Today’s consumers — millennials and Generation Zs (Gen Alphas too) — want to interact with corporations and brands. They want to engage and influence, they want to be heard. They’re interested in contributing their time and insights to the collective improvement of products and services.

And brands are taking notice. After all, as brand managers we recognise that the pace of change means constantly tweaking and refining what we offer to stay relevant. With the world changing faster on the outside than organisations can on the inside, co-creation is an impactful way to internalise the speed of change, to stay close to the changing consumer. Genuine co-creation fosters inclusivity and brand loyalty, driving advocacy in a positive feedback loop. From IKEA to Coca-Cola, we’re looking at 5 of our favourite brand-consumer co-creation initiatives. 

1. Co-Create IKEA
Products and solutions that work for the many

“The way we involve people is different than most companies. We engage them at the problem level.”
Johan Ejdemo, IKEA

IKEA’s collaborative approach towards product development has proven a very powerful strategy in new markets like China and India, with the co-creation platform uncovering local nuances, generating solutions to current needs, and also identifying future needs that result from rapidly ageing population and urban development. IKEA’s current product development process benefits from the inputs of both — consumers and suppliers — successfully engaging key stakeholders in the journey from creation to market.

When faced with a critical challenge, IKEA’s collaborative mindset has often come to their rescue, with innovative solutions from unexpected places. At a pop-up lab in their Shenzhen store, IKEA product development specialists and suppliers share prototypes with customers for some real-time real world feedback. Suppliers come away with a much closer understanding of audience needs, and consumers enjoy weighing in on the products they’ll be using. IKEA has co-created solutions for everything from chairs for young urban lifestyles to sleep lighting. Looking at consumer needs more deeply has helped them understand how, and where to create value.

2. Lego Ideas 
Engaging a community of super-creative superfans

“The platform has proven extremely successful from a financial perspective. Basically, we can shorten our product development cycle down from two years to about six months.”
Stiven Kerestegian, LEGO Group

Chances are you’re a LEGO fan or you know of one. For LEGO loyalists who’ve been working on their own creations since childhood (or adulthood), LEGO Ideas is a true community of superfans. It’s a great study of open innovation and co-creation, where group members have actively participated in the journeys of successful kits from idea to development.

Any idea that receives 10,000 supports in 12 months is reviewed by LEGO’s production and legal team for feasibility. Each year, several ideas are selected and taken to market. LEGO Ideas has reduced the time to market for new kits from 2 years to 6 months. Over 5 years, 23 new LEGO kits have been developed from the Ideas community. All were best sellers, with 90% selling out in their first release.

It’s a win-win. LEGO gets to validate new product ideas without going through expensive process rounds of market research. There’s a constant stream of creative product ideas to boost innovation and co-created products usually sell out instantly with community demand. Fans enjoy creative satisfaction (a priority), financial rewards and peer recognition. There’s nothing like having your idle time ideas brought to life by an iconic brand.

3. DHL Innovation Centres
Raising the bar on service delivery

“It only takes one authentic discussion to realise company X needs Y expertise, which we have, and begin connecting the dots to develop a solution around the customer’s particular needs, from the ground up.”
Matthias Heutger, DHL

For DHL, innovation centres have been a way to strengthen their working relationship with customers and enhancing the quality of their service delivery. It starts simply enough with a primary pain point surfaced by customers or DHL employees. DHL then taps into their vast resources — trend research, technology expertise and an ecosystem of proven partners to brainstorm solutions.

The interesting aspect of DHLs approach is their decision to partner with start-ups to create hardware and technology, rather than pursuing all their innovation internally. Recognising early on that the speed and specialisation of technology meant that they couldn’t be the ones developing robotics, analytics, sensors or wearables, DHL treats their startup partners as an extended development arm of their innovation platform.

According to Forbes, the innovation centres have helped boost DHL customer satisfaction scores to over 80%, with corresponding increases in customer retention. DHL’s approach builds off three important factors — consumer trends and insights, recognising patterns of innovation, and external interaction. With the challenges posed by an organisation of DHL’s scale, this hands-on, ‘continuous improvement’ approach to innovation seems to be paying off.

4. BMW Co-Creation & BMW Innovation Labs
User-first solutions to real world problems

“The lab is an opportunity for us to cater for customer needs today, while ensuring services are future-proofed for the customer of tomorrow.”
Mike Dennett, BMW

BMW’s ‘Co-Creation Lab’ is a virtual community created in 2010 that lets consumers offer their opinions on designs, submit their own ideas, and get involved in design. Much like LEGO and IKEA, consumers invested in the design process from start to finish, enjoy a sense of creative ownership. Co-creation opportunities range from idea contests, user toolkits, virtual concept tests, to innovation research. The platform tracks a history of user interactions, and has helped grow both consumer and industry interest. Crowdsourced innovations include testing GPS concepts to interior features for compact class vehicles. 

Alongside its consumer-first co-creation, BMW also works with the start-up community in the UK and Japan through its Innovation Labs. All in all, BMW is a great template for organisations with high name recognition and superior R&D opening up their innovation ecosystems to new audiences and experts, testing ideas, and leveraging external feedback to fine-tune their solutions.

5. Coca-Cola
Innovation in a cafe 

“For the products we co-designed with the consumers, 6 out of 7 won against the key market leader (at testing stage), which is very good in consideration of other designs we’ve done.”

Andrea Bracho Poirier, Coca-Cola, South East Asia

With 32 markets, an industry retail value of ~$350 billion, and 4.5 billion consumers in Asia alone, Coca-Cola is no stranger to crowdsourcing as a part of its innovation strategy. While the brand usually makes the most of social media and consumer enthusiasm to user-generate content on an epic scale, our favourite Coca-Cola co-creation experiment is a smaller one from South East Asia. The exercise had a simple goal: to ensure its Southeast Asia product strategy reflected the tastes of the region and its people.

The team rented a popular local café, and Coca-Cola’s R&D team then furnished consumers with a “kit of things that they could play with”. It was a co-creation lab in the true sense of the word.

Coca-Cola’s grassroots-led, hyper localised approach has been key to its success in South East Asia. It’s always a challenge to hold consumer attention and keep track of evolving tastes, even for an FMCG giant. Co-creation pulls consumers into the process, leverages their unique insights, and as we’ve seen already, great things come from collaboration.

3 Takeaways: Working side-by-side for success

Foster a supportive community.
Reach out to loyal customers (it takes just one), invite them to share their ideas, always tell them how this could be valuable to the brand. Consumers will surprise you with their positivity and interest. But most important of all, create a supportive culture — and watch it grow.

Create a roadmap for creativity.

Include creative boundaries to set a clear direction for the community as the LEGO platform does. Open up processes that are otherwise hidden — consumers enjoy transparency. But also be upfront about the actual impact so fans have a clear idea of exactly how they’re able to help.

Make it part of brand strategy.
Once you’ve tested co-creation, there’s reason to promote it across the system. As IKEA and DHL’s experiences with suppliers and startup partners show, co-creation doesn’t have to stop at consumers, it also has positive payoffs for manufacturing and delivery partners. Co-creation has the potential to shape a circle of shared passion and trust — from inception to finish line, and back.

Have you had success with co-creation? Any brands you’d like to add to the list? Share your thoughts!