Customer Co-Creation: Making the Consumer a Part of Your Research Team

The line between brand and consumer used to be more clearly defined. Though the customer may always be right, they were only really listened to during traditional focus groups, formal market surveys, or grand gestures of public grievance. But with the advent of social media, digital distribution channels, and online market research, there are numerous opportunities for interaction between brand and consumer over the course of everything from product development to in-store marketing campaigns. With a single tweet, a brand becomes instantly more accessible, consumer engagement is much easier to measure, and the relationship between the two parties is suddenly a lot less conventional.

As demonstrated in this Harvard Business Review article, customers have moved beyond being mere consumers of value: they are helping to create value too. Through interactive campaigns and explicit dialogue, consumers can voice their opinions and even initiate the conversation with businesses and brands in social and online spaces beyond their control. They have changed the marketplace from a staged production to an improv show, bringing their own experience and knowledge to collaborate with as well as challenge companies. So how can brands better prepare for their exciting, expanded role?

Customer Co-Creation: Consuming Your Consumers

The best thing a company can do to respond to the empowered consumer with an informed opinion is to keep the conversation going. And the best way to keep that conversation going is to give your consumer greater access to the process. In the business world as well as market research, this thinking can be called customer co-creation: the principle of involving an external community in the ideation phase, product development, or marketing stage of a company.

Engaging a customer in the development of what they are intended to consume allows them to have a hand in creating its value while benefitting the producing brand. Instead of allowing valuable consumer insights to disappear into the abyss of a Twitter or Facebook feed, customers are included in the processes with which they have appropriate experience and understanding.

Collaborative, Innovative, Iterative

There are a number of reasons why customer co-creation may be an excellent option for your brand. In addition to reinforcing your company’s connection to your target audiences, co-creation increases the speed and vastness of your team’s product innovation capabilities by adding and whole new external force of creativity and problem solving. And since your co-creation community is informed and vetted for the category of decision making, your risk of an innovation flop or missing the target is reduced, thanks to feedback from the consumer front lines. Co-creation also makes personalization a far more manageable task by incorporating intimate insights from the beginning. Including a co-creation community as early and as often as possible results in multiple waves of collaborative effort and rapid development, turning every step of development into an iterative, agile success story.

Customer co-creation is also an important tool for internal company growth and future learning. The realization that a product or service is inferior to the experience desired will force managers to reconsider any old assumptions about product innovation. And all in all, consumer certainty is far better than only thinking you know the answer after just a snapshot survey or outdated feedback.

Way More Than Crowdsourcing

Co-creation ultimately begins with collaboration between your brand and your research partner, refining the objectives and research design until all key questions are answered. And since the value and power of co-creation communities mostly derives from the speed with which they can be mobilized, an agile research partner is critical when it comes to accessing your target and gathering actionable data in a matter of days, not months.

This is where customer co-creation varies drastically from crowdsourcing. While both are intended to amass ideas and opinions from an external group, co-creation is not performed on an open forum or platform, but rather tailored and disseminated to a select group of respondents. Because respondents are selected for a pre-determined relationship or experience with the product in question, e.g., user sophistication or income threshold, the research and resulting insights are narrower, clearer, and far more effective.


Customer co-creation is a great way for brands to break into agile market research and take full advantage of customer insights that might otherwise go unheard or uncommented on. By giving your consumers a platform for their increasing product knowledge and personal experience, you are giving your brand a chance to optimize its response. To learn more about how to make agile market research work for you, check out our complimentary eBook below.

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