What is co-creation? What are its benefits? What are its limits? And most importantly: how do you do co-creation? These are some of the questions tackled by Brand Together, the latest book on co-creation, released earlier this year by Kogan Page. It has been written by Nicholas Ind, author, academic, and consultant, with Clare Fuller and Charles Trevail from the co-creation consultancy Promise. Rosemary and Yannig from eYeka both read the book, and share their thoughts in this collaborative blog post.
Brand Together is a book that makes a statement: Co-creation generates innovation and re-energizes brands! To make that statement, it draws from a diversity of sources, from academic papers to thought leaders, from manager interviews to working sessions, even an online community has provided the authors with consumer insights about co-creation. To start with, here’s the definition of co-creation provided by the book:
“Co-creation suggests the interaction of individuals within a framework to evolve, re-define or invent something that is new”
This definition is focused around innovation (“something that is new”) but the book argues that the brand benefits from co-creation too. The more you empower people be an actor of your brand, the more powerful it will be on the marketplace. « Co-creation changes the brand« , the authors say just after having presented their co-creative brand model (page 23). This is nothing really new, because a strong brand is a brand that consumers like and endorse. A strong brand is a brand that has enough confidence and aura to release some contraol… and still to be embraced by consumers.
But this also raises a question: How much power should consumers have today? In an a part of the book, Dr. Henrik Sjödin wonders if the Porsche Cayenne would have been launched today – in a world where social media allows consumers to question every design move made by brands. In 2009, fans got PepsiCo to withdraw a new packaging design for the Tropicana brand, and in 2010 fans got Gap to withdraw a new logo design… Would Porsche have faced consumer protests by the time they decided to launch the Cayenne or the Panamera? We will never know, but it’s an interesting thought about a brand’s wilingness to take risk and to be ahead of consumers. And today, even Bentley launches an SUV and Ferrari a family sedan.
After this rather theoretical part about what co-creation is and what co-creation isn’t, the second part of Brand Together is dedicated to the implementation of co-creation. According to the authors and the people that they interviewed, co-creation is a way to generate deep consumer insights via interaction. Brands can create ad hoc communities of consumers and facilitate discussions about the brand’s products, about consumption habits or any topic that is relevant to them ; this is what Promise does for organizations on a daily basis. Following parts are dedicated to community management, ideation techniques and the description of various co-creation examples across industries.
The last chapter provides a good conclusion by answering five key questions:
- What is co-creation for? Co-creation allows companies to draw the ‘right’ consumers directly into its innovation efforts. « ‘Right’ means those who best match the innovation goals of the business« , the authors explain, « the potential for co-creation is to reduce innovation risk by involving those consumers who may buy and use the co-created outputs« .
- Who is involved? The logic of co-creation is to bring an organizations together with individuals, through a platform or through real-world interaction. The authors’ claim is that everyone can be creative if the conditions are supportive. Hence, as long as you find a way to stimulate peoples’ creativity, co-creation is for everyone invited : « Managers must see co-creation as a coming together of diverse stakeholders to create something valuable for all« .
- How to manage? « People are willing to give of their time because they believe their ideas have meaning and they are being listened to« , is stated on page 155 of Brand Together. So, after asking the right question and providing a supportive environment, any co-creation practitioner knows that the participants are expecting feedback. Not only from community moderators, also from the brand!
- How to reward? The book says that the dominant motivation for co-creation is intrinsic, which means that they participate for the enjoyment of participation, not for money or anu other outcome (like money). People want to be heard and they derive satisfaction from being considered by a big brand. However, it’s important not to underestimate money as a motivator: if you offer money, it’s secondary; but if you ask people to contribute for free, they won’t. Not incentivizing participation is sending a wrong message!
- What are the limitations of co-creation? Co-creation has limits. Among the very commonly discussed limits are the fact that the company has to disclose internal information to outsiders, and this openness is provides a totally new legal situation. Also, the authors wonder whether co-creation could work for something else than consumer products and services, which account for most of the initiatives today, and could work for more technical topics. « Overall we would argue that co-creation is potentially relevant in all spheres – the only limitation is a managerial willingness to break out of self-imposed practices« , they say. Agreed!
As a basis for understanding co-creation, how to think about it as well as examples for validation, the authors make a convincing case for organizations to get closer with their customers to innovate and solve business problems. There is value in coming together to co-create. When solving marketing or innovation challenges we already apply the proverb “two heads are better than one.” Now, imagine the power of creativity that could be unleashed when co-creation is fostered. We no longer have to go-at-it alone.
Rosemary Kimani is a senior strategic planner for eYeka based in Paris, France.
Yannig Roth is a PhD student and Research Fellow at eYeka based in Paris, France.