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Challenges of co-creation

October 3, 2011

C0-creation is an emergent practice that can create fruitful competitive advantages for companies. However, many companies still lack behind in this development and fail to involve consumers in their innovation decisions. Why does it take so much effort for companies to incorporate co-creation into their internal processes? What are the challenges that might withhold them?

To understand this better, I reviewed my literature findings as well as the comments from the co-creation practitioners I interviewed. Here are some of the key challenges I identified:

Challenge: Changing management mindset

Literature emphasizes the importance of changing the traditional managers’ mindset. A consumer-centric way of thinking with a focus on collaboration and a responsiveness to consumer experiences and needs. It is clear that open innovation and co-creation require a diminished focus on control, planning and forecasting. This is a big challenge as it counters the old paradigm of closed innovation and will provoke considerable resistance from managers who believe in that traditional approach. Furthermore, there are quite some skills that managers need to learn in order to co-create successfully, such as: being more flexible and adaptive, creating and maintaining a sincere dialogue, being open to external comments, radiating accessibility and generating trust. Co-creation requires externally oriented employees, who can rapidly and efficiently respond to consumers’ true needs and wants. Opening up to consumers means that companies can also expect negative comments and feedback.

Challenge: Balancing freedom and rules

Companies also face big challenges during the co-creation process itself. Co-creation can generate many different concepts and unexpected outcomes. However, too much inputs and too little structure will lead to chaos and noise. It is therefore useful to develop some clear procedures that enable effective value creation. Defining and communicating objectives beforehand will not obstruct creativity, but merely gives it a better focus. It will always remain challenging to find the right balance between freedom and control. Protocols can help to set up the rules of engagement, but need to be constantly revised based on experiences. As a co-creation platform starts to grow and more and more people participate, the norms and rules will evolve naturally.

Challenge: Creating a collaborative culture

Consumers can enhance brand and product value through co-creation practices. However, the same consumers can become dissatisfied and their compliance might then turn into protest (see the post on Badvocates). Many companies are concerned about these risks and they are aware that consumers can ‘make or break’ a brand. Nevertheless, it is crucial to let go of some control when you want to co-create successfully. Co-creation is most fruitful and effective when all parties are on the same level and share the information and concerns they have.  This creates a collaborative culture and a feeling of connectedness, mutual effort and trust. A collaborative culture with a continuous dialogue can prevent negativity and disappointments to arise. In addition, when co-creators feel closely connected to a brand or a company, they are likely to become protective of its reputation and will even refute negative comments from others.

Challenge: Unity versus competition

Since consumers consider their contributions to the co-creation process as unique and important, receiving negative feedback from others may lead to a destructive competitive attitude. When conflicts arise, there is an increased risk of dissatisfaction and withdrawal from the community. Conflicts can stimulate negative WOM or drive co-creative consumers to collaborate with another party. It is therefore important for companies to create and maintain a positive feeling where competition units participants. This can be done by incorporating fun and playful elements to the co-creation collaboration and ‘gamify’ the process. This way participants can work together and see the direct results of their efforts and maintain a focus on positive outcomes next to receiving critical feedback.

Challenge: Motivating co-creative consumers

In a co-creation collaboration it is important to actively stimulate consumers and keep them motivated to deliver quality. Co-creative consumers are mostly driven by intrinsic motivations. Research shows that companies who merely offer monetary rewards to motivate consumers to increase their input, are not effective. Consumers start focusing on meeting the benchmarks and they are not intrinsically triggered to deliver quality input. When these companies changed their tactics and played into consumers’ desire for recognition, appreciation and acknowledgement, there was a significant increase in participation input.

Challenge: Avoiding disappointing consumers

Consumers that engage in co-creation projects will rarely be able to individually determine the final outcome of a product. Nevertheless, consumers feel empowered because they are listened to during the collaboration and this gives them a sense of enjoyment and self-efficacy. The actual influence on the product seems to be of lesser importance. The aspect of trust plays a role here and has a direct influence on the quality of the interaction and feelings of empowerment. The more the consumer trusts the brand/company, the more involved they become and the more empowered they will feel as a result.

Companies often decide to collaborate with co-creation experts that can help them face these challenges. These agencies often have a lot of expertise and well-developed community management skills. Read about the best co-creation agencies in a recent research report from Forrester, which benchmarks vendors on 34 criteria.

Do you agree with the key challenges I mentioned or do you have different ideas?

I am curious to hear your feedback or additional comments, so feel free to respond!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2011 1:29 pm

    Many brands and organisations really don’t see the need to get consumers involved. Mainly because they think they know best what people really want. And then there’s the fact that most consumers really can’t be bothered to get involved because their feedback or input often falls on deaf ears.

    I think consumers must be prepared get more involved if they want more value and more emotionally satisfying product or service experiences. And brands must be more open to feedback and more responsive to how people really feel about the stuff they make and sell.

    Co-creation is really about consumers and brands becoming more involved for mutual benefit and as the basis for trusting, sustainable relationships that go beyond short term profits and transactions.


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