What is the Difference Between Co-Creation and Ideation?

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A version of this article originally appeared on the KLC blog.

Do you want to Co-Create, or do you just want to ideate?

Often, we are asked about the differences in Co-Creation versus Crowdsourcing and Idea Generation. In the age of “faster, cheaper, more scalable”, brands want to innovate to stay competitive, but may not always want to invest the time and effort (and budget). Ultimately, what this boils down to is how willing is a brand to truly invest in Co-Creation.

In other words, are you looking to truly co-create: to build out ideas with customers from that seed of inspiration into a concept and ultimately a new product/service? Or are you looking to just get some initial suggestions from customers, and then take them back to your internal team to be fleshed out with limited input from those who will actually use the product?

Let’s look into this further.

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What is Co-Creation?

Co-Creation is a way for you to incorporate your customer through all stages of the product development process, and through disruptive innovation create something that can truly be a game changer, as it’s made not only with the customer in mind, but with inspiration and input directly from them.

Co-Creation can be far more informative than traditional techniques for identifying what products to bring to market, and it yields deeper insights. For years, brands relied on static tools like online surveys, telephone polls and questionnaires handed out in person.

However, people often respond to those methods half-heartedly, or they might simply say what they think companies want to hear. Also, some respondents have little knowledge about the subject at hand, which can skew the results.

By contrast, when several knowledgeable, passionate people are brought together, they can have robust and dynamic discussions. Those conversations often spiral into unexpected areas, and they can spark bold ideas that no one group member would have thought of alone.

What are the phases of Co-Creation?

 Co-Creation has its roots in Design Thinking – both weave the customer into all parts of the product development process, from ideation through testing and validation. As with Co-Creation, Design Thinking begins with empathy, understanding & empowering possible solutions that have remained hidden. Also, as with Co-Creation, it then implies agile iteration, as prototypes become closer and closer aligned to products/solutions that will succeed.

Breaking it down even more, CrowdWeaving®, KLC’s proprietary methodology, takes a three-pronged approach to Co-Creation that employs the elements of ideation, collaboration and evaluation.

  • Phase 1 Ideation – Ideation is where customers can generate their solutions for new products, services, processes, etc.
  • Phase 2 Collaboration – Collaboration is arguably the most important element of the Co-Creation process. By collaboration, I mean incorporating the customer throughout all phases of the development process – actively working together with them from idea generation through prototyping and testing, to build out a new product or service. You’ve read this now a few times in this article, because it’s just that important and bears repeating. The key to a successful product innovation is Co-Creation, which hinges upon collaboration with your customers.
  • Phase 3 Evaluation – Evaluation begins once an idea has been built into a concept, rounds of testing and refinement need to take place to ensure success in the marketplace. A final validation prior to launch can eliminate any last-minute concerns

What happens if a brand only goes through some of the phases?

Many times, brands approach us looking for a quick fix. They want to ideate to glean inspiration from customers, but don’t want to spend – as mentioned earlier – the time, effort, and yes, the money to fully collaborate with consumers. We firmly believe this is to their detriment – especially in these uncertain times marred by COVID-19.

You’ve likely heard the quote from the late Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, where he noted “there are over 30,000 new products introduced every year, and 95% fail.” While that statement was eventually walked back somewhat, its message still resonates. And now, even when things go back to “normal”, or “the new normal” is determined, the traditional 10% success rate for new products will no longer be acceptable.

This is why it’s of the utmost importance to not only ask your customers what they want, but to follow the tenets of Co-Creation. Get to know and understand them. Ask them not just for their feedback, but for their ideas and solutions. Take those inspirations, and don’t stop there.

While it’s just as important to use these ideas to inspire internal stakeholders who better know what can and can’t be developed, and understand market vulnerabilities, this does not mean the customer should be left out of the development process after ideation. After creating initial concepts, run them by your customers with more than just a quick survey – collaboratively test each concept by giving them a chance to offer suggestions for improvement, and point out areas of confusion.

When prototyping, employ an iterative process where the customer is empowered to test and provide proactive input to improve the end result. Before going to market, evaluate the final product against identified customer needs and preferences, then seek out the answer to the burning question, “Is it something a customer will ultimately purchase?” Conduct one final, preemptive disaster check with customers before launching and at least one additional post-launch evaluation.

Most importantly, collaborate.

We recently had a potential client indicate that they only wanted to ideate with consumers and didn’t want to go through the entire Co-Creation process. It would take too long, they said, and it would be too much work on their part. They didn’t want to do anything more than collect ideas; they wanted us to take those ideas and flesh them into concepts from there – with no collaboration from any internal stakeholders.

To us at KLC, this is not Co-Creation. This is merely mining for ideas – Crowdsourcing if you will. Don’t get me wrong, Crowdsourcing has it’s time and place, but product development is not that place. There are too many other elements that need to be considered when developing a new product or service to just gather customer ideas and build the top one – as voted only by said customers – as a new product.

As mentioned earlier, the collaboration is the key. To truly innovate your product line, you need inspiration and input from internal stakeholders and customers alike. Removing the collaboration phase from the process is a huge misstep, as it creates an incomplete model. Notice I said “creates” – not Co-Creates.

Ideation only simply creates, and leaves room for error. Co-Creation, and by extension collaboration, brings to life a fuller product created both with the customer in mind and with consideration to brand experience.

In Conclusion

To truly innovate your product line, or services offered, you need inspiration and input from internal stakeholders and customers alike. Removing the collaboration phase from the process is a huge misstep, as it creates an incomplete model. This is why it should come as no surprise that brands who fully commit to the collaboration phase of customer led co-creation are universally recognised as the dominate players within their respective industries and have set themselves up for long-term success.    

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