Innovation is a fundamental component of true market differentiation -- and consequently a key component of business growth. Organizations that find a way to marry this marketing function with what customers really want win.
How do you go about figuring out what the real opportunity is? There are biological reasons that explain why we lie and examples of unprofitable lines of business based upon direct customer requests. Knowing how to recognize what will work takes a bit more than asking what people want.
For this post, however, I'm exploring a different question: do customers really want to co-create your product? The whole co-creation and crowdsourcing conversation has been around for a while.
The way we talked
As I wrote in that October 2006 post, quoting from Selling Power magazine, today's customers, want to be personally courted and digitally engaged. They want to have a direct say in what gets produced. This means letting go of central control and asking the brightest minds across the globe to be your advisors. [...] The trend of co-creation is not limited to advertising, marketing or manufacturing. It also applies to selling.
Jennifer Rice at Mantra Brand Consulting salvaged a series of posts at Corante Brandshift on co-creation in her blog. She wrote: Co-creation is one of those trends that will have a major impact on businesses in the coming months and years... it's a result of the emerging networked economy: a grassroots, bottom-up, self-organizing way of living and doing business. And provided some examples of deep brand co-creation.
To put it in the words Cathy Mosca used on tompeters.com during an interview with Mavericks at Work authors Polly LaBarre and Bill Taylor on creating a peer-to-peer social software, it's constant exposure. Understanding that you can share everything and that sharing everything doesn't kill you.
As Taylor and LaBarre featured in the book, Toronto-based Goldcorp Inc. Chairman and CEO Rob McEwen's extraordinary challenge to the world's geologists: they showed their data online and asked them to tell Goldcorp where to look for gold next in return.
This sounds a lot closer to the definition I read of crowdsourcing, a process where businesses faced with hard challenges choose to tap into the collective wisdom of millions of amateurs around the world to come up with a solution.
Another examples in Mavericks is Proctor & Gamble's InnoCentive, a web-based community that matches top scientists to relevant R&D challenges facing leading companies around the globe.
What these examples have in common is the heavy utilization of the web and digital technology.
Technology makes it easy
Brands have developed different ways to collaborate with customers on products and services. Given the ability and time, both encapsulated in Clay Shirky's cognitive surplus concept, people do collaborate with organizations.
Examples of people going for collaboration are:
- Threadless -- a site where both amateur and professional artists/designers submit artwork in the form of tee-shirts. If printed, the designer will receive a sum of money, site credit for purchasing merchandise and will be admitted into the threadless alumni club.
- Chocri' --a site where you can create your own organic, fair trade chocolate from Belgium by picking your base and favorite toppings, and your bar a personalized name.
- Gemvara -- a site where you choose gems and metals to create your own jewelry from a fairly expansive inventory of materials.
- Open Runway -- is a site shoes customization selecting from a wide variety of styles, colors, leather, etc. People can also share their creations with the Open Runway community.
- Laudi Vidni -- a site where women can customize bags that have meaningful functionality, like pockets for cell phones and cosmetics, in materials that are not too heavy to carry empty, and with no visible logos.
- Dell -- allows you to customize every single product the company sells. I linked to the laptop and notebook page for simplicity.
- Levis -- allows a customization process of shape, wash, style, and sizes. The site does encourage looking through several options.
However great these product customization ideas and personalization features, this is not really co-creation.
Is more about which products, services, and experiences companies are willing to hand over to customers and in turn invest on producing as part of the business.
Customer-made was featured as a trend a few years ago. The definition, as it appears on Trendwatching:
“The phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with experienced and creative consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in (and rewarding them for) what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed.”
Why would people do it? Some of the reasons are a desire for status, a financial reward, for fun and involvement, and to find their way into a company. I love the definition of what customer-made is not -- it isn't voting on a campaign, it's not a "do-it-yourself", nor it is customization, or personalization.
This blurs the lines between collaboration-production. As Shaun Abrahamson writes in the guest post, businesses can create value by “earning” our effort. A few examples are:
- Lego Mindstorm -- a site where you can share ideas, post challenges, and get help with building and programming from other fans.
- Life Edited -- is a site where people can submit designs of a jewel box of an ultra-low-footprint apartment in 420sf (~39 m2). The design needs to support the life of a real person in the apartment - someone who works, eats, lives, and entertains.
- Betacup -- founded in May 2009 to reduce the number of non-recyclable cups that are thrown away every year by creating a more convenient alternative to the reusable coffee cup.
Do customers really want to co-create your product? Or do they want to co-create meaning though a product you can help develop with them?