When Henry Ford stated that if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have told him ‘a faster horse’, he inadvertently consigned the voice of the customer within business to at best be used to validate the amazing thinking of people who were more qualified to think creatively. This is the quote I hear most often when I talk about customer co-creation. But things have changed since Henry Ford introduced industrial manufacturing processes to the automotive industry, revolutionising the way we travel. Today’s customers are well informed, they are experts and they’re obsessed with the future, with change and with innovation. Co-creation is a process that harnesses the power of people’s imaginations to bring new and fresh perspectives to industry challenges.
The process of co-creation begins by bringing together large groups of different stakeholders who are invested at some level in the success of a business or brand (customers, staff, leaders). They are then challenged to create new value for that brand; value for them as individuals, for the business and for society as a whole. The group spend time building relationships with each other and exploring the issues at hand (in the context of their lives). Finally the group is asked to build solutions that answer the problem or challenge at hand. Co-creation delivers fresh and challenging insights to businesses that can get caught up in their own narratives; it produces new ideas and it creates buy-in for change – the single biggest blocker of innovation in most businesses.
Co-creation is an increasingly popular methodology, challenging the assumption that only a limited number of people can develop creative ideas and recognising that mixed groups firstly can use their diverse perspectives, experience and skills to develop creative thinking and challenge accepted wisdoms. The big benefit for the creative process is that these ideas are developed with reality in mind. They are not dreamed up by a creative agency who have little touch with the lives of the people they are trying to connect with or innovate for. Co-creation helps to create differentiation, but critically, also ensures relevance.
Today, co-creation is conducted both on and offline. Large-scale online communities facilitate collaboration between hundreds of people across different geographies. Co-creation workshops lasting one, two or sometimes three days, and adopting the principles of LEAN innovation, allow rapid development of ideas and concepts with different stakeholders getting involved at different stages of the process to move from insights, to ideas and quickly into practical reality. Whether co-creating on or offline, there are several principles of the process and benefits that hold true.
Firstly, the key principles of co-creation
- Relationships are the source of results
- What you resist, persist!
- Diversity breeds creativity
- Acknowledge context, but change the perspective
- With big ideas come unreasonable requests
Firstly, the process not only drives creativity and challenges accepted wisdoms about a brand, but by bringing together large, diverse groups it ensures ‘creative tensions’ meaning that the insights and ideas that emerge can push thinking much further and faster than traditional approaches.
Secondly, the ideas and strategies that come out of the work are all built on insights. This means they have a better chance of a) being relevant to the target audience (internal or external) and b) are less likely to fail because somewhere along the process we have ‘missed the point’. Thirdly, and critically, co-creation enables many people from across the business (from senior management to front line) to get involved with the process and take ownership of ideas. This creates huge amounts of good will, excitement and buy-in for projects and gives ideas and new strategies a greater probability of being delivered.
Co-creation is a process that is being built into the way many contemporary businesses; organisations and brands operate – from Lego to the NHS. It is a focus methodology that brings numerous benefits to the table. In a world where customers are more in control of the media, content and brands that they consume, customer contribution has moved far beyond the faster horse.
Ben Hayman is managing partner at Given, a brand purpose consultancy that helps brands grow by doing good.