Customer co-creation involves much more than applying customer feedback. It’s a collaborative product development process from start to finish. The customers who create with your brand will work with you through every stage of creation, from the initial idea to rough sketches all the way through to packaging and marketing. It’s making the customer far more proactive and via agile iteration, they join you on the product development journey.

By investing in this undertaking, your company will derive the following three profit-enhancing benefits over the long haul.

1. Revolutionary Ideas

In 2008, the European consumer goods corporation Unilever wanted a new item to sell through its Axe brand of grooming products. To come up with something special, it partnered with a group that consisted of 16 young adults. Those Axe fans helped create a fragrance that changes as the day goes on.

Would Axe’s employees have devised such a notion on their own? Perhaps. However, there’s a real advantage to garnering ideas from people who aren’t industry experts. These contributors don’t know what a company’s limitations are, and they’re not constrained by concerns over budgets, production methods, etc. Their only stake in the game is their loyalty to the brand or their excitement to help create a product that truly meets their needs. Therefore, their thinking is uninhibited, and they’re free to dream up original, out-of-the-box ideas.

Every so often, one of those ideas turns out to be the perfect innovation. Moreover, one person’s seemingly outlandish idea can spur another to come up with a similarly unorthodox, yet highly innovative concept. This iterative system often has a snowball effect on innovation, especially for big companies where strict hierarchies and divisions can stifle new ideas.

Co-creation requires a willingness to listen to consumers, even if their suggestions go against your preconceptions. If you have a new product in mind from the start, you might try to push your team to arrive at your brainchild, and you may not even realize that you’re doing so. To achieve the best results, allow your co-creators to express their own organic thoughts.

2. The Most Desirable Products

As fashion trends, social norms and technologies change rapidly, people’s lives continue to evolve. As a result, it’s all too easy for brands to lose touch with what people need and want. You can solve this problem with customers who are willing to co-create. You’ll discover what would really make your customers’ daily experiences more convenient.

This process typically require multiple rounds of testing, so you can create a series of prototypes and beta versions. Your co-creators can try out each of those models in their homes, their offices and elsewhere. They can then return to you with specific recommendations for alterations and adjustments.

As a result, your new offering will have the best possible chance of success in the marketplace. You’ll avoid what is, for brands of all sizes, a hugely expensive nightmare scenario: releasing a product that flops, vanishes quickly and is never heard of again.

3. A Reputation for Responsiveness

These days, many consumers are looking to buy from solicitous brands. They want to be able to ask questions and offer feedback about their experiences on corporate social media pages, and they expect replies. They like robust customer service departments and feel that being listened to is a form of respect. If they don’t believe that your company cares about what they think, they may go elsewhere, hurting your business over time.

In co-creation communities, brands exhibit that same responsiveness by directly applying customer feedback during the development process. For example, Frito-Lay rightfully touts its customer co-creation during the most popular TV show of all: the Super Bowl broadcast. Beginning In 2009 and continuing every year since, it has aired a co-created ad, which was the result of a contest that it had organized.

Making it a Reality

To maximize the advantages of co-creation, you should consider the composition of your community itself. Look for people who are passionate about your brand and those who fit the specific demographics that you’re targeting.

Consumers who are fans of your brand can be helpful because they’ll already know what you’ve done in the past, and they’ll have a feel for your company’s personality. Along with your R&D & marketing team, these co-creators will have knowledge about trends within the industry – which will help you go after the right topics. They’ll also be excited to participate and be highly energetic, qualities that are often infectious and conducive to the creative process.

Seek out at least a few early adopters as well. Those are people who routinely buy and use the latest available technologies. Such individuals frequently have an instinct for cutting-edge systems and a sense of what’s right around the corner and what the current marketplace is lacking.

Fundamental to your consideration of co-creation is how likely will my customers truly be innovative? Am I going to achieve disruptive innovation or be left with unwanted product ideas that the public quickly shuns? This is why it’s important that the crowd also vets the crowd. In other words, have your customers immediately rank, comment and refine the ideas of their peers. In this way, we introduce a collective intelligence, based on diversity. According to Professor Scott E. Page (University of Michigan), this is when you embody the Diversity Theorem.

In the end, a combination of the right team, the right mission and a strong reputation will lead you to selling products that no competitor has even fathomed. By marketing those efforts vigorously, you could captivate the public and fire up the imagination of your next generation of co-creators; a win-win for everyone involved.

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