Don’t wait, co-create

Mark Ralphs

10 October 2019

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Large companies move slowly. Scale, once a competitive edge, is now a liability. 

This is apparent in the development of new products, services and customer experiences. Challenger brands, free of silos, legacy tech and unwieldy operational processes are innovating and increasing expectations at a rate most large brands will never keep up with.

Traditionally, new product development (NPD) follows 5 stages: concept, research, analysis, develop, and launch. This is a slow-moving, linear process, regularly resulting in overruns or failures to anticipate major issues, wasting months of work.

Co-creation, deployed internally and externally, is a compelling and effective way to improve the speed and quality of NPD.

At Good Rebels we define co-creation as:

“Involving consumers, end-users and stakeholders in the innovation process, to understand needs, design, prototype and refine solutions, and build advocacy.”

Improved internal collaboration

Far too often the right people don’t speak to each other early enough in the NPD process. Marketing will progress an idea and involve IT at the last possible minute. Why? Ingrained corporate fear and risk aversion. 

Internal co-creation means breaking down silos and involving all relevant stakeholders from the start. Doing this reduces risk, improves quality, and increases speed to market.

It sounds simple, but for many it is anything but. It involves a reorganisation of established workflows and a change in culture. Changing attitudes from ‘not possible’ to ‘let’s do it’.

Consumer co-creation

More powerful is involving external audiences in the innovation process. Rather than relying on focus groups at set points, at Good Rebels we recruit groups of consumers and involve the same people throughout the entire process, from identifying needs to concept development to marketing.

We have used this approach to design everything from financial products to clothing to retail experiences to advertising campaigns. It is an exciting, sometimes messy, process, involving a level of consumer closeness you rarely see in traditional NPD or marketing. Many co-creation participants progress to being amazing brand advocates.

Good Rebels is not alone and we certainly didn’t invent co-creation. Since as far back as 2001, Procter & Gamble has relied on a co-creation and open model for innovation. The Connect + Develop initiative invites outsiders – including P&G retirees, inventors and organisations of all sizes – to submit ideas for solutions to research and development challenges. According to P&G Connect + Develop has increased P&G’s R&D productivity by 60%. 

Two other more recent examples of co-creation are Veggie Pret from Pret a Manger and the fantastic Franchise Model from XBox.

Making it happen

Setting up an external co-creation initiative is not easy. How do you find the right people? How do you persuade them to give up their time to help you? How do you ensure they’re objective? They need to challenge your thinking and provide inputs that are representative of your target audience, while remaining committed to the whole process.

Here are some tips:

  • Analyse big data sets to understand market context, patterns and trends 
  • Recruit a long-list, anywhere from 50 to 100 people depending on the project. Learn as much as you can about them before deciding on your final participants
  • Choose a final group of 20 to 30 participants, expose them to immersive experiences to build empathy and set engaging missions to find answers. 
  • Asking direct questions isn’t enough, you’ve got to find real insights behind what people tell you and you’ve got to make it fun!
  • Reward your participants! You are being paid for your work so why shouldn’t your consumers be too?

We often ask co-creation participants to complete drawing tasks to reveal their attitudes to certain buying or brand experiences. In the example below we asked women in the UK to draw their experience of visiting a car dealership.

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Essentially great co-creation projects share the following characteristics:

  • The purpose behind the new product or service must inspire: if your co-creators are genuinely enthused, they’re more likely to engage and make a real effort.
  • You have to identify the right co-creators: you need people who care enough about the product or service you’re working on to have an opinion on it and stick with you throughout the entire process. They need to be open-minded enough to engage in meaningful debate, and confident enough to share their opinions as part of a group. 
  • You need top-class facilitators and moderators: co-creation is more of an art than a science – skilled moderators know what exercise to run and when – they bring out the best in your co-creators. They know how to phrase questions in a way that helps people to express themselves more profoundly. 

Embracing co-creation 

Co-creation is encouraging some businesses to organise themselves in a totally different way – one which involves stakeholders and end users at every step of the product development journey. 

It’s about fundamental change – moving from private and secretive to open and collaborative. 

Embracing co-creation isn’t easy, but the potential rewards are significant. Co-creation instills organisations with a culture of innovation and collaboration, helping them to meet tomorrow’s business challenges head-on.