Insights & Innovation
Co-creation: The Holy Grail of Insight-Led Innovation
Vijit Singh

When was the last time you took advice from one of your customers? It sounds counterintuitive since businesses provide a specific service (usually for many years) but welcoming those same people into the process can help you to serve them better. We like to call this co-creation, and when properly executed it really is the holy grail of insight and innovation.

This highly effective design process is about more than using your customers as both the start and endpoint for new products. It involves viewing the world through a variety of lenses to tease out fresh and powerful ideas, before moulding them into true success stories.  

This type of ideation is the simple answer to innovation because you should, not because you can. Anyone can do it, and everyone ought to – but it takes work, passion, and careful plotting to pull off.  

What is Co-Creation and Why Should We Do It?

When multiple entities come together to create something, you inherently begin to remove your tunnel-vision thinking. The collaboration of different types of people should add value to the ideation process rather than dilute the ideas of any one participant.

In a business context, this involves bringing together customers, scientists, creatives, and executives to formulate new products, services, and solutions. It’s a direct alternative to the mainstream approach that many large brands default to.  

Rather than relying on the output of mass-market research firms, it instead enables an organisation to listen intently to its customers. And without the premature analysis and interpretation that typically dumbs down what’s raw, new, or rich.  

The process itself is less formulaic than some executives might be comfortable with, but therein lies the value. Amplifying the voices of customers brings them into the fold and shines a light on the unique perspectives they bring. This makes it easier to see the world through fresh eyes by challenging perceptions and looking beyond the trappings of the corporate world.  

Choosing Co-Creators Wisely

This customer-centric approach to innovation can provide businesses with a competitive advantage, but it’s not as simple as planning a focus group or workshops to democratise the process of findings and recommendations.  

Co-creation is truly valuable when it is focused on generating raw, new, and rich insights. Rather than on validating existing beliefs then exploiting the insights to develop pipelines of new ideas, you’ll be true to the customers.

As always, people are the essential ingredient that makes all the difference to the success of any project. It’s important to work with forward-thinking stakeholders who are inherently creative and wish to encourage and come up with solutions rather than decry problems.  

‘Lead Users’ (as opposed to innovators or early adopters) generally develop needs and wants ahead of the market, are frustrated with current offerings, and are brimming with ideas. It’s important to truly listen to these customers because they’re the ones shouting to you about what could be genuinely new and improved.

Wonderful ideas can be born when the views of these customers are coupled with other lenses. The expertise of scientists and developers can bring a technical solutions aspect to the process. This can then complement the vision of strategists, marketeers, and creatives whose brand building efforts can propel an idea like fuel for a rocket.

The result is a melting pot of ideas, perspectives, and desires. When percolated, this beautiful blend can give way to ideas that have the strength to grow wings and fly. Business success is the natural result.  

Methodologies and Agendas

Any co-creation effort should be a broad church that combines the right set of views to address underserved, unarticulated and even untapped problems. This can be achieved by applying the insights and ideas generated by a collective of minds in their undiluted form to unlock real value.  

The process should reconcile the voices of forward-thinking customers, products & technologies, and the business & brand to find the answers where they all sing in unison. This can only be done in an environment that welcomes outside-in thinking into the heart of the organisation.  

Rather than merely issuing questionnaires or gathering in front of a whiteboard, it’s important to engineer a paradise for creativity. Ask the right questions while provoking alternative lines of enquiry and you just might stumble across a real ‘Eureka!’ moment.  

Once the group has arrived at some (likely profound) realisation, the time comes to plot the rise and success of the resulting idea. Plotting has somewhat negative connotations, but it really means to carefully bring about a desired sequence of events and falls somewhere between strategy and execution.

Your challenge: Focus on customers’ needs, wants, beliefs and desires to develop actionable customer insights that feed directly into your design, without dilution whilst also maximising stakeholder enrolment. A tough ask, but this is often the difference between an idea achieving in-market success or falling by the wayside.

Championing Fresh Ideas

Most organisations would like to say that they are pioneering, but typically those who take the time to listen to customers are at the core. The most successful businesses are the ones that take that listening one step further by taking an actively customer-centric approach to the design and innovation process.  

The important thing to realise is that there’s no master formula that can be applied when trying to co-create. Instead, it’s necessary to:

  • frame the challenge
  • ask the right questions
  • ignite the conversation
  • invest in the right thinking
  • create interaction between stakeholders
  • and provide an environment that nurtures and supports fledgling ideas with the potential to win.

To help with this, I Wish co-creates with the key players in the ecosystem, starting with the voice of the customer. We bring the outside world in then guide clients through a variety of specialist lenses to see the world in a different light. This creates something truly special in the process with the love, care, and attention-to-detail that customers deserve.  

Through wholehearted investment in the success of these creations, we make it easier to acquire a competitive advantage by layering on the category strategy, upstream brand thinking, and activation pieces. Working together with internal and external partners can turn what is a well-known blackspot into a sweet spot for innovation.  It’s what we do, and it’s best summed up by our tagline “Creating better together”.

August 2021