Musings on Consumer Co-Creation programs: A dose of courage, creativity, and more

Dear Readers;

I had the pleasure of giving a keynote presentation in Toronto at the MRIA i3 Conference. My talk, geared to market research consultants, focused on practical tools and tips illustrated by client cases in snack foods, beverages, consumer products and durables.

Time precluded much discussion on the emotional and attitudinal components that are the backdrop for successful co-creation programs, so I will explore that in this first post and continue with more of the nuts and bolts of effective program design in later chapters.

But let’s start at the beginning.

What is Consumer Co-Creation? A buzz word today- but practiced by some forward thinking companies for decades. The term is credited to professors Venkat Ramaswamy and C. K. Prahalad.

Consumer Co-creation encompasses the way companies create and deliver value through the participation of clients, consumers/customers, providers, or partners. This process itself is an enriching experience for participants.

Co-creation these days is often accomplished via digital, crowdsourcing of ideas for new products or product improvements. But for my clients, the most effective approach has been small-scale, intimate, shoulder-to shoulder-programs in which my clients (representing diverse functions) come together with consumers (or customers) and sometimes with the added expertise and wide angle thinking of “Idea Sparks,” mostly at the very early stages of product design or marketing conceptualization.

While this in-person approach goes against the norm of many research consultants who never interact in person with their consumers, it’s really the best way to do programs for which taste, aroma, texture, kinesthetic experiences are important. (A lot of my work is in foods, beverages, health and wellness and these are multi-sensory products.)

Now here’s where Client Courage comes in. Co-Creation programs are all quite different; there should not be a one-size fits all approach. The process has to serve the Client (culture, category, desired deliverables, etc.) Custom-designed programs require enormous creativity and visionary thinking on the part of the Creative Facilitator/Research Consultant and a willingness to experiment on the part of the Client. There are no absolute guarantees. There has to be mutual trust that the Creative Facilitator has the depth of experience to invent a process approach that will yield the desired results, (whether new product, marketing or communication concepts) and the flexibility and spontaneity to change it up when things don’t go quite as well as expected.

The Client has to have a certain comfort level with ambiguity, a natural curiosity and willingness to listen well to what the market (their would-be consumers/customers) says… even if what they hear goes against their beliefs and assumptions about their company or brand. These courageous Clients have to embrace a new type of listening– without judgment, as they are listening for the subtleties, listening for the nuggets of consumer needs or desires that can potentially be met with the client organization’s expertise. This listening is active, not passive. Every “What if?” or “I Wish” or “How to” is a trigger for imagination, connection-making and idea generation.

The skills for this style of listening can be taught- we always begin our Co-Creation programs with client coaching sessions; but the underlying attitudes of curiosity and open-mindedness tend to be deeply ingrained in individuals and in certain corporate cultures- or at least groups within companies.

Find these receptive Clients and you are on the path to successful Co-Creation.

Laurie Tema-Lyn

Practical Imagination Enterprises

908-237-2246

laurie@practical-imagination.com

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