How to Easily Use Customer Co-creation for Profitable Growth

Customer co-creation

One of my clients, who is following the 50 weekly actions for customer centric excellence as described in my book Winning Customer Centricity, recently asked me for some ideas on how to better manage their customer co-creation.

Working more closely with customers is the best way to understand, satisfy and delight them. So I am impressed that they are taking customer co-creation even further than they are doing today. In fact, I realised that this is an area that many of you may be interested in learning more about, so I decided to share what I told them. But first …


What is Customer Co-creation?

The term co-creation has been around for decades. However, it is only in the last ten years or so that we are seeing a growth in co-creation in so many different areas of marketing.

According to Wikipedia co-creation is

“A management initiative, or form of economic strategy, that brings different parties together (for instance, a company and a group of customers), in order to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome.”

Personalised M&Ms from customer co-creation
Source: M&Ms

Individualisation, which offers higher-priced items with a customer perceived higher-value, has also been popular for years. It allows customers to design their own unique products to show off their personality. For instance, customers can personalise their M&M chocolates and design their own Nike running shoes.

But these are not strictly co-creation, since they are designed by only one person for use by just one person. Co-creation is rather about designing an offer by many, for the purchase and enjoyment of many. 

After the success of such personalised offers, organisations understood that there is immense value in getting input from customers. Many now include them not only in product enhancements, but also in developing their advertising, promotions and even in first-stage innovation.

The practice has been further intensified by the internet, which has enabled companies to reach out to customers across the globe, virtually for free. Social media, in particular, is a great source of customer understanding, as well as for highlighting issues with current offers. This is why co-creation should include social media in some form, as I’ll share further on.


Who to work with?

Winning Customer Centricity - The BookAs I mention in my book, not all business managers feel comfortable exposing their new ideas and concepts to their customers. If this is the case in your own organisation, then you are left with the only option of interviewing employees. This isn’t such a bad thing; after all, they too are customers, but you need to keep in mind their biasses. They probably know more about the brand than the average customer does and they are also likely to be more positive towards it. However, their passion for the company and its brands is a valuable asset not to be neglected.

If your management allows you to work with customers, then you will want them to be vetted for different things by the recruitment agency.

By the way, I highly recommend using a recruitment agency to find you the customers who would be most appropriate for the task planned. They already have an extensive panel of people who can be segmented so you get the right people. And by right people I mean those who have the necessary skills and creativity, as well as knowledge and experience with the category under review.

Here are the customer selection criteria I suggest using to reduce the risk of information leaks to the competition:  

  • They shouldn’t work for one of your competitors; nor should their close friends and family members.
  • They shouldn’t work for advertising, media, PR or market research agencies, which could tip off your competitors.
  • They should be creative and curious, but not be one of the infamous “1%ers” (the ultra-creatives) that were popular when co-creation was first used.
  • They should be articulate and be able to describe their thoughts, ideas and problems succinctly.
  • They should be well-informed and knowledgeable, even opinionated if you want to introduce some heated discussions into the event.
  • Depending upon the task you want to share with them, they should be category and / or brand users – or not.

Some suppliers may propose psychographic analysis to hone their selection process. However, this is not essential if you obey the above rules and clearly identify the type of person with whom you would like to work.

Social media again provides a great way to identify and recruit those who are both knowledgeable and passionate about the category. Another source of customers, is from co-creating platforms that copy successful job sites, such as UpWork and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.



Should you compensate customers?

Most co-creation programs compensate customers, for their time and even their ideas on occasions. I have found that customers are usually so happy to share their thoughts and be heard, that they don’t expect compensation other than the opportunity itself.

I have often received requests from participants at the end of a project, asking to continue in a panel or online group, because they enjoyed it so much. Customers love to talk to companies about their products and services, so why not make it possible for them to do so in a safe and private environment?

Compensation is therefore not mandatory, but adding prizes and a competitive element to the discussion can encourage a greater level of participation. I give some examples of brands that have done this further on.


When to involve customers?

There are many reasons why you might want to get input from your customers beyond the more common anonymous market research. Here are some of the most often used occasions when you might want to include your customers:

  • choosing their favourite names, flavours or perfumes for a product
  • getting reactions to your marketing plans
  • sharing experiences and problems encountered with your category
  • reviewing product and communications’ concepts
  • watching pre-air advertising and choosing the ending, slogans or other details
  • asking for ideas on how to improve a product or service
  • running a competition to solve an issue the company would like to address
  • voting for their favourite new product or service idea
  • creating new flavour and aroma mixes from original ingredients
  • brainstorming with R&D on new product ideas
  • sharing opinions on promotional concepts or competitions.

