Co-creating the Future: how to leverage consumers, influencers and experts for Front End Innovation

Co-creation is a creative process by which consumers, experts or influencers actively build and improve ideas for new products and services alongside company employees. By incorporating co-creation into front-end innovation sessions, we can provoke disruptive, creative thinking, use real consumer language in claims and communication, and create new products or services that meet consumer needs.

Who are our co-creators?

Co-creation is best with people who bring expert perspectives or personal experiences, such as customers, consumers, shoppers, influencers, employees, suppliers, medical experts, and even competitors. Their role is to bring a very different perspective to the opportunity or problem, in order to provoke and challenge sometime blinkered business thinking. It’s important that they can offer fresh opinions or ideas which can fuel creativity, and that they are not afraid to share their thoughts in a group.

We have a database of over three hundred co-creators who we’ve worked with over the last decade, including a Nordic biohacker, a Korean beauty influencer, an Indian anthropologist, a Nigerian business owner, an Artic explorer, a male nanny, a tea expert, a hair stylist for the over 50’s and many more!  We do recruit fresh co-creators for each project too.  Each person is carefully recruited and briefed on the needs of the project.

Co-creation projects

How might you design innovation sprints to include co-creators and what impact does this have on the project? Here are some of our favourite examples:

  • Consumers: for a global ice-cream brand, Gen Z creative consumers from three Asian markets co-created and optimised activation campaigns for digital media, resulting in a successful roll-out and excellent summer sales results!

  • Experts: with a global beauty brand we developed innovation ideas on ‘holistic wellness’ to fill their funnel for the next 5 years. Perspectives from a psychotherapist and a Diversity and Inclusion advocate inspired concepts that achieved the highest scores they had ever had across all categories.

  • Influencers: for a personal care client, Asian beauty and skin care influencers shared the latest trends around sustainable beauty products to help us build design principles that informed our ‘future of beauty’ innovation sprint. 

Here are our Top 5 Tips for leveraging consumers, experts and influencers in front-end innovation:

  1. Find the right people
    Excellent recruitment is key to finding the right people for your innovation sprint. Specify your recruitment criteria precisely and speak to each and every recruit yourself to ensure they are the right fit, confident and articulate, and to build trust between you.

  2. Prepare co-creators well
    We always set our co-creators a short prep work task that they complete before joining the innovation session. This warms co-creators up to the topic and is valuable input in the session (e.g. A Day In The Life Of; your favourite TikTok video on this subject…). We like to keep these short (not more than an hour of their time) and enjoyable.

  3. Make people welcome
    Have a dedicated key contact for co-creators, both before and during the event, and be warm, friendly and professional in every interaction you have with them. Be aware of diversity and inclusivity sensitivities so that you can give co-creators maximum support and be as respectful as possible to their contributions. Give people positive feedback to boost their confidence and courage during the session.

  4. Don’t do a focus group
    Co-creators are there to work alongside you, not to react to your ideas or create ideas alone. They won’t know how to write concepts, ad copy or design marketing mixes for you, but they will give you great language, ideas, challenges and examples to improve your ideas. Think of them as sitting next to you working on something, rather than sitting across the table reacting.

  5. Maintain your business filters
    Consumers, experts and influencers can only give input from their perspective; not every idea or request they have is on brand or logistically feasible and co-created ideas should always be filtered through a marketing and brands lens before being taken further.

Co-creation versus market research

Co-creation is not a replacement for market research, but it is complementary.  All co-created ideas will still need to be validated. Here are some important differences between the two:

Download the Paraffin
Co-Creation Template