This post was originally written by Facilitator Emeritus John Pfeil. 


“It is kind of dumb for a group of 26 year old male MBAs to sit around trying to guess what homemakers want.” a CPG client in 1979 

At Ideas To Go, we have been facilitating co-creation between clients and consumers for more than 30 years. In that time, I have been asked why co-creation is so important. The obvious answer has often been this quote, from a group of clients to Ideas To Go founder Fred Meyer, in 1979. When asked what would make ideation more productive for them, the wish was to work directly with consumers who could articulate their needs and desired experiences, and who could create specific ideas to meet those needs. Hence, the birth of ITG's Creative Consumers® associates, the one-of-a-kind, imaginative, highly-trained thinkers we work with in nearly every project. 

Since 1979 a lot has changed—in the composition of client teams as well as in consumers markets. Yet the importance of co-creation has only increased. Recently, when I was asked again, "Why co-creation?" I identified 4 key reasons co-creation matters to successful innovation ideation: Relevance, Perspective, Stretch (Uniqueness) and Ownership.

Relevance—VOC2

To be successful, new ideas must be meaningful and motivating to the consumer. They must fulfill an important, relevant need in a meaningful and unique way. Hence the need for the Voice of the Consumer to articulate their needs and insights, and help create ideas that are truly relevant to their lives. 

As importantly, successful new ideas must fit the strategy, goals and equities of the company and brand. Hence the need for the Voice of the Client Team in providing strategic direction, co-creating ideas with their insights and knowledge, and selecting ideas which are relevant to both the consumer and the client's business goals. 

And, clients working directly with consumers—whether that means observing, in small groups, or one-on-one—get an opportunity not only to read or hear about consumers' needs, desires and insights but also to experience and feel them. That empathy leads to a much deeper understanding of what is really important to the consumer. I have often found that the best insights come from conversations between consumers and clients during breaks or an informal, interactive lunch without a stated agenda.

Breadth of Perspective

When capitalizing on any opportunity, one of the greatest risks is exploring it from a limited perspective, and thus seeing only a limited part of the opportunity. What a waste it would be to focus our attention and idea generation on an aspect of the opportunity that was not the most meaningful, or that did not have the greatest potential for success. So, in exploring and defining key aspects of the opportunity, it is critical to explore from all perspectives. It helps to have a range of perspectives among the clients and consumers—and even among the experts within your industry. This means including stakeholders from Marketing, R&D, Sales, Consumer Insights, Operations and more. Then, it is important to push all participants to challenge their assumptions and to look at the opportunity from multiple perspectives. From this deeper exploration, the diverse client team can identify the core target areas of opportunity based on the most compelling needs and their business goals. 

S-T-R-E-T-C-H

During idea generation, while creating the specific possibilities for the identified areas of opportunity, the interaction of all the different perspectives is a powerful catalyst for the creation of ideas no individual could create themselves. It sparks a chain reaction of creation where 1 + 1 = 4. When you hear an idea you never would have thought of from someone with a different perspective, it sparks the creation of ideas you never would would have thought of otherwise. Then as you share those new ideas, they spark new perspectives in someone else on the team—and the chain reaction continues. One client recently said that of 10 concepts they identified at the end of the project, 7 of them would never have been created had they ideated without Creative Consumers® associates. The Creative Consumers® associates sparked new perspectives the clients had never thought of before. 

Shared Ownership

The benefits of having a client team made up of diverse stakeholders from different functions who own the opportunity go beyond just diversity of perspective. This kind of team also promotes shared ownership of the concepts. The client team comes to a shared understanding of the consumer needs, insights and benefits that are driving the ideas, so there is a common vision. The co-creation process—not just with consumers, but with each other—promotes a sense of shared ownership and excitement with the final ideas. They become a team that believes in—and champions—the concepts created.

While the benefits of co-creating with clients and consumer are obvious, it can be difficult to accomplish. Most consumers do not have the skills required to understand and articulate their needs and insights, and to create new ideas that do not exist. It really helps to have Creative Consumers® associates who are gifted with these skills. It is also important to train the client team to be good co-creators—to challenge their assumptions, listen for new perspectives and adopt a creative mindset that promotes cooperative risk-taking. 

These 4 reasons that co-creation matters are the first that came to my mind; I know there are more. What others can you think of? What are your experiences with co-creation? 


John Pfeil is an Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.

©2013 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Katie Franke

Katie Franke is a Marketing Communications Specialist and Concept Writer at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.