6 Customer-centric Brands Who Co-create with Customers

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by David Gardner

Illustration of a lightbulb and black jacket hovering over a small green sofa.

Co-creation, at its best, provides value to both companies and their customers.

Resources and effort towards co-creation have become more visible these days, as more and more global brands see the rewards that other organizations are reaping when they collaborate with their fans.

Because we now live in an age where you can connect with nearly anyone around the world, and it’s easier to find what people are saying about your brand, the opportunities for co-creation are greater than ever.

It’s important to note that although there are opportunities for co-creation everywhere, when an organization decides to co-create with its customers, they must fully commit to the idea. For co-creation to happen, a brand must collaborate with, and actively participate in the innovation process with their chosen community (usually passionate brand fans).

Related Read: The benefits of co-creation - 4 reasons why CX teams should co-create with customers

Co-creation goes beyond crowdsourcing or gathering user-generated content that you found on social media like a digital suggestion box for the public. Co-creation involves ongoing collaboration and constant effort to not just build, but also nurture and grow the community you are collaborating with. Major global brands are recognizing the difference between crowdsourcing and co-creation, and seizing on these opportunities to co-create.

Here are great examples of brands that found success in co-creation because they committed to the process and went above and beyond to collaborate with others.

shimmering starbucks mugs

1) Starbucks

Beyond submitting ideas from new food and drink recipes such as cake pops and the hazelnut macchiato, to splash sticks and free wifi, Starbucks collaborated with their fans by letting them vote for their favorite ideas. They also prioritized transparency on the site, letting fans see the status of ideas that were in the vetting process or are close to being implemented.

These days My Starbucks Idea exists as a simple online form, and not the community that it once was, although its legacy lives on. Many of the offerings that Starbucks has to this day originated from My Starbucks Idea. We’d love to see it come back one day!

e.on online community on laptop

2) E.ON

When you think of innovation, collaboration, and co-creation, you probably won’t think that a utility company would be behind such a project. But in 2012, UK energy provider E.ON did just that. With the help of Chaordix, E.ON opened up their innovation process and sought new energy-saving product and service ideas from their customers, as part of a project called ‘The Home of the Future’.

The project also featured a documentary series on a family whose home was transformed with energy-saving solutions. E.ON incentivized participation in the project by offering a £10,000 home energy makeover. In the end they had 1,600 ideas come in, and the winning and 4 runner-up ideas were activated by the E.ON R&D team.

3) H&M

Global fashion brands like H&M know that it’s just as important to recognize trendsetters around the world as it is to keep up on the latest trends themselves. This was the origin of the /Nyden line. /Nyden is a fashion line launched by H&M for which they selected co-creators – not designers, but fashion influencers – whose styles people wanted to emulate, dubbing them “tribe leaders”. With /Nyden, H&M hand-selected the talent they wanted to co-create with and asked them to draw on their own tastes and preferences to create lines that reflected their styles.

H&M sought influencers who were not necessarily designers, but had distinct aesthetics, as well as significant following on social media. H&M recognized that young people pick up on trends and make buying decisions in a way that is very different from other customer groups. They do not always come into a brick and mortar store to check out the latest clothes. They don’t even go on brand websites to shop. Social media is often their first (and sometimes only) source of influence. Choosing to co-create with influencers who are highly visible and interactive on social media gives /Nyden a big audience boost in this demographic.

pouring beer on the beach

4) Heineken

Innovation from a brand with a product that’s over 150 years old? Why not! Heineken is a globally-known brand whose beer has been enjoyed for generations. Even though their product is mostly unchanged, they continue to appeal to young people – and not just because they enjoy the beer. In 2012, Heineken brought together experts from several different countries across varying industries to co-create the ultimate club experience. What did club-goers around the world love about the nightlife in their own respective areas? What was it about each experience that they could take and apply to a new club concept? Heineken took their learnings from this project and made it into a pop-up club at Design Week in Milan, leading to an increase in global sales.

Don't Miss: How co-creation impacts the customer experience

Another interesting co-creation project from Heineken was their initiative to help promote drinking in moderation. Talentlab: Moderation sought ideas for how to make moderate drinking more appealing when people go out. They received submissions from people in several different countries that promote positive behavior.

One of the ideas was a tap that simultaneously poured a glass of water when customers ordered a beer, for example. They also looked at how different cultures viewed drinking responsibly, and at how these ideas could be picked up in countries where drinking too much seems like a ‘norm’.

Heineken continues to co-create and open up their innovation challenges across the company. Innovators Brewhouse was Heineken’s online community where they collaborate with entrepreneurs, inventors, universities, suppliers and great beer minds to advance the future of beer and the industry.

5) BMW

Co-creation on a high-end piece of machinery like a luxury car? BMW has made it possible. The BMW Co-Creation Lab was an online platform where BMW collaborated with the public on ideas for the future of their vehicles. BMW is a great example of an organization that was able to tap into not only their most passionate brand fans but also car enthusiasts, as well as automotive experts.

The BMW Co-Creation Lab featured different phases for community members to get involved, from idea submission, to evaluation, to refinement. Members ranged anywhere from BMW owners to those who did not even own a car but felt passionate enough about the project to get involved. Shortly after launch, the co-creative community garnered a ton of support and interest from people who wanted to participate in the car design process. BMW also provided a lot of great incentives for participation, such as meeting with BMW developers, and even a grand prize of a trip to the BMW headquarters in Munich. Now that’s a reward worth working towards!


woman fanning herself with ikea gift cards

One exciting active co-creation program is Co-Create IKEA, a digital platform launched by the company to help develop and test new IKEA products. As part of the campaign they are also opening up their product development to third-party designers and startups.

The company’s products have long inspired its customers’ creativity. People often share their ‘IKEA hacks,’ sharing ideas with other brand fans on how they have customized their own IKEA furniture. The company has always been creative and innovative, with its trademark modernist design and clever product solutions. They are also one of the world’s leaders in proactively addressing sustainability and environmental issues.

If You Like This, Read This: The LEGO Ideas Story - how brands can take a page out of LEGO's co-creation playbook

Co-Create IKEA kicked off in early 2018 when the company started inviting IKEA Family members in different markets to co-create their new product lines. IKEA has also partnered with universities, offering research opportunities in the company’s areas of interest. In addition, they plan to host a “Bootcamp” for interested startups, where applicants submit ideas for the chance to collaborate with the IKEA Design Team on products that would be complementary to existing IKEA items.

IKEA also looks to collaborate with startups on solutions that would help people, society and the environment, as the company is always looking to meet its environmental goals. The last component of the project is “Product Ideas”, an online community that IKEA is looking to launch where the public would be able to join and co-create new products.

Check out one of the cool products that came out of Co-Create IKEA – the SVANÖ bench. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

Many global brands across varying industries have found success in co-creation, bringing long-term value to both their organizations as well as their customers. The above list shows that commitment to the idea of co-creation is vital, and when both the company and its customers buy in, great things come out of collaboration.

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