Co-Creation Is Not A New Rocket Science

There was an interesting article in BusinessWeek about how Unilever used Co-Creation to develop a new product for its Axe brand. Using a London-based firm called Face, the CPG behemoth brought a group of 16 young consumers with an active interest in Axe and other health-and-beauty products to New York. The participants were told about the brand and then asked to create a product from scratch that would embody the concept of “freshness.”

According to Face’s CEO Andrew Needham:

Often consumers take you to places that you would never thought of going to had you used more traditional research methods

The group came up the idea of developing a fragrance that transforms throughout the day. Unilever took the concept and created a product named “Twist” after the idea got a positive response from Face’s online community called Headbox. The product launched late last year.

My take: Customer feedback is critical in every portion of the product lifecycle: concept ideation, product development, marketing launch, customer and warranty service, recalls, end of life, etc..

This is NOT new news. But executives periodically need to be reminded that they operate in a corporate vacuum, often devoid of any real customer feedback. That’s why I often rant that companies are from Venus and customers are from Mars.

Take a look at what David Cousino, global category director of Unilever’s consumer marketing insights group, had to say about the “Twist” process:

We couldn’t believe that the stewards of the brand hadn’t talked about how fragrance works until now… Sometimes it takes someone who isn’t as close to the category of business to break those filters away and show what they think is interesting

The rise of social media has (thankfully) re-ignited the interest in customer feedback. Companes should get smarter about infusing customer insight in all of their efforts — using social and non-social channels.

Keep in mind, however, that insight doesn’t always require deep statistical analysis; you just have to get the right information into the hands of the right people at the right time (see my post: Market Research Needs Less Statistical Analysis).

The bottom line: Companies need a lot more customer feedback.

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

3 thoughts on “Co-Creation Is Not A New Rocket Science”

  1. There is another, seemingly opposing, point of view often using a quote “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘a faster horse'” by Henry Ford. Many product design executives believe that they provide thought leadership by ignoring customer in the creation process, and have some successful examples to illustrate their point. Are you familiar with any methodology that aggregates both “religious” beliefs with above average success ratio?

  2. The process you describe is only one aspect of co-creation among many others. What you described has been actually known as “co-production” from the late 70’s until the late 90’s, but has been known since Vargo & Lusch article as “co-creation” (although Schrage used that word already in 1995).
    The active participation of customers in design is only a tiny (and certainly not the most interesting) part of co-creation; there are a lot of other co-creation opportunities that remain unexplored by companies and that are really new.

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