How to use co-creation to bring a better product to the marketplace

How to use co-creation to bring a better product to the marketplace

The word “co-creation” is abuzz these days, but what is it and how do you know if that approach is right for your business needs?

In a nutshell, co-creation means to bring client team members (like engineers, marketers) and consumers together to produce a product.

Much of traditional qualitative market research is focused on reactions. We show consumers a concept for a product, a service,  a positioning statement or a product prototype and we ask:
• “What do you think of this design, these concepts?”
• “What do you like or dislike; why?”

In Co-Creation, we ask, and seriously, open-mindedly listen to:
• “What are your hopes, wishes, needs; what are your ideas?”
• “How can we make this concept, this product, this design better, more valuable to you in your life?”

In co-creation we enter the arena together. We interweave client team and consumer team expertise in a collaborative way to create products, services, packaging or messaging that will be meaningful and relevant to the target user populations.
• We gather insights into the consumer’s lifestyles, their perceptions of brands, their needs and wants.
• We generate and develop ideas and concepts.
• We tap into consumers’ memories, imagination and creativity.
• We marry qualitative market research with ideation for an effective co-creation approach.

But does co-creation actually work?

Now the behavioral economists have been warning us of the difficulty in research of getting close to what people think because respondents unwittingly rationalize and justify what is predominantly a gut level decision-making process. In my experience, we get more candid—and I believe more honest—insights by using creative exercises such as doodling, storytelling, theater games and rap song-making. These activities elicit people’s emotional reactions as well as their rational thinking modes.

And this happens, not just for the consumer, but for the client team members as well!

That’s profoundly important because we witness clients expressing enthusiasm and passion for an idea, which means that they will work harder to do the necessary problem-solving along the stages from conceptualization to marketplace launch. If you’ve worked in the domain of new product development, you know only a small number of ideas survive and those that do need persistent champions who do the work!

An example of how co-creation works

Here is a thumbnail sketch of how we have put co-creation into play with a range of clients. Perhaps there are similar needs in your business that might be addressed through this dynamic and effective approach.

On-pack messaging for an “improved” household product

A leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) company we work with is on a continual quest to improve their products while at the same time save on the costs of materials. They had been working on a product improvement prototype, which they thought would serve both purposes, and they thought that job was done. We thought we had primarily a marketing task before us: utilize co-creation with members of the product development, design, engineering and marketing team to generate compelling messaging approaches. This was to be an early phase concept-writing assignment so Patti Purcell of Writing by Design partnered with me. Her role was to help listen for intriguing consumer language and nuggets to incorporate in detailed concept statements for quantitative testing.

We conducted five co-creation sessions with consumers and rotating members of the client team. As we worked with the prototypes teasing out product benefits and created Tweets with succinct descriptions of product features and value, we discovered that the prototypes were actually not quite up-to-snuff. Further technical work was required before the product could live up to the consumers’ desired messaging. This important feedback was direct to the design team so they heard and saw what needed to be done to make the improvement the consumers desired. Perhaps because the clients were part of this collaborative process, they were excited and undaunted by the technical challenge. And when they do make the technical improvements, the rich directions we created for on-pack messaging will be employed.

Why Co-Creation works

While these examples represent different business categories and approaches toward Co-Creation, there is also a common theme for success: willingness to listen to, observe, engage and experiment with consumers. If you haven’t tried it before, 2017 might be the year to experiment with this wonderfully collaborative process.

Headshot of Laurie

Laurie is the president and founder of Practical Imagination Enterprises where she has spent 25+ years helping Fortune 500 companies launch innovative new products. Her professional background includes being co-founder and Director of Consulting for IdeaScope Associates, was Associate at Synectics and VP/ Accounts Supervisor at Rapp & Collins, direct marketing agency. She recently formed a partnership called The Triad Team with Bruce Duhan, Duhan Creative, and Patti Purcell, Writing by Design. The Triad Team utilizes co-creation methodologies to uncover insights and bring them to life via rich concepts written and produced by this team. Read more at

Learn more:
Qualitative Concept Writing
On-site Evolutionary Concept Writing
Quantitative Concept Writing