Do you need a business partner? How about an untypical one?

All companies start with great doses of optimism and positive energy. You have an idea you think is awesome, and that gut feeling that tells you that this is going to be huge. There’s nothing that can stop you – you’re meant to do great things. 

However, business owners and startup owners make a one really common mistake at this point. They believe in their gut more than they believe research and data. What is even worse, they don’t even conduct any kind of research to check if their idea could work on the market. They act completely driven by their gut feeling, thinking with emotions instead of their brains. 

And, the product finally gets released. It’s going great at the beginning – your gut feeling took you in the right direction! However, some time goes by and you start feeling like your business is slowly starting to stagnate. After a while, you notice a downfall. Something’s missing. Something needs to be changed.

So, you start a creative process all over again

The brainstorming sessions turn into sleepless nights and days without peace. And yet, no results. You can’t seem to find the missing piece of the puzzle.

What you need to understand is that sometimes we get so stuck in our ideas and how we imagine them that we can’t see any other sides of them. Sometimes, we need to include other people in the process, who can give us different perspectives and refresh our way of thinking. 

The first thing we think about at this point is a business partner. An experienced person from the industry who can boost the company’s creativity and morale with their skills. This mainly is a good idea, but having a business partner is tricky at some other terms. You really have to be careful with picking a person you truly believe in – they will have a very important role in the company after all. It will mean bringing in huge changes for your company and for you as an owner. 

There’s one other alternative that doesn’t have to bring so many changes in your everyday working, and still, bring better results. There’s one untypical business partner you could start collaborating with – your customers

Think about it. Your customers are the core of your business. Your customers are the reason why you exist. It would be a logical step to ask them how they feel about your product and how can you improve it.

How can you partner up with your customers and get a user-centered product?

With co-creation. Co-creation is a model that engages customers to co-design products together with companies. 

The original concept showed up around 1960-70s when trade unions in Scandinavian countries. They’ve succeeded to win the right of workers to design IT systems that were connected to their jobs, calling it cooperative design. The term that came closest to co-creation as we know it is user-centered design, coined by Don Norman in his book called Design of Everyday Things.

In 2000, University of Michigan Professors CK Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy coined the term co-creation, in a Harvard Business Review article called Co-Opting Customer Competence

Today, we refer to co-creation as involving stakeholders in the product design process, most commonly customers. Through the process of co-creation, you can listen to customers and understand what exactly their needs are. Having all this useful information will help you create a product that will be tailored according to their wishes.

Co-creation can bring many benefits at your company:

 

  • Saving resources. Having a co-design session with your target group can literally open your eyes. You will be able to see exactly what your customers need and what needs to be added to your product to satisfy these needs. You won’t spend a lot of time and money on developing features your customers might not like.
  • Higher customer retention. Giving customers the feeling that they are part of the creation process of your product can create a special bond between them and your brand. This will encourage them to purchase your product more frequently, as they will get an added emotional value aside from the material one.
  • Better than market research. No market research will give you results as good as talking to your customers directly. You’ll get more precise information that will help you in the development of your product and your company’s future plans. 
  • User-centered design. Your product is here to solve a problem for your customers. Involving them in the problem-solving process can put you in their shoes and give you a better understanding of the problem and its nature. 

58% of businesses have piloted co-creation in their innovation processes. Here are some that have incorporated it successfully:

    • IKEA’s Co-Create IKEA project was developed to encourage customers to give their own ideas for new furniture pieces. The company also cooperated with entrepreneurs, universities, and innovation labs to find interesting and new designs. The best ideas get licensed and executed.  
    • Heineken invited several designers to develop ideas for new clubs. The designers shared their ideas to customers, using an online creative hub. The initiative resulted in the Heineken Concept Club, presented on Milan Design Week in 2012. 
    • Unilever launched an Open Innovation platform, where users get to solve different challenges given by the company. Users can get involved in different processes regarding packaging, technologies, and product ideas. After this project, 60% of Unilever’s R&D projects involved external collaboration.

As a company, the most important thing you need to know is that your customers don’t have the same needs you do. That’s why you need to put yourself in their shoes and try to understand them as much as you can. Co-creation can create a strong bond between you and your customers, resulting in great user-centered products. This way you can find and build your best business partner.

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