How can brands push the boundaries of innovation?

By engaging customers in co-creation

By Oriol Iglesias

The online world has completely changed the way brands think about themselves and interact with their customers. Customers are no longer passive recipients of whatever brands choose to provide -- their expertise and skills can become key assets for brands.

Rather than imagining what clients might want by looking at data or observing focus groups from behind a one-way mirror, managers are now able to actively involve customers and engage them in co-creation processes to launch new innovations together.

Co-creation initiatives can open up a brand to the outside world

Co-creation initiatives can open up a brand to the outside world and enable it to innovate together with customers and other stakeholders.

In our research, we explored 20 well-known brands from different sectors and regions to shed light on how managers are using co-creation initiatives to connect with customers, drive innovation and build enduring relationships.

Engaging customers in co-creation

Co-creation initiatives are based on brand communities where customers can interact with each other and with the brand to develop new ideas in an often playful environment.

Involve customers in co-creation

When co-creation works effectively, participants can be surprisingly passionate and intense, sometimes revealing to others what they dare not tell family and friends.

When customers participate in co-creation activities, their feeling of closeness to the brand grows. When brands take comments into account, provide feedback and create new proposals based on customers' suggestions, engagement and creativity increase even further.

Why brands use co-creation

Our findings show that most brands use co-creation as a tactical market research tool to make decisions on specific issues. In this context, brands use co-creation to determine how relevant and valid internally generated ideas are according to customers.

Most brands use co-creation to make decisions on specific issues

Compared to traditional methods like focus groups, managers embrace co-creation because it offers deeper insight into the customer experience. Co-creation also creates opportunities to engage customers in active participation and bring them closer to the brand by spending more time with them.

Another benefit of co-creation – specifically when it takes place online – is speed and flexibility. Once an online platform has been set up, whenever managers need more insight about a specific topic, they can immediately turn to their brand community and ask participants more questions.

Employees can then analyse and interpret the results while interacting with customers, without having to wait for results from an external agency. As a consequence, the final research output is richer and more precise, thus facilitating managerial decision-making later on.

Management tip
Managers who want to use co-creation as a tactical market research tool should bear in mind that the key to success is to create a process that builds trust among participants and between participants and the brand.

When customers become strategic collaborations

Most brands start using co-creation as a tactical research tool. However, as brands become aware of the potential of this process, they realise that extremely valuable knowledge can also be found outside the organisation and they start to see customers as potential strategic partners.

Managers who use co-creation as a strategic tool see customers not only as validators of the brand's preconceived ideas but also as creators and collaborators in innovation projects. At this stage, managers recognise that customers have expert knowledge and that their inputs can help the brand develop key innovations.

Management tip
Brands that want to turn co-creation into strategic collaborations with customers need to develop a supportive corporate culture that promotes openness, empathy and humility as well as organisational structures that are flexible and less hierarchical. They should also create cross-functional teams capable of breaking silos and fostering collaboration across the entire organisation.

When brands use co-creation as a strategic collaboration, managers and employees learn to develop innovation projects with customers and work on strategic ideas together.

Brands that engage in strategic co-creation see customers as true long-term innovation partners with whom they can develop trusting and collaborative relationships.

This research by Esade, Kristiania University College and Copenhagen Business School won the best presentation award at the Brand Science Slam of the Global Brand Conference 2019.

All written content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.