Co-creation is a management initiative, or form of economic strategy, that brings different parties together (for instance, a company and a group of customers), in order to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome.
Co-created value arises in the form of personalized, unique experiences for the customer (value-in-use) and ongoing revenue, learning and enhanced market performance drivers for the firm (loyalty, relationships, customer word of mouth). Value is co-created with customers if and when a customer is able to personalize his or her experience using a firm's product-service proposition – in the lifetime of its use – to a level that is best suited to get his or her job(s) or tasks done and which allows the firm to derive greater value from its product-service investment in the form of new knowledge, higher revenues/profitability and/or superior brand value/loyalty.
Scholars C. K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy popularized the concept in their 2000 Harvard Business Review article, "Co-Opting Customer Competence". They developed their arguments further in their book, published by the Harvard Business School Press, The Future of Competition, where they offered examples including Napster and Netflix showing that customers would no longer be satisfied with making yes or no decisions on what a company offers.
From co-production to co-creation
In their review of the literature on "customer participation in production", Neeli Bendapudi and Robert P. Leone found that the first academic work dates back to 1979.
From 1990 onwards, new themes are emerging: John Czepiel suggests that customer's participation may lead to greater customer's satisfaction. Scott Kelley, James Donnelly and Steven J. Skinner are dealing with productivity but suggest other ways to look at customer participation: quality, employee's performance, and emotional responses.
Although not reviewed by Bendapuli and Leone, the groundbreaking article by R. Normann and R. Ramirez suggests that successful companies do not focus on themselves or even on the industry but on the value-creating system.
Michel, Vargo and Lusch recognize the influence of Normann on their own work and acknowledge similarity between the concepts of co-production and co-creation: "his customer co-production mirrors the similar concept found in FP6". The authors suggest that Normann enriched the S-D Logic particularly through his idea of "density" of offerings.
In a letter sent to the editor of the Harvard Business Review in reaction to an article by Pine, Peppers and Roger ("Do you want to keep your customers forever"), Michael Schrage argues that not all customers are alike in their capacity to bring some kind of knowledge to the firm.
Wikström sees the role of consumers changing.
Firat, Fuat, Dholakia, and Venkatesh introduced the concept of customerization (which is a buyer-centric evolution of the mass-customization process) and stated that it enables consumers to serve as "the co-producer of the product and service offering". However, Bendapudi and Leone (2003) concluded in an empirical paper that "the assumption of greater customization under co-production may hold only when the customer has the expertise to craft a good or service to his or her liking".
At the turn of the century, Prahalad and Ramaswamy (2000) produced another important piece of work and built further on Normann and Ramirez's ideas.
In 2004, Prahalad and Ramaswamy kept working on their original idea published four years earlier. At the same time, Vargo and Lush (2004) published on the service-dominant logic of marketing. The process of value creation is dealt with in FP6. Opposing the goods-dominant logic and the service-dominant logic, the authors state: "the customer is always a coproducer". FP6 will be later (Vargo and Lush, 2006) altered in "the customer is always a co-creator".
In the same book, Kalaignanam and Varadarajan (2006) also follow Prahalad's comments and elaborate on the IT implications on coproduction. As the authors put it "developments in information technology […] enable customers to create value by collaborating with the firm". The main contribution of the authors in this article is a conceptual model of the intensity of customer participation as function of product characteristics, market and customer characteristics, firm characteristics. In their conclusions and directions for future research the authors deal with three promising topics. First they propose to study supply-side issues and how increasing communication, participation from the customers and the emergence of communities enable customers to interact between them, sometimes leading to new creations. Second they see the "locus of innovation" as of interest and in particular how the shift of firm-centric networks to user-centric networks can lead to increased innovation capabilities. Third they wonder whether demand-side issues may not result in negative consequences on satisfaction. The third issue is already mentioned by Bendapuli and Leone: "A customer who believes he or she has the expertise and chooses to co-produce may be more likely to make self-attributions for success and failure than a customer who lacks the expertise. A customer who lacks the expertise but feels forced to co-produce […] may make more negative attributions about co-production".
