Anna Peters

10 years ago hardly anyone had heard of it, but now it is de rigueur to invest huge amounts in running big innovation programs in this methodology. It has even become a profession in its own right.

So where did co-creation come from, and where is it going?

1st generation co-creation: “everybody can be creative”

Back in the early 2000s the first co-creation agencies came into being – based upon the groundbreaking article by C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy in the Harvad Business Review, Co-opting Customer Competence, and further built on in their book The Future of Competition,  Co-Creating Unique Value With Customers. These new agencies operated on two assumptions:

  1. Consumers want to be involved with brands
  2. Everybody can be creative

Drawing from the psychoanalytic tradition, co-creation 1.0 threw the stiff formalities of traditional market research out of the window and used more fluid and iterative techniques to connect with willing consumers to develop creative solutions for brands. is a good example of co-creation 1.0 – a hugely successful platform which invites everybody to become involved with developing product and brand solutions.

Criticisms of co-creation 1.0: Co-creation 1.0 has it’s limitations – and critics argue that the assumptions that, everybody wants to be involved with brands and everybody can be creative are challenging. Indeed, organisations which operate with the 1.0 model of co-creation often face huge amounts of ‘wasted potential’ – of a 300 person online community only 50 members would be truly active, and of those an even smaller proportion are developing great ideas.

2nd generation co-creation: “the rise of the 1%ers”

Co-creation 2.0 was born from a backlash of this wasted potential, and so began the rise of the 1%ers. Co-creation 2.0 is based upon the belief that only a tiny proportion of the population have the ability to be co-creative, and it is only this very small proportion of population that organisations operating on the 2.0 model of co-creation ever engage with.

The 1%ers help brands to innovate because they bring switched on, smart and articulate people together as an extension of the marketing team – and brands such as Heineken have tapped into a ready and willing pool of creative sorts to define some truly impressive ideas.

Criticisms of co-creation 2.0: Engaging the 1%ers in sexy brands or groundbreaking challenges is easy – these creatives are turned on by the idea of defining a big solution for big brands. But what about brands that aren’t so sexy? These brands may face challenges when it comes to co-creation 2.0 because they just don’t have the ability to capture the hearts and minds of the 1%ers – meaning the return that they get from their explorations into co-creation don’t return as much as promised.

Co-creation 3.0: “the future of co-creation lies in using skilled consumers at the right point in the process”

Co-creation 3.0 uses skilled consumers at the right point in the co-creative process, and offers a compromise between the extreme positions ‘everyone can be creative’ + ‘only 1% of people can be creative.’


Benefits of co-creation 3.0: The benefits are clear for brands and consumers alike: by identifying the specific skills of co-creators (for example, critical thinking, creativity, connectedness, curiosity, etc) at the beginning of the process, we can make the most of their abilities throughout the process. This helps get better results in 2 ways:

Less wasted potential
Knowing how best to use every co-creators skill set means that consumers are only engaged in tasks that they have and in interest in, and in which they are able to make valuable contributions.

For consumers this means more by way of intrinsic reward – it’s more fun and they can see that they are having a greater impact on the brands they care about.

For brands this means less ‘wasted potential’ – in other words there is less money spent on recruiting and rewarding co-creators that aren’t actually adding much to the end result.

More than just creativity
Using skilled consumers to look at the brand challenge means that we’re being truly co-creative: ‘creatives’ are just one type of person … and co-creation is about difference and cross- fertilisation of ideas, so it’s important to make the most of the multiple word views available to us.

For consumers this means that they are engaged in process that encourages cross-fertilisation of ideas. For brands this means that the resulting ideas are ultimately more divergent. So, is the future of co-creation filled with skilled consumers?

I think so.

The benefits to brands in terms of less wasted potential are huge, because every brand owner wants to be getting the biggest bang for his buck.

The benefits for consumers are also big, because it’s a much more fruitful and enjoyable to have your skills recognised and be asked to use them in a way that makes a real difference.

Anna Peters is Director of Co-Creation, Bright Young Minds