Omnichannel commerce | Marketing
Co-Creation, User Reviews, and the Customer Experience
July 16, 2016
One aspect of the "new marketing" and its emphasis on the power of the customer is co-creation, the process in which companies develop new products, discover new uses for existing ones, or bring new ideas to advertising based on their relationships with their customers.
As with a lot of other buzzwords, though, people ultimately want to know what it looks like. A recent case at NakedWines.com offers an intriguing look. The California-based winery has received plenty of press accolades for its crowdfunded business model, with 75,000 "angels" who are invested in the business, making them all brand ambassadors as well as customers. The NakedWines community site has more than 6,000 members to answer questions or make suggestions, so user reviews are actually a foundation of the community and not just an engagement strategy. That's a lot of traction in the five years since Adrian and Rebecca Santolin made one barrel of wine with the resources they had.
image: By paying attention to its users' reviews, NakedWines.com involved them in "co-creating"—or in this case, co-improving—a particular wine.
Oliver Smith, in a smart piece for The Memo, looks at the power of user reviews among NakedWines' customers: Who buys wine on the basis of user reviews, he asks, especially in an industry dominated by wine-snob critics and tasters?
The real surprise comes when Smith realises that NakedWines changed one of its offerings when it saw that though the wine was well received by customers in the U.K., customers in the States panned it. Working with its customers as well as the growers in New Zealand, Bill and Claudia Small, NakedWines delivered a new version to the market—something the growers had never thought they'd do before the co-creation experience. "We felt that with our level of training and experience," the Smalls said, "our customers couldn't possibly tell us anything about our wine that we didn't already know."
But they did. It's true that most companies don't have the personal relationships that NakedWines built a business on. But all businesses can benefit from some measure of co-creation, both as the means of and as a benefit of cultivating a community.
This is especially important when reaching out to millennials, known for their low tolerance for manipulative messages. According to IBM, two-thirds of millennials use an ad blocker, and a scant 1% claim to be influenced by advertising.
Millennials do see themselves as creators, however, thriving in a maker environment and leaders of a trend that is shaping the customer experience for all generations. What marketing professionals and sales departments need to do is leverage the creativity that's manifested in user-generated content and take it beyond the basic hashtag campaign to deliver the co-creation goods.
As creators, millennials expect to have impact, and they expect to have a voice. This makes the user-review experience an effective way to drive customer engagement. The user-review process has transformed into a force that reminiscent of the Saturn phenomenon and all those car clubs and trips to the plant in Tennessee. It's what happens when a brand becomes part of a user's identity, not a mere product or purchase. That's especially important among millennials, who place a premium on experience and want companies they support to sell products that connect with their experiences and values. When a brand reflects the millennial buyer's identity—and this goes beyond any traditional sense of affluence or status or "good life" achievement displayed on a designer jeans label—it's because it is delivering experience.
So if these customers want to have impact, want to share their opinions and make their voices heard, and want to do it in the context of relationship, companies need to reimagine the role that user reviews play in co-creating their products and services. They should pay especially close attention to the latter, because services are experiences. What's more, companies need to communicate their openness to feedback, their responsiveness to user reviews, and their receptivity to co-creation.
From the corporate perspective, it can be difficult to relinquish some control over messaging when billion-dollar brands—or even startups like NakedWines—are at stake, along with a reputation that has taken years to establish. There are vendors and partners and stakeholders to consider, but those are all relationships that you've built on collaboration and, yes, co-creation. In many cases, the spark of ad inspiration or product design originates with them, and a similar approach works with your customers.
Businesses already know how much their responsiveness matters, but taking user reviews to a new level means real dedication to what your community is saying. You don't necessarily need to change the time or resources you devote to your user community so much as you do the way you think of and interact with your users and their ideas and concerns. The lesson learned by the New Zealand winery—we didn't think our customers had anything to tell us that we didn't know, but they did—is a good place to begin on a new kind of customer journey. Because your customers do indeed have plenty to tell you that can improve your products, your services, and your bottom line.