Co-creation: The next realization of value-based marketing


“If I am your ideal customer, why should I purchase your product rather than any other product?” – Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS (parent company of MarketingExperiments)

At MarketingExperiments, researchers have used this question to develop value propositions over the past 20 years.

Many things have changed over the past couple decades, which has now, more than ever, left room for the customer to answer the value prop question.

Recently, Professor Wouter Van Rossum, a leading expert on value proposition and product development, held an Academic Lecture Series at MECLABS headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., where he discussed the evolution of a value proposition in a post-Twitter world.

“Companies don’t want to hear [feedback],” Van Rossum explained, “They don’t like to hear it.”

But, in an era where customers can ask questions and interact with not only the company, but fellow dissatisfied customers online and demand a more and more personalized experience, it “more or less forces companies into co-creation.”


Defining co-creation

Co-creation implies a situation where both parties profit in terms of exchange value.



A “perfect example of co-creation,” according to Van Rossum is Threadless, a company that allows designers to submit art for T-shirts, among other commodities. Customers then vote on designs they want to purchase.

If the design is picked up by Threadless, the designers earn a portion of the profits from T-shirts sold and this creates an exchange of value.

Co-creation of exchange value, according to Van Rossum, implies that the company should determine a value proposition that will account for the customer’s contribution and result in a win-win situation for both the customer and the business.

In the case of Threadless: The company queues up designs that they know will be popular and purchased. The designer earns not only monetary rewards but also has work to add to their portfolio. Both parties benefit from the relationship and business model.

Is co-creation right for my marketing strategy?

As for determining if co-creation is right for your business, Van Rossum recommended, “I think there are specific contexts where it’s easier to do it.”

B2B businesses, specifically, Van Rossum indicated, have an easier time, as it’s usually relationship-based, working on tailoring products and services toward a specific client.

“It’s easier when you see customers like a business partner,” Van Rossum explained. Value propositions are now an ongoing conversation rather than a slowly evolving marketing tool.

This goes one step beyond a value proposition that simply “resonates” with the customer, based on researching what’s important to your customer and observations on customer behavior.

As far as co-creation and value proposition development, Van Rossum said companies underestimate how much they need the input of their customers, not just data. He explained that customers have much more to bring to the conversation rather than eye-path analytics and clickthrough rates.


How to include the customer in your campaigns

Van Rossum identified three ways that marketers are using co-creation:


1. User-generated content (Examples: Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Amazon)

A weak form of co-creation. Contributors are not necessarily rewarded monetarily, but the company earns revenue from the user.


2. Consumer contributors (Example: Threadless)

Customers contribute ideas, work and data, and, in turn, both they and the companies earn revenue from production of the product. (A business partner model.)


3. User products (Examples: Raspberry Pi, Ardunio, Intel’s Edison)

Innovators use products to create technology. (I’m not a techy person, so the best analogy I came up with is Legos. They sell the Legos and users create works of art.)


Whatever your organization, customers expect higher and higher levels of customer service and personalization when they interface with brands – whether it’s selling software to a small company, shopping for shoes or hiring a contractor.

To remain customer-centric, Van Rossum explained marketers not only need to know about their customers, but they also must transcend the boundary that once existed between customers and companies and find “a better way of doing business marketing than simply developing something and then trying to sell it.”


You might also like

Social Media Marketing: Turning social media engagement into action at Threadless [MarketingSherpa Blog post interview with Threadless]

Value Proposition: 4 questions every marketer should ask about value prop [More from the blogs]

Marketing Research Chart: Top platforms for testing value proposition [MarketingSherpa chart]

PPC Marketing: Testing value proposition messaging increases clickthrough 88% [MarketingSherpa case study]

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