out on innovative ideas and the revenues these can represent.
How big is consumer creativity? A recent study about consumer innovativeness found out that the UK’s consumers’ expenditures in household product innovation are 2.3 times higher than the annual R&D expenditures of all firms in the UK combined! Example of creative activity were product modifications such as « I colored the two halves of a clock dial with different colors, so a child can easily see which side is past the hour and which before the hour » or « I created a jig [which] holds the arrow in place and turns at the same time, so I can paint according to my own markings. Jigs available on the market do not rotate ».
So instead of discouraging or just ignoring consumer creativity, companies could benefit tremendously from it. Thus, the challenge is to recognize and engage with creative consumers, because they have something that tends to become rare in companies: a fresh and user-centered point of view. What’s your stance towards creative consumers?