The beginning of the revolution: the Cluetrain Manifesto
Co-creation has become a very sexy world in the business news. Newspapers and magazines are full with inspiring titles, like 5 Co-creation Examples: E.ON, Coca-Cola, MTV, Tata Group & Heineken, 5 examples of how brands are using co-creation, How Coca-Cola uses co-creation to crowdsource new marketing ideas.
However, the understanding of this term is often blurred and organisations use the word co-creation to refer to many different things, which share one key concept: the involvement of users and the conversations between users and organisations.
With an increase value shift to experiences rather than products, the meaning of value and processes that create value are moving from a product centric approach to a costumer experience approach. This change of perspective is leading a change in the markets and organisational process, where customers are an active part of the innovation process. Technologies have enhanced a revolution by creating new forms of interaction and dialogue between companies and costumers, markets have become conversations, realising what few Internet pioneers and visionaries predicted back in 1999 and explained in the Cluetrain Manifesto.
The Cluetrain Manifesto is composed by 95 theses that explore the impact of Internet and emerging technologies on the markets. When they were published, 15 years ago, they created a lot of buzz, then, they lost momentum. However, the Cluetrain Manifesto represents the vision of the world we are living in today and without noticing, organisations and markets have gone in the direction defined in those 95 thesis.
The Cluetrain Manifesto stated that Markets are conversations and underlined that organisations need to speak the language of their community, highlighting that organisations need to talk with people.
Conversations in action!
If organisations and markets are conversations, co-creation is a practice that is giving organisations the opportunity to better understand costumers’ experience by actively and collaboratively involving them into the creation of products and services in a participatory experience where customers and organisation create value together.
In the past 15 years, enhanced by technologies and connectivity, a number of collective processes have taken place, creating new forms of conversations between the organisation and the customers.
Where does the word co-creation come from?
The word co-creation is composed by two parts: a suffix, co– and the word creation.
That co– may be explained in different ways, such as, Collaborative or Collective. The prefix comes from the Latin cum, meaning together and used in English to mean “together, mutually, in common”.
Creation is the act of coming into being, producing, making.
The etymology of the world already highlights the key features of co-creation, which are the social, reciprocal dimension and the act of coming into being, creating, that is much more complex and abstract that production.
The mix of those two words add another meaning, which is not only creating collectively, but creating something that has a value, for a mutually beneficial goal.
An example is ProDegustation, a French wine shop that in 2006 decided to experience co-creation to develop new products to increase purchase intentions and create emotional bonds. So ProDegustation selected 100 of its best customers, its lead users, contacted privately them and involved them in a 2 days brainstorming session in Paris. In 2 days, ProDegustation had the concept for the new product, and increased its loyalty rate from 4% to 25% in 3 years.
‘FooTalk’ is a VOIP app launched in January 2013 by British Telco Ghost Telecom. In order to make the app unique and fitting customers’ requirements, the company decided to engage users of various VOIP and messaging tools in several brainstorming sessions to imagine opportunities and services and the group, made by users, designers and key stakeholders, co-created the service and tested it until its release.
In 2008 Unilever, who run 2 online community, chose 16 participants to co-create together the new Axe fragrance. They met in New York and were invited to brainstorm on the concept of freshness.
A company that engaged in a long term co-creation experience, is Volvo: the project involved 24 working women in California: during the first meeting, the company worked with this group to understand their expectations and opinion regarding SUV, a second meeting, in 6 months, explored the new car, the XC90 and every time the managements had something they wanted to improve and discuss, called back the same group. In 2 years the group ended their contribution with the car ready to be driven. 16 of the 24 participants were involved in all stages and they were compensated with $50 for each session (Dahlsten 2004).
These experiences show some common traits: they are creative, social, goal oriented, involve teams that collaborate together to generate value, engaging, committing participants and liberating their creativity.
The literature provides some interesting and useful definition of co-creation:
“The idea of co-creation is to unleash the creative energy of many people, such that it transforms both their individual experience and the economics of the organization that enabled it.” (Francis 2010)
This definition focuses on the mutual benefits organisations and individuals gets once they are allowed to liberate their creative potential. Another definition focuses on the collaborative nature of the process:
“Customer co-creation is an active, creative and social process, based on collaboration between producers (retailers) and users, that is initiated by the firm to generate value for customers” (Piller, Ihl & Vossen 2010).
Thorsten & Al. (2009) defined co-creation as “an active, creative and social process, based on collaboration between producers and users, that is initiated by the firm to generate value for customers.
And by these definition, we can say that co-creation is a creative, collaborative and social process initiated by organisations that recognize that markets are conversations and the potential of involving users to develop collaboratively ideas and experiences that can have a positive impact both on users and organisations.
If co-creation is a conversation, as said in the ClueTrain Manifesto, as a dialogue, rather than a monologue, co-creation is a first of all an interaction based process.
And it’s a social process because it involves several actors that interact with the shared goal to make meaning, innovate and share values to create mutually beneficial values. A generic user involvement is not sufficient to define co-creation, as what co-creation requires, is an active engagement in the process of all actors involved in a dialogue.
Co-creation is based on collaboration, which means an active engagement of all parts involved, with the goal to create mutually beneficial values and to innovate.
Although value for both parts involved is different, co-creation reveals and brings to the surface the point where users and organisations’ needs can meet in an effective way that capitalise on the win-win that allows users to get better experiences and organisations to improve and innovate effectively and efficiently, developing and growing together with its users.
Finally, co-creation is a creative process, where ideas are shared and generated using interactive and facilitating approaches to generate new shared concepts that focus on value and experiences rather than on the product itself. To achieve this, different means and creative methods are adopted, mainly based on negotiation, meaning making and idea sharing.
So, the suggested definition of co-creation is a social, collaborative and creative process to generate innovation, through the dialogue and participation of all actors to construct new win-win opportunities and experiences.