Trust and transparency are key components of brand success. However, in an era of fake news and fractured consumer behaviour, cynicism towards brands seems more intense than ever before. 

So, what can companies do in response?

According to research by the Faculty of Behavioural Science of the University of Twente, consumers are far more positive about a brand (and are more likely to promote it) if they can participate in the creation of its products. 

This process, commonly known as ‘co-creation’, has a positive effect on the perception of consumers, making them feel empowered and therefore more inclined to purchase the co-created product or interact with the brand in some way. Similarly, co-creation can also allow brands to appear more caring and conscientious, and more likely to work towards social good.

Here are a few examples of co-creation in action, and more on how it has helped brands to earn that all-important consumer trust. For more on this topic, subscribers can check out Econsultancy’s Trust, Transparency and Brand Safety report.

Made.com - TalentLab

Co-creation is intrinsic to the business model of furniture brand Made.com. It recently launched ‘TalentLab’ – a crowdsourcing platform for new designers. This allows up-and-coming designers to submit their furniture designs, before Made.com customers vote for their favourites. Eventually, designs with the most votes (or ‘pledges’ as they’re known) are put into production and sold on the site. 

In conjunction with this, Made.com’s ‘Unboxed’ community also utilises the power of its consumers in a different way, asking them to upload photos of the brand’s products in their own homes. This enables the brand to showcase products in the context of real life, inspiring new customers to buy as well as rewarding previous ones in the process.

Here, the value lies in the community interaction created by the brand. Customers can directly impact production choices, but they can also support new designers as well as show off their own creativity – behaviours that are reactive rather than passively consuming marketing. This also means that Made.com relies on its consumers, too, to continue the cycle and deliver feedback and user-generated content.

Lego - Ideas

Lego gives us perhaps one of the most famous examples of co-creation, with its ‘Ideas’ platform allowing customers to be directly involved in the invention of its products. 

Ideas asks Lego fans to post their own designs for new playsets, with the projects that receive over 10,000 votes then being considered for production. As well as the sheer joy that comes along with creating their own set, the winner also receives 1% of net sales, giving them a monetary incentive for participation too. 

For Lego, the benefits include guaranteed positive feedback (and the ability to see what kinds of products fans like) and a continuous pool of fresh and creative ideas to draw from. In turn, this helps to create additional value for consumers, for both those who submit ideas as well as fans who see an idea they have voted for come to fruition.

BMW & Local Motors

In a report by Hitachi, it was revealed that 57% of survey respondents said co-creation has transformed their company’s approach to innovation. This appears to be particularly pertinent for the automotive industry, where 83% of respondents from this sector agree. 

BMW is one automotive brand that has used co-creation to drive innovation. Its ‘Co-Creation Lab’ is a virtual community created way back in 2010 whereby consumers can offer their opinions on designs, submit their own ideas, and get involved in the creation process of vehicles. In doing so, this means that consumers are invested in the design process from start to finish, giving them a real incentive to find out more and potentially purchase the final vehicle.

Interestingly, other companies are now taking this approach and making it their USP. Local Motors, for example, describes itself as a company where “customers work together with solvers, designers, and engineers to accelerate product and technology development”. 

Essentially, it allows for customisation of all its vehicles, with its online community allowing customers to submit designs and vote on vehicle components. While this level of customisation might not always be viable, it shows how co-creation can help brands differentiate themselves, and offer consumers something that nobody else can.

DHL - innovation centres

Co-creation doesn’t only apply to products. DHL, a division of mail and logistics services company Deutsche Post, shows that it can also help to improve overall services. In order to find out how the company could improve its logistics, for example, it invited a number of consumers to ‘innovation centres’ in Germany and Singapore to talk with employees and brainstorm new ideas.

One of the outcomes was Parcelcopter – an initiative that uses drones for ‘last mile’ deliveries. The aim was to deliver packages to places with difficult terrains and in challenging weather conditions, as well as dramatically reduce the time it takes to do so. 

As well as a successful project (Parcelcopter passed its three-month trial), DHL’s co-creation efforts also generated success in other ways. According to Forbes, customer satisfaction scores rose to over 80%, and the brand generated a higher level of customer retention as a result. This proves the extent to which involving customers can generate positivity, and instil greater levels of trust in the long run. 

Key takeaways

So, what lessons can we learn from these brands? Here are a few key points to keep in mind (and don't forget to check out Econsultancy’s Trust, Transparency and Brand Safety report).

Determine value for consumers. While an increase in trust is an overall benefit, it’s helpful to consider what other, more immediate or tangible benefits customers want from co-creation projects. In some cases, it might be direct input into a product they want to use. Elsewhere, it might simply be insight, the ability to interact with an online community, or to feel involved. 

Show the process. While co-creation can increase transparency itself – namely by opening up processes that are otherwise hidden – it’s even more important that brands are open and honest about how it will work. For example, confusing copy that suggests customers will have greater control or power than they actually do could end up negating and even damaging trust.

Shape brand strategy. As the likes of Made.com and Local Motors show, co-creation doesn’t have to stop at informing products or services. It can also be integrated into wider strategy and positioning. In other words, brands that promote a customer-centric approach (in all aspects) are more likely to generate trust.

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 19 June, 2018 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)

Richard Sharp

Richard Sharp, Creative Director at The Sharp Agency Ltd

Co-creation is an amazing methodology for transforming brands and how they engage with their customers and prospects. Great to see it in action so beautifully in the examples above. Our agency has been co-creating with brands for years. One of our most recent successes was co-creating a global brand transformation with HomeServe. See link for how we did it http://www.thesharpagency.co.uk/work/homeserve/

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