Complete Co-creation with customers, yes, but where to find the customers and how to motivate them? (part 1)

After a presentation on Complete CoCreation the first question that is typically asked by the audience is usually where to find the co-creating customers and how to motivate them. This issue has also been raised in TheCoCreators LinkedIn Network & Discussion group by some of our group members. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer… It all depends on the organization, the business issue, and the target group.

The rule of thumb is that the more loyal fans an organization has, the easier it is to find customers willing to co-create and the more rewarded they feel by just getting the chance to co-create with their favorite organization. LEGO is a good example of this. This company has fervent fans that offer their ideas spontaneously and for free. LEGO doesn’t have to organize ad hoc brainstorm sessions to tackle specific business issues with their customers, because their customers engage in an ongoing dialogue with them, raising and solving business issues together through various platforms (such as LEGO Mind Storms), before they can even hit the managerial agenda.

However, most organizations are not in this luxury position (yet). Most organizations are not as well-known among their target groups, nor as well liked. They might even be disliked. (Being disliked by your target group is in fact one of the best reasons to start co-creating, because humbling oneself and seeking an open dialogue with the ones that dislike you will turn them around).

For illustrative purposes, let’s imagine an organization that is not well known and at best neutrally liked by the target group. Now this organization wants to engage in Complete CoCreation with their end-users. In light of pressing business issues, they probably want to start co-creating yesterday. However, the first thing they need to do is to learn more about their target group. Because in order to know where to find your end-users and how to engage them, you need to know what their lives look like and what ‘makes them tick’. This calls for phase 1 of any Complete CoCreation trajectory: research. Only after a thorough analysis of the market (competitors and customers) should the customer – in phase 2, development – actively be involved in solving the business issue at hand.

In this blog we will discuss the what and how of phase 1, research. In a consecutive blog we will address phase 2, development.

Phase 1: research

The research phase should start with a dedicated desk research, mapping the end-user in terms of demographics and behavioral patterns. That will involve researching demographic databases, as well as scientific and popular articles, as well as following the target group on their primary social media, and maybe buying target group databases that provide data on where they live and how they shop. If done effectively, this desk research will answer the question of where to find the end-user and what channels to use to interact with them.

The next step of the research phase should be a customer insight trajectory: uncovering the customers’ deepest motivations by getting ‘into their skin’. This is best done by participating research: observing and interviewing the customer in their own habitats. Depending on the target group this could involve spending some days at school, at the gym, at the office canteen, at the supermarket, riding public transportation, playing an online multiplayer game etc. Most important during this type of research is an open attitude. Let go of any preconceptions or agendas and just dive into the customers’ world. Be a sponge; soak it all up and don’t worry about the relevance of the experience; afterwards it will all make sense.

There is no “recipe” for the fieldwork in the customer insight phase; it all depends on the outcome of the prior desk research. If that pictured the primary target group as active senior middle and upper class men, an insight trajectory could involve hanging out at the golf club. If it showed the primary target group as toddlers, it could involve observing these funny creatures at daycare centers and peoples’ homes. And if tween and teen boys were the group of interest, it should definitely involve meeting them virtually through Clash of Clans and Minecraft. In other words, in the customer insight phase one leaves the safety of one’s desk and ventures out there into the ‘real’ world to find the ‘real’ customer. To deepen target group understanding, it is also a good idea to gather customer photographs and movies of their daily lives, and maybe have them fill out a diary of their whereabouts and doings for a week.

In order to connect to customers in this phase, there is no need for expensive respondent selection agencies; the customer is out there and likes receiving genuine interest. However, for those who are too shy to simply approach people on the streets, for those who are short of time but not of money, and for those who need to get into people’s houses and don’t have friends of friends of acquaintances in the target group willing to host, respondent selection agencies can surely help. After all, that’s their job: finding target groups and connecting them to the organizations that are interested in them. In the Netherlands, expect to pay selection fees up to 75 Euros per and, depending on the target group and the intensity of their required involvement, anywhere between 25 and 200 Euros per person as a monetary incentive. (In other countries, such as the USA, double these prices).

Respondents recruited through selection agencies are used to monetary incentives, whereas people found otherwise might cooperate for free or for goodies or vouchers, depending on what is needed from them. Again, there is no “recipe” for this. Best is to just experiment.

Whoever the target group, if in the research phase they were intensely followed and interviewed in their own world, for sure there is now a deep understanding of their motives. And that is the vantage point for the second phase, the phase of development through co-creation.


Authors: Maarten Pieters & Stefanie Jansen, Copyright 2014


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