Early applications of co-creation
In the early 2000s, consultants and companies deployed co-creation as a tool for engaging customers in product design. Examples include Nike giving customers online tools to design their own sneakers. At a MacWorld conference in 2007, Sam Lucente, the legendary design and innovation guru at Hewlett-Packard, described his epiphany that designers can no longer design products alone, using their brilliance and magic. They are no longer in the business of product and service design, he stated; they are really in the business of customer co-creation.
During the mid-2000s, co-creation became a driving concept in social media and marketing techniques, where companies such as Converse persuaded large numbers of its most passionate customers to create their own video advertisements for the product. The Web 2.0 phenomenon encompassed many forms of co-creation marketing, as social and consumer communities became "ambassadors", "buzz agents", "smart mobs", and "participants" transforming the product experience. Other examples of co-creation can be found in arts.
Co-creation and corporate management
During the mid-2000s, these innovations in customer engagement and collaboration expanded and morphed into global economic trends including the co-created development of products and services. Authors published bestselling books developing theories influenced by "co-creation" and customer collaboration. Major concepts included crowdsourcing, coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired magazine article, open innovation, promoted by Henry Chesbrough, a professor and executive director at the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation at Berkeley, and consultant Don Tapscott's and Anthony D. Williams's Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, a book that popularized the concept of corporations using mass collaboration and open source innovation.
Of this rapid morphing of co-creation, Ramaswamy and his co-author Francis Gouillart wrote: "Through their interactions with thousands of managers globally who had begun experimenting with co-creation, they discovered that enterprises were building platforms that engaged not only the firm and its customers but also the entire network of suppliers, partners, and employees, in a continuous development of new experiences with individuals."
The Rise of Customer Co-Creation
The rise of cocreation could be attributed to three distinct issues as suggested by O’hern & Rindfleisch (2010).
- The information asymmetry between customer demands and manufacturer capability
Traditionally, firms have attempted to manage this asymmetry by engaging in various forms of marketing research to obtain better information about their customers’ needs.
- Customer empowerment: Consumers are seeking a more active role beyond consumption
Growing customer empowerment appears to be rapidly promoting customer co-creation by motivating consumers to play a more active role in the new product development (NPD) process, enhancing their NPD knowledge and skills, and connecting them with proactive communities of like-minded individuals.
- The advent and widespread application of digital technology
The Internet has increased access to knowledge that can enhance consumers’ ability to engage in creative pursuits and to apply their knowledge by providing access to a variety of online design tools. The Internet also enhances collective co-creation by connecting individual consumers with others (both consumers and manufacturers) in a manner that allows them to participate effectively in a co-creation community.
Process of co-creation
Successful co-creation requires two key steps.
Contribution of ideas: A firm must convince its customers to submit their ideas (i.e., to contribute). However, receiving contribution is actually quite hard because most customers are quite busy and hardly care about the company's call. Unless customers are incentivized in an attractive way they are reluctant to participate and benefit the company. As a result, most co-creation efforts fail because they don't get many submissions.
Selecting the viable ideas: After receiving the contributions, the firm must then select the most profitable, viable and implementable ones. The challenge of the selection process is that most submissions are not very useful, impractical and difficult to implement. Firms have to deal the submitted ideas in a very subtle way as throughout the process they don’t want to reject customer submissions and risk of alienating them which may eventually lead to customer disengagement.
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- Co-Creation on p2pfoundation
- Harvard Business Review on Co-creation
- 90:10 Group Co-creation Consultancy Blog
- World Co-Creation Day
- The Dark Side of Co-creation: a presentation given at the European Marketing Academy Conference in 2010
- Why do customers help firms? A journey into Lead-Users' motivations. Presentation given at EMAC2010
- Video showing Best Practice Examples of Co-Creation with Consumers in New Product Development, 2011
- (German) von Tobias Theis