In addition to the above, you should ensure that each department in your organisation is informed, if not actually involved, in choosing the topics to investigate, as well as the criteria of selection of customers for your co-creation projects.


Examples of co-creation

In Winning Customer Centricity, I mention a few companies who successfully use co-creation, such as Nespresso’s “Le Club” and P&G’s “Connect+Develop”. Since I wrote the book, co-creation has become much more widespread and there are many more great examples. Here are just a few to inspire you to invite your own customers to join your initiatives:

  1. Heineken: Their crowdsourcing platform, called Heineken Ideas Brewery, launched in 2012, asks the public for suggestions, since they believe that innovative ideas can come from everywhere. The first challenge they set was for sustainable packaging and the best idea, the Heineken-o-Mat, was rewarded with a $10,000 prize.
Lego ideas customer co-creation example
Source: Lego

2. Lego launched Lego Ideas in 2008 as a platform where their customers share their suggestions for new sets. Other users then vote and comment on these submitted ideas.

The highest-rated ones are often developed and launched by the Lego Group. The original creator of the idea is compensated with 1% of royalties.


3.  British Airways: Airlines make a lot of use of customer panels; after all they know all their passengers’ details, so recruitment is relatively easy. BA uses their FutureLab to elicit comments and reactions to their questions and concepts. 

Their panel is made up of a global community who discuss everything from prices, to seating, and from competitions to services. BA shares their plans and ideas and gets immediate feedback on what their passengers believe might work and what won’t. And all this within a few hours and mostly for free, apart from a few small monetary prizes for the most active or creative participants each month.


Coca-cola freestyle maching customer co-creation example
Source: Coca-Cola

4.  Coca-Cola is one example of a company that is using co-creation for input into their innovation process. Their Freestyle machine is a fountain dispenser which offers over a hundred different products, giving the customer the opportunity to mix their own flavour combination.

An additional mobile app allows them to then save it so that they can get the same mix at any other Freestyle machine.

Coca-Cola saves all the mixes in their consumer database, which can then be used to learn more about new flavour ideas and consumer preferences.

5. The final example comes from social media, where co-creation of content has become the norm. There are literally thousands of companies using their customers and fans to share their thoughts, ideas, photos and videos on their websites.

Amongst the best is Nestle Purina which started by allowing pet owners to publish pictures of their animals. This then was followed and enhanced by Purina developing and sharing fun videos including Dear Kitten for their Friskies brand and Puppyhoodfor Puppy Chow. We all know how popular pet videos are on the web, so it is not surprising that many of their own videos went viral.

There are many more examples of customer co-creation that you can find online, including Unilever, one of the first to use customer co-creation more than a decade ago, DeWalt, BMW, General Mills, DHL, Accor and Ikea. As you can see, co-creation can be used by companies large and small, as well as in most if not all industries.


Making Use of Customer Co-created Content

Speaking of “virality“, there are other examples of brands that invite customer input, combined with a marketing promotion or a specific hashtag campaign. These are important for virality on such platforms as Youtube and Instagram which are primary sources for fashion and beauty brands, because of the importance of image.

One brand that was an early adopter of this and successfully used customer generated content to both improve its image and increase sales is the Greek yoghurt company Chobani.

Chobani customer co-creation example
Source: Chobani

It invited its loyal customers to submit photos and videos praising their yoghurt, which were then used on their website as well as in advertising. These generated a lot of excitement especially from the billboards in particular, as people love to see themselves in print. 



I hope you enjoyed this sample of some of the best uses of customer co-creation that I remember. I know there must be many more. If you have a favourite example, why not share it in the comments below so everyone can enjoy it?


In Conclusion

As you can see, there are many ways to involve your customers in your business. Some companies ask them a simple question, others ask for ideas, and a few even request help with internal technical issues.  What is clear after almost two decades of involving the customer in co-creation, is that posing specific challenges to targeted customers works best.

Organisations wanting to incorporate more co-creation into their business should have a clear idea of what they want to ask and to whom. They must also be ready to be open and transparent with the customers so that the rules and rewards of the exercise are clear for all.

The other imperative is building the co-creation community on a digital platform so that participants can add their ideas whenever they come and wherever they may be. This is one of the biggest advantages over market research and group discussions, which can still be included for additional benefits to the exercise.

I hope I have inspired you to try customer co-creation for yourself, and to include your customers in more of your internal plans and processes. It is not only fun, but it also provides you with fresh thinking  and a deeper understanding of how your customers’ needs and desires are changing. It makes you wonder why you haven’t done it before, no?

If you need help in setting up your first customer co-creation project, then I can help; contact me here:

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