3 Lessons For Successful Co-creation

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Crowdsourcing and co-creation are two major buzzwords in social media circles and for good reason. The network effect of social enables companies to engage with consumers and customers in ways that might radically accelerate innovation and creativity – and drive WOM, loyalty, market-share and profit in the bargain.

Lots of experiments are taking place and the jury is still out. But recently an article in Businessweek caught my eye as an example of co-creation done right. Unilever, working with Face, a London agency that specializes in co-creation, assembled a team of 16 young adults from around the world at their New York offices. Their task: to develop a new fragrance for Axe, Unilever’s hugely successful deodorant brand for young men that addressed the need for ‘freshness’.

The team recommended a fragrance that changed during the day, naming it ‘Twist’ (typically inappropriate ad here). The concept was run through – and given a thumbs up by – Face’s ‘Headbox’ community of young men and was launched successfully late last year.

What lessons can we draw? At least three:

1) Companies might (and should) have genius, but they can’t know it all. Consumer insight can indeed power highly profitable innovation (and good PR).

2) Don’t be passive about co-creation or crowdsourcing. Drive it. By which I mean choose a representative sample of your community and task (and inspire) them to deliver a tangible result based on a specific brief. Arguably what Unilever did is the exact opposite of Starbucks’ approach to their MyStarbucksIdea.com effort at co-creation which yielded, well, pretty much nada.

3) Stop thinking ‘community’ and start thinking ‘team’. One of my biggest criticisms of social media ‘thought leadership’ is that so much of it is echo-chamber high-fiving with few actionable results. This might be because it thinks and acts like the community it is rather than a team. A recent post from Boris Pluskowski amplifies on this theme. Unilever took a team approach to co-creation and the result was, well a result.

Taking an active approach to crowdsourcing and co-creation is much harder than simply aggregating a community of fans (assuming you have any), asking them the odd question and claiming victory. But I’m convinced it’ll consistently yield better results. As Face’s CEO Andrew Needham said of the Unilever project, “Often consumers take you to places that you would never thought of going to had you used more traditional research methods”. But they need to be briefed, motivated, inspired and organized to get there.

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