Co-creativity in Marketing Communications: Partnering Consumers for Great Advertising
By Tomi Ogunlesi
Recent trends indicate that Consumers have become wary and increasingly suspicious as far as the entire concept of ‘marketing’ is concerned. This stems from the perception that advertisers/marketers are only out to exploitatively ‘brain-wash’ potential targets towards meeting their own selfish commercial ends, at the expense of the ‘unsuspecting’ consumer’s wallet, by subtle and calculated manipulation of their (consumers’) psyche.
Today’s reality is that we’re struggling to reach skeptical audiences that have become largely jaded by our traditional brand communications. Our targets are trust-starved and are erecting and fortifying their psychological defences against commercial ‘onslaughts’.
Contemporary marketing strategy clearly necessitates a departure from many of the marketing industry’s current ideas, perceptions and techniques which have for long held sway.
It is ironic, however, to note that Coca-Cola’s high-profile ex-marketing arrowhead, Sergio Zyman (who authored the treatise ‘The End of Marketing, As we know it”) is notoriously recorded to have warned, at some point, that, in his words, “Leaving things up to the consumers’ imagination is something you never want to do. Customers are dangerous, and if you leave them to decide how they want to be satisfied, you’re going to have a terrible time living up to their dreams. It’s better if you can control both the promise and the delivery.”
Well, this may actually have been tenable in time past, but engaging Mr. Zyman’s position, in the light of the realities of contemporary market and consumer trends, reveals that such disposition is little short of suicidal for any brand desirous of meaningful impact in an environment where the typical consumer is more discerning, enlightened and empowered. Remarkably humorous, though very instructive, is former Nike and Starbucks marketing point-man, Scott Bedbury’s take on what a brand is “The sum total of the good, the bad, the ugly and the off-strategy!”
While it still holds that branding is the most critical element of commercial success, some fundamental laws and pillars that have been relentlessly preached for ages are presently being called to question, such as one that preaches “Create advertising around an aspirational image associated with the brand.” Now, these traditional and conventional big bang promotional methods still work for many products and services, but the clearly emerging truth is that in order for a brand to ‘stick’ i.e. to have a real impact on culture, it has to collaborate with its users, its constituency.
In many instances, misguided (in retrospect!) attempts to exert and enforce control over brands and consumers’ reaction to them have been noted to have backfired in quite a number of scenarios.
One intriguing realization, when put into the proper perspective is that consumers themselves have actually become important brand-builders. They build a perception or an image of the brand just exactly the same way birds build nests from scraps and straw which they chance upon, according to Jeremy Bullmore.
As brand managers and custodians, the implication is that we need to let go of the fallacy that the brands in our care belong to us – A brand belongs to the market, of which the consumer is a key determinant. At this juncture, it must again be stressed that Co-creation is very key, and ideally, the brand is co-created and shaped via meaningful collaboration with consumers. One fundamental challenge that constantly comes to the fore, which many people saddled with the task of managing brands have repeatedly confessed to be faced with is that of seeing and approaching their brands from the perspective of consumers.
Such successful co-creative initiatives that have gone on to strengthen brand equity abound world over. Consumer-generated media is no passing fad. Many of the world’s most successful brands are progressing beyond the centuries-old model of driving awareness through mass-marketing, choosing instead to engage consumers.
“Co-creativity” is a form of the creative process that involves more than one person. In a co-creative process, many people come together, interacting with one another, sharing ideas and experiences, and affecting the growth and insight and ideas of everybody else in the group.
Co-creativity involves listening, dialogue, mutual respect, and careful attunement with the ideas and intentions of other people in the venture. Co-creativity can be understood in different ways, depending on the understanding among parties involved. As a co-creative group gains in resonance and understanding, the group may wish to refine an “agreement” among its members, to clarify ways in which the group has decided to address issues and questions that may arise.
Marketers are inviting their customers to take part in the creative process Commercials, print ads, tag-lines and a lot more communication elements are being produced by the very audience they’re intended for and, at first glance, it somewhat appears that many functions within the larger marketing community are becoming rapidly obsolete.
In the past, the technical skills and distribution capacity (budget inclusive) required to create and deliver an impactful marketing campaign were significant and far beyond the means of any one individual. With the proliferation of personal technology, social media and the rise of interactive networks, the entry barriers have become almost completely obliterated.
Against this contemporary backdrop, the ‘advertising’ agency cannot expect to be a sole repository of strategic or creative input by any standards whatsoever. Whoever says the winning idea cannot emanate from the client, or even more interestingly, from the ‘bloody’ consumer?
As someone put it succinctly, ‘Every consumer with an idea and an iMac is a potential visionary, willing and eager to step into the vital role of brand ambassador.”
What this essentially translates into is that you’re just as likely to find the next great creative director in an uninspiring and obscure university dorm room as in the hallowed studios of any of our highly revered advertising agencies. Now, where does all of this leave that apprehensive brand/marketing manager who will find himself constantly haunted by the morbid fear of having his precious brand ‘hijacked’ by ‘fickle and dangerous’ consumers?
Interestingly, you’ll find that you’re still running the show effectively You conceive, create and manage the brand, with just a little (but immensely invaluable!) help from your customers. You, it is who gets to choose the form and specificity of content you’re asking for, and also to decide whether you want it circulated or internalized as the case may require. If anything, all of this puts you in a more vantage position to better manage your brand than ever before, because your consumers are offering their valuable insights and help.
As brand custodian, you’re ceding some control. But in reality, you have little to give compared to a whole lot more in benefits… So, loosen up and watch your brand take a turn for the better!
Tomi Ogunlesi MBA, a professional member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM, UK) leads the strategy practice at Bates Cosse, a frontline marketing communications firm in Lagos. He is an alumnus of the Wits Business School, Johannesburg and the University of Cambridge – Judge Business School