Production Through Co-Creation

Co-creation describes a production process in which the creation of a product is achieved through the cooperation of a company and private individuals. Since consumers are actively involved in the creation of products they also become the producers. Consumers can create products themselves, write reviews for example for hotels, or design products individually (also known as mass customization).


Uses of Co-Creation

Many areas of a company’s business can utilize co-creation. Design, marketing, education, research and more are examples of this. By becoming part of the process some customers can really bring valuable skills and ideas to the floor at little cost or effort to the company. However, there is always a fine line between encouraging customers and making them feel used. Making customers feel valuable and thanking them for their efforts will always go a long way, this includes small incentivization and having a mutual understanding before any effort is expended.

Benefits for Customers and Companies

Co-creation optimizes the product, builds more trust and reliability for customers, and ensures this through customer ratings. Improved customer loyalty and simplified customer information benefit companies. The development of new products incurs reduced costs. The collaboration between customers and companies facilitates a seamless design of products and services since both typically desire the same things. Allowing customers to contribute significantly benefits companies with instant market research. Customers benefit from being heard and actively shaping a product they truly want. Therefore, co-creation can lead to increased sales as the market already desires the product or service.

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Potential Challenges

Whilst co-creation is beneficial to companies and customers it is not free from challenges. A company must be clear on these challenges before entering into any kind of co-creation with its customers. However, one risk is that by having customers consider current products or methods they can uncover some aspects of the company that seem negative or less than. This can make customers lose faith in the company or sour the brand image. Co-creation consists of two main steps: Submissions where customers submit their ideas and selection where the company chooses the best contributions. Unfortunately, some the of submissions will often be poor and the company will have to find a way to reject these ideas without upsetting customers. The company will also need to ensure the customers are incentivized, otherwise, engagement could be poor.

Types of Co-Creation

Professor Aric Rindfleisch categorizes co-creation in marketing into four different types:

  • Collaborating: This is where there is open contribution that is customer-led. Examples of this would be open-source software like Linux. Whilst open-source software isn’t usually used in a commercial sense it can be used by some companies. In these cases, the companies have little control but pay others to improve their systems.
  • Tinkering: This type has less open contribution than collaborating. Customers can “tinker” with products and ideas but only to a certain extent and here the selection is company-led so they get the final say if their contribution is used or not. Examples would be things like mods in video games.
  • Co-Designing: This is usually where customers can submit their ideas within very specific rules or parameters set by the company. So whilst submissions can be made they have to meet strict standards. A good example is “Lego Ideas” a platform where people can submit ideas for Lego sets to be produced. If an idea is liked enough by the community Lego will produce and sell it.
  • Submitting: This type is the closest to standard product development. The selection here is all done by the company. Submissions can be extensive and again must be within certain guidelines. Those who have their ideas chosen are usually paid for their efforts.

    The History of Customer Participation

    It’s believed that the first study of customer participation in production (aka co-creation) dates back to 1979. In the 90s those who studied this way of working saw a lot of value and benefit within it. The actual term “co-creation” was coined in the mid to late 90’s in an article where the value of co-creation was studied. By 2000 the term was popularized in books and studied in even more detail. What became apparent was how co-creation could be helped even further by technology. By the mid-2000s co-creation was being popularized and adopted by many companies.

    Co-Creation Today

    Companies frequently conduct design thinking workshops where cross-functional teams, including users, actively collaborate to ideate, prototype, and refine solutions. This approach ensures that end-users play a direct role in shaping products or services. Notably, in healthcare, patients are progressively participating in co-creating solutions for improved health outcomes. Examples of co-creation in healthcare include patient forums, support groups, and involvement in the design of medical devices or treatment plans. Additionally, some educational institutions actively involve students in co-creating curricula, learning materials, or designing learning spaces. Students’ input contributes to a more engaging and effective learning experience. Finally, businesses can leverage collaborative platforms to actively engage employees, customers, and partners in generating ideas and fostering innovation. These platforms facilitate the sharing of insights and the collaborative development of new concepts.