As consumers increasingly desire two-way conversations, collaboration and the opportunity to create content, brands must adapt to survive.
Forward-looking companies are responding to this shift by putting customers at the heart of their brand and giving them more prominent and frequent opportunities to provide input and feedback during the development of new products.
At a time when consumers are very cynical about brands, the ability to create trust, convey authenticity and communicate transparently is now a critical differentiator for brands. In fact, a recent survey found 81% of consumers said they believe brands are more authentic when they collaborate with their customers; 86% said brands are most trustworthy by engaging in co-creation.
In fact, companies that personalize their interaction with customers outperform their competitors with 40% more revenue growth, on average. And the easiest way to personalize offerings and drive innovation is through co-creation.
With today’s consumers more savvy and entrepreneurial than ever with technology at their fingertips to connect to brands whenever and wherever they want, the brands that are trusted and loved – and the ones that get recommended to friends and family – are the ones that treat their customers as collaborators.
Building Community First and Products Second
COVID-19 has pushed many of us to stay online nearly 24/7. It has also driven the value of creators to brands to an all-time high.
Many companies are successfully incorporating creators into their campaigns, which represents a huge opportunity to reach a new and broader audience and, of course, sell more products. Seven in 10 people said they spent more time online in 2021 than ever before and this constant connectedness is inspiring more and more creators to share their work online and to grow their audience to numbers that rival, and in some cases surpass, network television. The most forward-looking companies are partnering with these creators to introduce new products and expand their audience.
One company that is synonymous with building communities is Starbucks:
- When you enter any Starbucks store, you’re greeted by a Starbucks employee whose official title is “partner.” This deliberately chosen term sets the tone for the company’s spirit of inclusion in its community.
- Starbucks has made a corporate commitment to strengthening the communities in which their stores are located with a number of social initiatives that boost interaction and engagement with the Starbucks brand. One example is Starbucks’ volunteer matching service, which was created to help employees and community members engage with each other and together help people in the community who need assistance.
- Starbucks has fully harnessed the power of content created by its customers. With the never-ending Instagram photos of pumpkin spice lattes each fall and its inescapable annual holiday cup decorating contest each Christmas season, Starbucks encourages participation in its community by reposting some of its favorite photos to its corporate social profiles, which have millions of followers.
What sets Starbucks apart from its competitors is Starbucks knows what its customers care about, gives the members of its community the motivation to stay engaged and provides the tools to invite other similarly-minded individuals into the Starbucks story.
Yes, Starbucks sells cups of coffee, but that is only a very small part of the total Starbucks experience. They make their customers feel like a valued part of the creation process, and in turn have driven incredibility brand loyalty.
New Ways to Collect Better Customer Insights
To serve customers better and design better products, brands need to acutely understand the root causes and context of a customer’s problems and discover their needs and desires. Great brands focus on answering these key questions: What do our customers think? What do they need? Where do they go to get it? Where do they shop? How much are they going to spend? What’s important to them? How does it make them feel? How does your brand help them realize their personal goals?
Complicating matters, today’s buyer journey is no longer a linear process. Gartner defined six steps that consumers follow when making a purchase – problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection, validation and consensus creation. However, today’s consumer executes and re-executes these six steps in parallel, making it much more difficult to track journeys and predict purchases. At the same time, this makes it more and more difficult for brands to understand exactly what customers want and how they can give them what they need.
Brands have traditionally relied on a wide variety of data-driven tools to understand their customers. These include the use of Big Data, market research and analytics. But these facts-and-figures tools frequently come up short, because making a purchase is an emotional action, not a rational one. In fact, The Harvard Business Review identified more than 300 emotional motivators in the consumer journey toward a purchase.
Forward-looking companies today use tools such as video surveys and QR codes to capture authentic consumer insights, run virtual focus groups, and test product concepts anywhere, anytime, and on any device.
Building Sustainability into Your Roadmap
More now than ever, consumers view brands that are environmentally aware and sustainably active as caring about the well-being of their customers. The pandemic has made consumers even more sensitive and aware of the impacts of their consumerism. Many have made the shift to being more mindful of their consumption and now are actively considering how their purchasing decisions impact others, their health and the environment. It’s a shift to more mindful consumption that’s being seen across every industry.
According to an EY survey, consumers today are taking more actions to live and buy sustainably – 6 in 10 consumers believe a company’s behavior is as important as what it sells. The survey also finds 30% of consumers say they are spending more on products that are sustainable and better for the environment and 31% said they plan to increase their purchasing of sustainable products in the next 12 months.
So what does this mean for brands? Sustainability sells. And a good product is no longer enough to convince consumers to make a purchase. More than just quality, they’re now looking for brands that align with their personal values.
A new generation of technological tools like augmented reality is allowing customers to dive into the design details of a product and explain how they think the concept would function. It also gives them a channel to provide feedback about the features that are most important to them and any areas that feel confusing or misleading. Augmented reality also eliminates the need to use raw materials and energy to develop, produce, transport and present physical prototypes, iterations and product samples.
Testing concepts digitally provides powerful consumer insights and helps brands meet their commitments to a greener future.
So, What Does this Mean for the Future?
Co-creation is about making people’s voices, ideas and opinions heard to create better products and services. It’s also a way for brands to be more attuned to their customers’ needs and desires.
Co-creation is all about one simple idea: working together is better.