Brands: platforms for co-creation

September 30, 2015

Image courtesy of Maciek Lulko

Recently, I had the opportunity to do a brief stint of living and studying in London. Whilst I was there, I attended a lecture by Gerard Grecht, CEO of Tech City, London’s answer to Silicon Valley. Based in Shoreditch, it’s a hub for digital start-ups supported by the government. 

Grecht touched on many themes and tension points emerging as technology continues to pervade all areas of our lives, blurring the divide between online and offline interactions. This is not new, and I think we can all agree that technology is completely changing the way we interact as a society, from changing governance structures to bringing people together. Grecht emphasised that brands are no longer static images or ideals out of reach to consumers. Through technology, brands are now platforms for dynamic and interactive consumer engagement. 

Now what does he mean by this?

To understand this, it’s important to delve a little deeper into the changing structure of consumers’ worlds. Grecht argues that we are finally moving towards Manuel Castell’s “network society” due to “technology and digitised social spaces creating a more decentralised and networked public sphere”. In the network society, there is no longer a hierarchy of communication from brand to consumer; that is, the brand doesn’t talk at the consumer in a uni-directional relationship anymore. Increasingly brands and consumers are interacting on a level playing field or “heterarchy”. 

But what does this mean for brands?

Due to technology giving consumers a platform to shout from, they want to feel heard and empowered. We see this manifest in the rise of co-creation strategies between brands and consumers, where consumers are invited to be a part of the brand and contribute to their campaigns, product development and more. Due to technology we’ve “moved to a position where good ideas and consensus can surface via the crowd, be funded via the crowd or even discovered via the crowd.” Brands no longer have to come up with all the ideas themselves. 

There’s a plethora of brands that look to their consumers for great ideas. Here are two of my favourites:

Burberry's The Art of the Trench 

Burberry has challenged what luxury means in the digital space through crowdsourcing designs from their consumers. Previously luxury brands were held out as unattainable to consumers making them all the more desirable. However, Burberry first experimented with co-creation in their 2009 “Art of the Trench” campaign, in which they asked consumers to upload images of them wearing Burberry’s most famous piece. This campaign went viral with more than 400,000 images uploaded in the first week. Consumers were invited to comment and vote on their favourite looks leading to the development of next season’s designs. This led to the development of “Burberry Bespoke” where consumers can now design their own items online. 

Pizza Hut's Pizza Mogul

Pizza Hut’s “Pizza Mogul” campaign last year invited consumers to design their own pizza and share it through social networks. Then they received a commission every time someone purchased it. Over 55,000 “moguls” created and shared more than 160,000 pizzas throughout this campaign.

What does this mean for consumer/brand interaction in the future?

With this change, there needs to be an authentic and engaged ‘digital social contract’ between the brand and the consumer. Technology is empowering, and as a result brands will need to be more reflexive and responsive to consumers voices and desires.

This is not a new concept; we’ve been talking about co-creation strategies for a while. But it seems that this is more of an imperative now than it has ever been. It’s time to step back listen to consumers, they’re screaming to be heard.