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Co-creation vs. Crowdsourcing

May 16, 2011

When I tell people about my thesis topic of co-creation, the first thing that springs to their minds is often the PepsiCo campaign ‘Maak de Smaak’ (Dutch version of Do Us A Flavour). This campaign made quite an impact on consumers and generated a lot of buzz around the new flavor ‘Patatje Joppie’. The product sales and brand performance highly exceeded expectations (see Blankerts’ comments in the interview section). However, the campaign is actually more suited to be categorized as crowdsourcing as opposed to co-creation.

Why is crowdsourcing different from co-creation?

This question would probably outrage co-creation experts, since the conceptual definitions are indeed quite different. Co-creation is aimed at long-term collaborative innovation where consumers and firms work closely together as equal partners. Whereas crowdsourcing is aimed at collecting a lot of consumer inputs, often for marketing objectives (Crash The Super Bowl campaign) or for saving time and costs in finding the right experts (InnoCentive). Nevertheless, in practice the terms are mixed up quite often and used interchangeably. Raul Lansink from Favela Fabric: “The label ‘co-creation’ is put on all sorts of initiatives, that are actually more comparable to traditional panel research or idea contests. Especially the latter is increasingly occurring, designers or students figure out a solution for a certain problem or case, without any noteable interaction with the firm that initiates the contest.” (Frankwatching, 2009)

Why is it important to differentiate between the terms?

The definitions are elaborated on in my literature study, but let’s now take a look at some expert opinions on why it is important for firms to realize the difference:

Francis Gouillart: “Crowdsourcing should not be under-estimated and of course, has its place if all you are doing is purely out-sourcing a task to a wider audience with a view of cost-saving in mind. But for brands who wish to see long-term, tangible results from inviting consumers to participate – then a social co-creation strategy will enable you to partner with your brand advocates and build a lasting relationship with a community of influential’s, who in turn will  support you with strategic brand development, insight, and innovation”. (Gouillart, 2009)

Prof. Ramaswamy
: “If we think of co-creation as not just “creating together”, but “mutually expanding value together”, then this takes us way beyond crowdsourcing and open innovation to any value-chain activity anywhere in the business-civic-social ecosystem, which can be opened up to more inclusive and meaningful engagement together with stakeholders to mutually expand value.” (complete interview on Eyeka, 2011)

Chaordix Agency: “Simply put, you can crowdsource without co-creating, but you cannot collaborate and co-create with a community without ultimately crowdsourcing. The very nature of co-creation implies trust the wisdom of the crowd – their mass, experience, sentiment and knowledge being greater than your own. Crowdsourcing is a call to the crowds to contribute, co-creation invites the crowds to go one step further and innovate.” (Chaordix, 2010)

FACE Agency: “Co-creation differs from crowd-sourcing in the fact that it brings brands and consumers together on the same level and involves consumers at the beginning of the process rather than at midway or at the end. Company stakeholders collaborate directly with selected (usually smaller) groups of consumers to work on”. (Face Group, 2011)

So, what yields the best result?

Of course, this is the million dollar question you’d think! Unfortunately, this is the wrong question to ask and does not allow for a valuable answer. It all depends on what the firm aims to achieve, whether short-term objectives are important or whether the firm is interested in long-term consumer involvement and collaborative innovation. In my opinion,  an optimal outcome can probably be yielded by combining the two. Crowdsourcing, by e.g. setting up an online contest, is useful to raise awareness and curiosity and collect a diversity of ideas from participants. However, it is a challenge to do this well (see Yannig’s blogpost). Co-creation in turn can be done with a selection of these participants, which submitted the most promising entries and who are involved and motivated to contribute. The collaboration can then become more intense as the process of interaction, dialogue and idea exchange is lifted to a higher level.

I am looking forward to any complementary comments or views!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2011 8:38 pm

    Hi Joyce,

    Good points on the difference between crowdsourcing and co-creation. For my own use I would say that crowdsourcing is a specific form of co-creation. That is, if you consider the value creation process of Wikipedia also as ‘crowdsourcing’. Do you? In a literal sense, the ‘source’ of value is actually the ‘crowd’. In the Wikipedia case, it is not about coming up, sharing or sorting out innovative ideas, so no ideation or co-innovation, but co-production instead.

    So in the way I would see crowdsourcing, one form could be that of having the crowd innovate together with you as a company and another could be that of having the crowd produce your product.

    Seeing ‘co-creation’ as a way of ‘creating’ something of value with ‘others’ (stakeholders), one sees many forms by looking at various dimensions or variations. For example: what stage in the innovation process, or what other business processes for that matter. And also: with what stakeholder group, customers, employees, partners, the (undefined, broad) crowd, etc.

    Since you most likely studied on this subject much more than I did, could you comment?

    All the best,

    • June 13, 2011 9:53 pm

      Hi Diderik,

      Thank you for your comment! I tried to tackle some of the same questions in my literature study. There I analyse the term co-creation and the different roles consumers can play in new product development. The angle that I do research on is co-creation from a product innovation perspective, and aimed at collaborations between consumers and firms. Having said that, there are many different ways in which co-creation can be applied, for different purposes, and with different partners. Also, there are several different definitions and interpretations. The majority of the literature agrees upon a definition similar to: “Purposive and intentional collaboration between consumers and producers, where they systematically interact, learn, share information and integrate resources with the result of co-creating value”. Here the ‘value’ is the output (not necessarily the tangible product) and this value is generated from interactions with the firm itself or the product or service they provide. So, the value can be the consumption experience itself.

      When it comes to definitions, you can even argue for crowdsourcing being a type of co-creation (since it generates value and involves consumer-firm interaction). However, in practice the concepts are used with a different focus as I have understood. Crowdsourcing is about collecting a lot of input, which is then analysed and used by the firm. Whereas co-creation is about interaction and open dialogue, the information is collected, evaluated and interpreted during the co-creation process itself. Thus, co-creation uses a systematic approach and intensive collaboration on different business levels. It is considered quite difficult to do this with an entire crowd and to get a quality conversation going with a clear focus. Also here is a solution, for example, crowdsourcing can be used in early stages (as idea generation) and co-creation can then be the next step to further develop concepts with a selected group of motivated people. I hope this makes it clearer why people differentiate between the terms.

      If not, feel free to comment back 🙂 Kind regards, Joyce


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