The secrets of commercial co-creation

Ben Hayman, deputy managing director, Promise, reveals the five golden rules of co-creation

Co-creation is a modern marketing term that is as inescapable as it is ill-defined. Businesses talk about it, agencies sell it, marketers apply the term liberally to virtually any kind of intervention involving customers, from developing a new flavour of crisps to a plain old focus group.

When professionals reference co-creation, it is sometimes with excitement, sometimes with scepticism but often with a lack of understanding about the realities of the approach.

We define our work as commercial co-creation. This is the practice of product, service and strategy development that is collaboratively executed by consumers, staff and stakeholders in creative spaces. These creative spaces can exist online or in the real world and give large and eclectic groups the time, space and resources required to really engage with a business challenge. We believe that co-creation is not just a philosophy; it is a challenging, exciting and successful process.

Whether you are attempting to co-create a new healthcare system with citizens, bring a new product to market or to create a new vision for your organisation, here are the five golden rules that under-pin the commercial co-creation process.

1) It’s all in the mix

The essence of co-creation is the idea of bringing together different groups of people – often key stakeholders in the success of a brand product or service – to develop new ideas. At a basic level, representatives from both brands and their target customers should be present. This creates the essential tension between what customers need/want and what the organisation is willing or able to deliver. It also generates a sense of purpose among the whole group that the process is genuinely about making change happen.

In more sophisticated projects, engaging with large groups of stakeholders with a wide variety of backgrounds and agendas ensures both creativity and consumer relevance. Commercial co-creation is not always about scale; the focus is often on the difference in the needs, attitudes and world views of the participants.
Co-creation should celebrate the idea that we are all experts in something, be it cardiology or Coronation Street, and allow organisations to tap into these different skill sets and perspectives.

2) Relationships are the source of results

Genuine co-creation does not happen overnight. Inherently people struggle to work with other people who they don’t know, trust, or empathise with. That is why at the start of any co-creation initiative – whether a workshop, online community or series of events – it is crucial to give people time to bond and engage with each other on a personal level. Giving people challenging creative tasks like inventing a game that has never been played before or writing a story that links everyone in the group are examples of ways of building relationships and stimulating thinking.

3) Commercial co-creation requires the right environment and strong facilitation

Although it feels slightly counter intuitive, creating parameters for the co-creation process is actually incredibly important. This is where commercial co-creation differs from other forms of mass-collaboration. Having a ’dedicated space’ (either physically or virtually), framing the invitation and working hard to build a sense of community and being part of team is really important. Inviting people to bring as much of themselves, their lives and their creativity into this space is critical.

Commercial co-creation also involves focused, skilled and objective facilitators who are able to interpret, analyse and help to develop the information that is being developed during co-creation activities.

4) Bring your co-creators into the process

The people you are co-creating with should see themselves as part of the process and invested in the success of the outcome. Unlike traditional market research, co-creative processes should seek to involve participants in developing the brief rather than simply looking for their responses. Co-creation is about empowering consumers to contribute, providing a platform and then following up with them.
It’s essential to give the co-creators as much information as possible and treat them as part of an extended team rather than a resource. The language of ’client’, ’consumer’ and ’expert’ should melt away during a successful co-creation process.

5) Commercial co-creation is not just about marketing, it’s about making change happen

If you get the process right, co-creation has amazing business benefits. It can be a process of insight, innovation, development and research, a platform for building robust brand strategies and a vehicle for driving breakthrough ideas into an organisation.

The nature of co-creation means that the internal stakeholders and decision makers are involved in the process. Consequently, innovation ideas and strategic decisions developed in this way should be fast-tracked into the business in direct response to the needs, wants and desires of stakeholders.

Co-creation is here to stay. It is not an advertising fad or a jumped-up version of market research. It is a long-term strategic decision for businesses and brands, and one that when managed properly will continue to yield results for businesses and their customers both now and in the future.

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