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Co-Creation: What Does It Mean In 2021?


Every great marketer knows that building a flourishing brand requires more than just your company’s in-house team. Brands need to practice co-creation with members of their greater community, whether it’s with customers, social media influencers, industry professionals, and so on.

What is co-creation? 

According to a 2010 study by researchers Aric Rindfleisch and Matt O’Hern, co-creation in the context of digital marketing entailed “a collaborative NPD (new product development) activity in which consumers actively contribute and/or select the content of a new product offering.” 

It’s not new for brands to co-create with customers by taking their feedback to improve future products and services. But in the 11 years since that article was published, the definition of co-creation has expanded. Here are ways brands are kicking co-creation up a notch. 

1. Brands are co-creating in deeper ways.

Today’s leading brands don’t just collect consumer feedback and call it co-creation. They quite literally co-create with their community by producing content together, building entire product lines together, and promoting the brand together. In recent years, we’ve seen this happen through influencer marketing. 

Just take a look at Revolve and Aimee Song, or Gymshark and Whitney Simmons. Each of these collections were co-created with the creators’ input each step of the way, from deciding specific fabrics to creating content around the special collection to promoting it across various marketing channels.

Not only is co-creation necessary to build a brand that people want to be a part of, but creators also want to collaborate with brands beyond just social posts. In fact, our recent study revealed that 96% of creators crave deeper brand relationships beyond just social posts. They want to:

  • Produce content for marketing channels, such as email, websites, ads, and more
  • Become long-term brand ambassadors 
  • Attend exclusive events
  • Co-create products
  • Co-host events and panels

2. Brands are co-creating with more members of their community. 

While co-creating with influencers have become standard practice in the last decade, brands are now starting to realize that every single individual has influence in their own community, no matter how many followers they have or what role they play.

For example, Sally Beauty recently launched a brand ambassador program called the Sally Crew and recruited 4 industry experts who are adept in the categories of hair color, textured hair, and nails. The brand is co-creating content with them to leverage their trustworthy expertise and inspire others to try beauty services at home with Sally Beauty products, rather than in stores or at the salon. 

Walmart also just launched Spotlight, a program that turns employees into public-facing company advocates. Each Spotlight employee creates Walmart-related content across their personal social channels — including on TikTok, where they post everything from the “Walmart cheer” to the cross-country “Walmart dance party” hosted through TikTok’s duet feature. Walmart’s co-creation initiatives not only allow the brand to generate a goldmine of authentic content, but also tell real and human stories. 

In other words, brands are starting to realize that they should create content with more than just celebrities. Truth be told, anyone can create content that resonates, have great ideas for products, and hold the power to influence the perceptions and decisions of the people around them. Going forward, brands need to co-create with each and every passionate member of their community. 

3. Brands are giving better incentives for co-creation. 

Reward models are changing for the better. 

Companies like Poshmark are now giving its ambassadors a share in the company after going public earlier this year. Similarly, many brands are enlisting their celebrity partners as creative directors of the company and compensating them with equity.

These collaborations mean that the influencer or celebrity isn’t just a spokesperson or the “face” of the brand anymore. They’re treated more like traditional investors and are expected to contribute to the brand’s goals, provide feedback on products, and have co-branded collaborations. In other words, they’re co-creating the actual brand itself. 

In the video below, Jennifer Aniston, renowned actress and newly named chief creative officer of Vital Proteins, is shown directing and starring in a commercial for the brand. 

This type of compensation model encourages the brand partner to take responsibility for the growth and health of the business. This is especially true for brand partners with a certain level of fame, as the reputation of the company they represent is a part of their public persona as well. 

Take co-creation to the next level

The world’s most successful brands are placing more importance on co-creating with their community, whether it’s by deepening the ways they collaborate or by bringing them on as true brand partners. 

Our advice is to follow the footsteps of these leading brands by identifying passionate members of your brand community, building meaningful relationships, and launching creative activations to truly involve them in the brand building process. 

Want to learn how you can take co-creation to the next level? Schedule a time to strategize with one of our experts today. 

Special thanks to our friends at AspireIQ for their insights on this topic.
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