Co-creation and crowd-sourcing are high on the agenda of the majority of today’s marketers. It is seen as a quick way to experiment with this new way of working. Also among marketing researchers co-creative approaches of doing qualitative research are on a rise if you look at the research (#mrx) buzzwords of 2011 on Twitter and the latest GRIT report. Both studies refer to ‘co-creation’ and ‘community’ (MROC) approaches as one of the most popular emerging marketing research techniques. Also here, it’s a great way for researchers to experiment with a new way of connecting and interacting with consumers.
There is nothing wrong with these experiments, but in most cases it doesn’t go any further than being just a trendy marketing campaign or a try-out with a contemporary way of doing marketing research. This brings us to the other problem with all of the examples above: they were all ‘one-offs’. There is no long term vision, nor intention to collaborate with the customer in a more structural way.
We believe that co-creation with consumers is not enough! Every company should try to structurally get the consumer on board: every single day and for almost all decisions that need to be taken. As a consequence of this intense collaboration between your company and the market, decisions will no longer be imposed from above. And when the majority of your decisions are taken in this manner, following consultation with the market, you may really speak of ‘structural collaboration’. The consumer is truly represented in the boardroom. His voice can be heard in every part of your company, a voice that is every bit as loud as the voice of management and staff. You may even want to consider actually appointing a consumer as an honorary member of your board.
The objectives of Structural Collaboration
Companies who are working on structural collaboration with their customers have four clear objectives in mind with this approach:
- Create better products, improve the customer service and communicate in a more impactful way. This is by far the most important objective for large brands to collaborate with consumers. By succeeding in this objective, the overall performance of the organization will increase.
- Become more agile. By involving customers in every phase of a decision making chain, things move faster. Companies can make better decisions faster and have a better feeling what will be needed to be as successful in the future. A big plus in today’s fast moving world.
- Add consumer-feeling to the gut-feeling. A lot of managers rely on their gut-feeling, which is wonderful. Structural collaboration should add ‘consumer-feeling’ to it. By collaborating so often, managers create the ability to put on the consumers hat during a meeting and think as the customer. Allowing them to make more consumer relevant choices.
- Marketing & PR. Companies who are listening and involve consumers in decision making are popular nowadays. Tell all your customers that you take decisions based on consulting other customers, and they will like you more. Leveraging the internal collaboration platforms towards the external communication has an impact on the overall perception. This is not the main goal, but a very welcomed indirect effect.
Most ‘co-creation’ projects for research or marketing purposes solely focus on respectively the first or the last point. Through ‘structural collaboration’ with consumers via a Market Research Online Community you are capable of catching all four with one single stone. One of the things to focus on in order to reach this maximal impact with your MROC is internal and external communication about the (results) of the project.
Internal communication is not enough:
Internal = External
Managers show more interest in a project or approach that gets external credits than in a project with a sole internal focus. In other words: make sure your structural collaboration is not completely taking place behind the scenes of your organization. Sharing your collaboration work with the whole organization and the rest of the world has a number of advantages. Next to an increase in motivation of your management, it will also increase the motivation of the participants of your communities. Further, research has shown that consumers have a higher trust level towards and a better perception of brands that co-create. So, there is also a commercial benefit to leveraging your efforts externally.
There are a few communication tactics you can apply to increase the internal and external impact of your collaboration process:
- Meet-up with participants: Collaboration occurs on a digital platform but it is an interaction between people. To increase the interaction and the emotional bondage, make sure your employees meet-up with these people in the real world as well. Show them around in your company, tell them your challenges and treat them like part-time employees.
- Go for tangible results: If you work together with your consumers on a structural level, make sure you have concrete deliverables. These results (e.g. new products, insights, advertising, packaging…) should be shared with the world to make the collaboration aspirational for the market and for the involved manager.
- Bite size & creative reporting: share the results of your collaboration in a short, compelling and creative way with your employees. Make sure it is easy to digest and to share.
- Apply content marketing techniques: don’t communicate 1 or 2 times about your collaboration, but talk about it on a more frequent basis. Use three levels of content: big content campaigns (e.g. when you have BIG news: launch of an initiative or showing the end result), content projects (e.g. a theme that you talk about for a few days/weeks) and content updates (small, daily updates with relevant information).
If you think about these aspects well, you will tap into the unused potential of your MROC!
More about how you can move from ‘co-creation’ towards ‘structural collaboration’ can be found in the paper on the subject I wrote together with Steven Van Belleghem (@Steven_InSites), based on 15 in-depth interviews with senior executives from global brands: