The Co-Creation Continuum is a good model to gauge how brands use co-creation. It ranges from a sporadic approach that sees co-creation as a tactical market research tool to a systematic implementation of co-creation as a strategic collaborative innovation method. Most brands use co-creation more tactically
Brands are a process. The process can take on a different image in the case of different brands. All brands are a result of a conflict between brand identity and brand image. Some brands are more projective and inside-out drive while others are more adaptive to the marketplace.
There is no evidence to suggest that either approach is better or worse. Projective branding is more appropriate in some circumstances and an adaptive orientation is better suited at other times. What is important is to understand is that every brand must consider both components. Brand identity captures the conceptualizations of the brand, brand image is how your customers and broader public perceive it. A useful tool to better understand this process and bridge potential gaps is co-creation.
In this article I will explain what brand co-creation means and discuss a framework of how brands use co-creation in their operations.
What is co-creation?
Co-creation is a proactive social process. It is creative and requires collaboration between brands and their stakeholders, for example customers, communities and local governments, to generate value and provide benefits to all participants of the process.
Co-creation can bring about a wealth of perks. To begin with, engaging in co-creation is a powerful method to gain better market insights as it opens an ongoing dialogue with relevant people. Better insights lead to more relevant ideas which ultimately improves the brand’s capability to innovate.
Speaking to people also nurtures the relationship and creates a stronger connection. As the dialogue goes on, people begin to trust one another better. That includes representatives of the brand. With time, external participant may even form a strong bond with the brand due to feelings of ownership as they experience themselves as more influential in the co-creation process. All in all, the process can further lead to cost efficiency, risk reduction and a competitive advantage stemming from rich market insights.
Consumers benefit from co-creation too. They have chance to raise their concerns and have a voice in how the organization operates. They may also see participating as a channel for self-expression, socializing or simply fun. In some cases there are financial rewards for contributing to co-creative processes.
The Co-Creation Continuum
Co-creation is a relatively new concept. Though some brands have used co-creation to great success, it is still developing and best-use cases are still a matter of debate. Nicholas Ind, Stefan Markovic and Oriol Iglesias are all influential researchers within brand literature, particularly those emphasizing social elements. In 2017, they developed continuum for co-creation based on a series of in-depth interviews with managers of well-known brands.
One on end they found that organizations use co-creation as a tactical market research tool. On the other end firms implemented co-creation closer to the brand strategy and saw it as a strategic collaborative innovation method.
Co-creation as a tactical market research tool
Most brands use co-creation as a tactical market research tool. Brands that employ this approach see co-creation as a useful device to enhance market research. It is an inside-out process in the organization seeks to validate internally generated ideas and projects through the co-creative channels. In other words, managers or other employees come up with a concept that they then reiterate based on discussions with stakeholders. Knowledge is seen as living within the walls of the company and co-creative relationships are sporadic and short-term. This is typical of big brands and companies in specialized industries where co-creation lives in the research and development department.
An example of a brand on this end of the continuum is Barnes & Noble. At least before James Daunt took over as CEO. The brand completely failed to adapt with the times and made decisions based solely on short term profits, such as moving into toys. I might even say that despite placing Barnes & Noble on this end, that it has fallen off it.
All of it has been projective, including the quite interestingly stubborn fact that the brand keeps stocking it shelves with DVDs. Another example is that books are ordered from headquarters and delivered to all outlets. Here a brand using co-creation as a strategic collaborative innovation method would have ongoing relationships based around different locations to make this more enjoyable for all.
Co-creation as a strategic collaborative innovation method
Brands that use co-creation as a strategic collaborative innovation method meanwhile acknowledge that expertise can come from outside of the organization just as well as from inside. A key implication is that co-creation is now not just a tool siloed off in the research and development function but a methodology ingrained throughout the entire organization. It is an organizational mindset.
Culture is open and inviting to external participants, and not just limited to customers but multiple stakeholders. Moreover, there are systematic co-creative initiatives in place though brand communities, regular workshops or other mediums. These provide an ongoing and long-term relationships in which brands consider participants innovative partners, as opposed to sources of enhanced market insight.
No approach is inherently better than the other. Neither does a brand have to adopt an approach that places it on either absolute end of the spectrum. It is important to find the right balance and what makes sense for each case. It’s also a question of resources. A strategic implementation of co-creation requires a certain culture and organizational structure which may create barriers for this approach for many brands.
What is important is that brands embrace co-creation, no matter where on the continuum. It’s a great component of innovation, and in today’s increasingly saturated markets, brands need to be innovative to stay competitive.
“Innovations are brand oxygen. They re-create leadership, focus the market on value not on price, and give a goal to the organization, reminding it that brands are about progress once they are on the market. Where would Apple be without the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad? Today innovations are more than ever necessary: the brand needs them, the consumer wants them and the trade requires them.”Jean–Noël Kapferer in The New Strategic Brand Management, p. 220