Co-creation, which can be defined as the active, creative and social process of collaboration between producers and consumers, is definitely a trend. What started with pioneering initiatives in IT (Orange and Cisco), sports (Nike+Apple) or commodities (Starbucks) is now seen as a major transformation of business. A recent report showed that ALL surveyed firms considered co-creation to be key in the future, whether it be for innovation, marketing or distribution purposes. A German consultant, Achim Feige, created a matrix called “Good Business Matrix”, which describes businesses along 4 axes. In 2 of these 4 axes (brand community and brand performance), co-creation is considered to be the most advanced level… the “Good Brand”-level. Now are co-creating companies better companies than the others?
According to Achim Feige, the growing social consciousness of consumers and their tendency to rely on communities and peers forces brands to change their way of thinking. Until the 70’s, companies’ mission was to supply consumers with “solutions” to theirs needs, which they stimulated by one-way communication. Then, they evolved into a more societal and experience-based marketing to adress not only needs, but also peoples’ desires, sporadically initiating dialogs. Tomorrow, however, comapnies will have to evolve into the so-called “Good Brand”-level, meaning that they’ll have to enter into a two-way dialog with consumers (“co-creative, open dialog“) to shape a holistic experience of consumption (“co-creative experience design“). Why? Because tomorrow’s consumers will be moved by their personnal aspirations, by collective values and by ecological concerns.
One example taken by the consultant is Apple: Apple definitely allows customers to be part of the consumption experience, not only by providing platforms (physical Apple stores, the web-based App Store etc.) but also by allowing the customers to feel part of a community without losing their individuality. However the two other dimensions of Feige’s Good-Business Matrix are less positive for the Cuppertino-based company. Even though the brand has an aura and devoted fans, Apple is “a company solely based on top-down management, so self-centered that it could be seen as reality loss“. Furthermore, the company is not moved by ecological nor social goals; profit only counts. That’s why Apple is not a fully Good Brand, according to Feige.
Now Apple might have had issues with suppliers such as Foxconn, might have been ranked low on Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics, and Steve Jobs might have had difficulties admitting errors when the iPhone 4 had connectivity problems… but is the aim of a company to be 100% “good”, as Achim Feige defines it? I think it is a matter of corporate culture. Apple is as successful as Google, for instance, but both companies have very different corporate cultures. Apple might not ensure a completely co-creative and open dialog with its consumers, but would this be beneficial at all? Experts like Venkat Ramaswamy recently described Apple’s “selective co-creation” philosophy, leveraging the consumers in a way that benefits both the company and the consumers. Besides, it’s not sure that Google cares more about the environment than Apple does, especially since Google justifies its huge investments in renewable energies by their enormous profit potential.
Even though Feige’s vision on a good brand might be a little idealistic, there’s definitely truth in it. Numerous experts agree on the fact that companies (whether they are good or not) will have to be co-creative in a way or another. Benoit Heilbrunn, one of France most forward-thinking marketing experts, says that “we’re shifting from a emission-reception logic to a contributory logic“. In substance, that what Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch called the service-dominant logic in a research paper called “Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing” (2004). It’s now one of the most frequently cited papers in marketing. Heilbrunn concludes the interview by saying that “nowadays brands are everywhere, and in the future they will also invade the consumer himself“. We hope that it will be for the greater good!