Co-Creation: Letting Respondents Surprise Us

August 24, 2015

"Co-creation", as a term, has been edging into the spotlight for the last few years. In the context of the increasing ubiquity of crowd funding and the sharing economy, it is difficult to ignore the desire of consumers to have a greater level of influence over how brands deliver value.

Over the past few months, The Lab has been incorporating co-creation into some of our research projects as a new methodology to reach richer insights.

The Process

Where traditional research methods typically involve testing finished concepts with respondents, the co-creation methodology brings consumers in at an earlier stage.

On a recent project, we used co-creation groups to help develop brand concepts where we set up various stations, with plenty of stimulus: imagery, language, colour wheels. This provided the basis from which consumers helped us build the look and feel of the brand concept. 

Respondents were challenged with a different task at each station.  They were asked to build visual mood boards, then curate the language and tone... This helped us not only get an overview of the ‘ideal brand’, but also, given the subjectivity of some of the exercises, gain a better understanding of the building blocks of a relevant and compelling brand concept.

So what did we learn the process?

Image via Flickr courtesy of Katie at

For the Respondents

We’ve spoken before about engaging respondents through gamification to create greater engagement. In a similar vein, setting up stations for consumers to play and create on their own terms proved to be highly engaging and motivating.

The energy in the room was fun and energetic. Encouraging genuine and tactile interaction with the stimulus – letting consumers play with imagery, and mood boards as they wished, brought with it a sense of surprise and wonderment.  For the respondents, this was linked to experimenting with new ideas that perhaps they hadn’t thought of in the category we were testing. It also came from disrupting their expectations of market research.

By getting the respondents to move around and by providing them with tactile stimulus, that they could play with and manipulate as they chose, some of the old mores of the focus group disappeared. There was a clear shift in the dynamic – where some of the quieter respondents come out of their shell a bit, eager to contribute creative ideas.

Through keeping the concepts open and somewhat unfinished, the respondents really took ownership of the unfinished concepts and added new dimensions with their own brushstrokes. It became their new brand.

Image via Flickr courtesy of hannah sheffield at

For the Researchers

Importantly, this element of surprise also played a central role for us Labsters moderating.  As researchers, we often have pre-formed hypotheses before heading into research – a frame of reference for the findings – to prove or disprove a given theory.  I was certainly aware that, after spending a few weeks developing the stimulus, I had my own ideas of the themes that would come across.

But co-creation required openness on our part, and perhaps a bit of "letting go" of our hypotheses. We allowed the respondent to take us on an unexpected journey, and as a result we came away with richer insights for our clients. 

This necessarily required a shift in dynamic between the moderator and respondent. Focus groups always aim to nurture dynamic conversation between respondents, yet the moderator still has the power through their role in directing conversation. Respondents assume that the moderator has more knowledge of the concepts, and therefore a degree of ownership over them.

In co-creation groups, we hand this knowledge to the respondents. They don't necessarily take control, but we go on the journey with them, as peers, allowing them to surprise and delight us along the way. The power shifts to them.

Within research, and the wider world of branding, the ability to not only listen to consumers, but to also allow ourselves to be surprised by them, as we work with them, is increasingly important. Otherwise we risk them surprising us, by finding value elsewhere.


Thumbnail image via Flickr courtesy of Markus Grossalber at