3 Ways To Co-Create With Consumers For Breakthrough Strategy & Innovation

creative meeting 2We pay lip service to the concept of “partnership” in marketing all too often, when what we really mean is that “I’m in control, but I’ll give you the illusion that you matter and hope that you’re motivated accordingly.”

This is true in client/agency relationships and in the realm of marketing research where respondents are treated as subjects, not equals. We view them, literally, in the fish bowls of research facilities. They are exposed to stimulus like lab rats so that we can observe their reactions in the moment and attempt to predict their future behavior. It’s supposed to be a conversation, a two-way exchange of ideas, but it’s more like putting respondents under the microscope and extracting – sometimes painfully – information from them.

Irony abounds. Research respondents are not our inferiors, nor are they our equals. They are the masters we serve, those holding the very key to the fate of our enterprises. Acknowledging this truth and acting accordingly has profound benefits. Ceding control, trusting the innate creativity and instincts of respondents – our consumers – transforms respondents from “marketing critics” to passionate participants, propelling our insights from the expected to the extraordinary.

Following are brief descriptions of three ideation and insights techniques that enable true dialogue, opening minds and enhancing conversation to unlock insights and creativity for both researchers and respondents alike.

  1. Put Respondents “On The Couch”

If you really want to understand your target, spend a lot less time talking about yourself and more time listening to them. Our “Values Research” takes at least 40 minutes of a one-hour interview to dig deep into the psyches of respondents, asking broad, open-ended questions followed up by relentless probing (“Why is that important?”) to ladder up to a higher value such as “freedom” or “belonging.”

Respondents and clients have described this process as “psychotherapy.” It’s amazing what people will tell you when given the chance and put the focus squarely on their lives and innermost thoughts rather than asking them twenty different ways if your retail environment communicates “homey” as opposed to “cozy.”

  1. Building Block Concepts

Nothing turns research respondents into instant marketing critics like presenting positioning, new product or other concepts in the traditional way, one at a time. No matter how this exercise is set up, respondents quickly get down in the weeds, distracting by executional details that can be easily adjusted rather than focusing on the big idea and how it makes them feel. We often exacerbate the process by asking them to “circle the words you like and cross out the words you don’t like.” You’ll learn how the watch works but not how to tell time.

Instead, leave the stale focus group formulas behind and employ a more creative workshop approach. Break groups into teams of three to four respondents, hand them complete sets of five to ten very brief, single minded, copy only concepts – headline and a sentence or two at the most. Ask them to select a favorite as a team, and then give them a creative assignment. They can personify the concept (if I’m making a movie about software, who would you cast to play the part of your brand based on this idea?), have them design a new package or website, or come up with an idea for a video or TV ad.

Rather than finding out “what’s wrong” with the concepts, listening in on their conversation and seeing how they bring ideas to life will reveal the internal thought processes and key emotions underlying their decisions.

  1. Creative Consumer/Client Workshops

How many internal ideation sessions do you typically attend? And how many of them actually yield fresh thinking? If “a lot” and “not many” are your answers, you have a lot of company.

By their very nature, internal brainstorming sessions – even with talented external facilitators – are more likely to spit out the same old ideas from the usual suspects.

These workshops purposely push clients out of their comfort zones and put them face to face with their target markets. Inviting articulate, creative and naturally curious people who are actual product users raises the bar, inspiring both company and consumer to up their game as they try to impress each other with fresh ideas.

I liken these sessions and our role as facilitators to marriage counseling. You want to sell and they want to buy, but assumptions on both sides and poor communications get in the way.

We find that many clients don’t like to get up close and personal with their consumers, thinking of them more as outside, abstract objects than real people. No amount of Big Data can substitute for this “in your face” technique that launches the marketing process from a solid foundation of consumer perspective.

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