Co-creation: The Future For Brands – Part 1

By Michael Wylie-Harris

Co-creation: When brands and organisations develop products, services and campaigns in collaboration with their customers. The co-creation process gives voices to real people, empowering them to create richer brand experiences and develop products and services that better resonate with themselves and their peers.

This is the second article that introduces a co-creation white paper published by audience collaboration tech firm, Bulbshare. The entire report can be downloaded for free here. Last week’s article can be read here.

 A Force for Good

Co-creation turns your customers into stakeholders, marketeers and creative partners, and that’s where the magic happens. Blurring the lines between creator and consumer and empowering people to influence the decisions their favourite brands make, doesn’t just lead to customer-centric products and services, it also has the potential to transform brands into a force for good in the world. And as they begin to understand the power of listening to their audiences, we’ll increasingly see brands that care, brands with a conscience and brands with a level of transparency that was previously unheard of.

The remarkable shift that Paul Paulman has taken across the portfolio of Unilever brands is a case in point. It also signifies that this isn’t just a periphery fad – he’s made it central to the brand story of a corporate giant. Better still, it’s contributing to the bottom line. According to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) annual progress report, about half of Unilever’s growth in 2016 came from its sustainable living brands. These grew 30% faster than the rest of the company’s business.

The recent Iris Participation Brand Index recognises that those companies putting ‘customer participation’ or co-creation at the core of their brand offer are not only increasing workforce retention, they’re also outperforming competitors with a return four times higher than that of the bottom 20 brands.

Co-creation Technology Already Exists

Solutions that allow brands to connect with their audiences on-the-move, gaining valuable consumer insights and feedback, creative ideas and user-generated content are readily available. These platforms create closed communities of targeted consumer groups, then let brands share questions, ideas and briefs to a specific community, getting responses from people they value and trust. While this kind of activity has existed for a long time via social media, the new wave of co-creation technology marks a transformative shift in how brands can connect directly with their audiences in a private, targeted space.

Despite the availability of this technology, our recent survey shows that many brands remain unaware of its existence. While 88% of brand marketers agree that collaborating with their customers drives revenue, 64% cited ‘lack of budget’ as a barrier, 44% cited ‘lack of capability’ and 33% said that ‘lack of technology’ prevents them from properly connecting to and collaborating with their customers.

Generation Co-creation

In recent years, the rise of a newly empowered, entrepreneurial and media savvy generation of consumers has meant brands have no choice but to co-create. Gen Z has its finger on the pulse when it comes to social media brand marketing. Furthermore, with mounting pressure being placed on businesses to reinvent themselves for the SnapChat generation, brands must leverage those expertise if they’re to create meaning with a generation of which 77% are more likely to buy through peer to peer recommendations (Nielsen 2016), as opposed to traditional marketing messages.

 Co-creation is Being Driven by Consumers Not Brands

The role of the brand must shift to become that of a conversation facilitator, rather than a conversation leader. They must listen rather than speak and be prepared to be guided by the behaviours of their young audiences. Gen Z (sometimes called ‘Generation Me’) has grown up with the ability to broadcast its voice and opinion to thousands of followers and friends on social media, and brands must take heed of this. This is a massive new consumer group that doesn’t like being advertised to and that won’t tolerate being told what to think. Rather, they expect to dictate –  or, at the very least, take part in – the conversation.

Co-creation: The Opportunity

Essentially, co-creation is a brand’s gateway to creating better and more relevant products, services and campaigns. Companies that co-create display trust, authenticity, respect and openness, gain loyal brand evangelists and are seen as democratic and progressive. Simultaneously they will drive increased customer connection, increasing sales and reducing product development risk. Businesses with customer communities at their core display a 33% bigger growth rate than their peers (Nielsen).

By Michael Wylie-Harris, Marketing Director, Bulbshare