Co-creation: the power of conversations [3 of 4]

Prill's crowd sourcing campaign

Prill’s crowd sourcing campaign

Media & Co-creation

Looking into the media, we find a number of articles claiming that companies are applying co-creation; yet, looking closer would reveal that those initiatives are something slightly different.

Coca-cola is said to be using co-creation a lot, but as David Moth (2012) on e-consultancy writes: “When Coca-Cola’s ad agencies ran out of ideas for a marketing brief, the company decided to turn to an online community to crowdsource some ideas”. So, what Coca-cola did, was an open call for ideas, asking the community to share individual ideas from where the company can dig for future inspiration. Coca-cola had over 3.600 submissions. is another case that has been widely referred as co-creation: this is an online community where the coffee shop’s fans can share, vote, and discuss ideas on how to improve the Starbucks’ experience. Ideas such as free wifi, Starbucks cards or skinny drinks alternatives stem from this experience and in 5 years Starbucks collected over 150.000 ideas.  According to Taneja (2013), more than 150,000 ideas have been submitted during the five-year period, but only about the 0.4% were actually converted into actions (Schwab 2011).

Also McDonald has been caught into the co-creation fad and to celebrate its 40th anniversary in Germany, it launched the ‘Mein Burger’ initiative, inviting Germans to create their perfect burger using an online platform.

Similarly, E.ON built an online community where people were invited to submit ideas for new E.ON products and services offering £10,000 home energy makeover for the best idea.

And the trend is global: in India Tanishq, the jewellery arm of the Tata Group, invited consumers to submit an idea for a new Working Women’s line offering the winner the opportunity to collaborate with designers at Tanishq. Mr. Sandeep Kulhalli, Vice President, retail and marketing, Tanishq, said: “Through this engagement, we can also secure useful insights on Tanishq’s jewellery collection, alongside find intelligent, creative and smart young designers with great ideas”.

Engaging customers is not co-creating

All these experiences engage the customers and the community at large in kind of creative tasks, but these experiences are a collection of individual efforts that lack the interaction, collaboration and the participation of all stakeholders. They are one-sided flows, mainly from customers to organisations and are various applications of crowdsourcing and open innovation principles. It’s true that these initiatives are valuable and that contests have always been a source of innovation able to boost technology and economy, but they have always been there. Contest today may be referred as crowdsourcing, but the nature of the experience, is likely similar to that of the context sponsored by Liverpool and Manchester Railways in 1829 spawned the steam locomotion (Fullerton & Al. 1999). These are all amazing open innovation experiences and should be considered as such. But it’s worth remembering that open innovation experiences can support incremental innovation but radical innovation requires a different approach (Schwab 2011).

But the confusion does not stop to community and crowd sourcing based initiatives: Nike with its Nike+ experience is a different case of experience that has been presented as a co-creation example.

Nike+ is basically a social network-like site where runners can upload data about their runs, comment on friends’ runs, and provide tips and information to their connections. The goal is to engage customers, increase brand awareness and loyalty. In his article on Forbes, Simon Towers (2011) writes: “Everyone gets added value – though not necessarily the same value: the customers get something that helps them with their fitness regime and helps them interact with friends, while Nike gets valuable information about its customers and how they are using its products”.

Although Nike invested a significant effort in involving customers, creating thematic communities, competitions to design the next Nike shoes, co-design and customisation (Nike ID), Nike is not co-creating, but its collecting information by accessing huge amounts of valuable data about its users’ behaviour. There’s no collaboration, interaction or participation, there’s the collection of habits for data mining purposes.

The risks of the crowd 

Moreover, crowd sourcing and community-lead experiences can also present some perils for the companies, as a community can behave in unpredicted ways.

Henkel is one of the companies who faced this side-effect: in 2011 it launched a campaign for the redesign of its Pril’s dishwasher detergent and collected over 50.000 suggestions in few weeks. However, some consumers hijacked the purpose and sent mocking designs.  As soon as Henkel realised that the original plan was diverging from its expectations and the most voted ideas were not what the company would be to use (see image below), Henkel changed the rules to determine the winner, causing a significant upraise and discontent in its customers.

General Motors decided to engage users and invited them to submit commercials for its new SUV, resulting in anti SUV activists sending parody advertisements presenting the SUV as gas-guzzlers that contribute to global warming (see an example  here).

Crowdsourcing Vs designers

As Fuller (2012) writes, these crowdsourcing experiences, also face some internal resistance in the companies: especially the design departments feel their job devalued and at risk, since the crowd can produce many more ideas for free.

This negative perception of co-creation within businesses is due to the fact that rather than making real co-creation experiences, where all key actors and stakeholders participate collaboratively and interact in the attempt to create value together, the value creation process is outsourced to the crowd.

Delegating the creative process outside with no interaction has proved to be potentially counterproductive also for the company culture, while real co-creation experiences are engaging and inspiring to the team members.

A community made up by hundreds or thousands of individuals cannot collaborate, as they are unable to share ideas, collaborate, discuss, make meanings together. There’s no real interaction between members. Co-creation can happen only in teams, which can be build and created ad hoc involving all the key stakeholders in a goal driven, social, creative and collaborative experience.

The lack of a real shared goal within a community makes almost impossible to co-create. It’s like expecting that an orchestra of hundred of players can spontaneously generate an opera without the control of a maestro.

Small groups, teams, are indeed able to coordinate, interact and create: a jazz quartet is perfectly able to improvise, since its members know the rules, have the same goal and work together, collaborate, interact to achieve their goal and create value, which is a good improvisation.

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