The Customer Contribution Continuum: Should customers be part of your team?

Winter 2014 GRIT Report commentary by Kevin Lonnie, sharing his thoughts on the current state of the market research industry.

In preparation for this piece on customer co-creation, I was very excited to use insights from the recent GRIT report. Since I was being asked to write about customer co-creation, I was drawn to one table in particular.

That table was called “Reasons for not using Techniques.” Now some of the findings were rather predictable. For example, the research technique “Face to Face” was avoided for being “Too Expensive.” No great surprise there, I imagine we could have asked that 25 years ago and the results would have been the same.

Ah, but now, it gets interesting. Out of all the traditional and New MR options available, the technique that was second in being avoided was “Crowdsourcing.” And the number one reason for not using this option was “Lack of Knowledge.” Not surprisingly, Crowdsourcing also earned top scores among researchers for the dubious distinction of being avoided due to “Ignorance.”

At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, I have to chide my fellow researchers over this finding. While I applaud your honesty, lack of knowledge and ignorance rarely constitute good long term strategy.

As researchers, we are under a false impression if we feel we hold exclusive rights to customer insight. In fact, it appears we are far more comfortable designing a stellar survey rather than pursuing “equal footing” relationships with customers. If we continue on this path, MR will be sidestepped while more progressive agencies are contracted to pursue interactive customer contributions, such as co-creation. To put this into context, I see the future of MR lining up along “The Customer Contribution Continuum.”

1. At the top of this contribution chain will be the emerging area of customer co-creation/crowdsourcing.
• Here the customer is a powerful, proactive contributor with full transparency into the business situation they are helping to solve.
2. The second level of customer involvement is reflected by traditional MR.
• At this level the customer acts as a reactive contributor via surveys and moderated discussions to infer consumer decision thinking.
3. The third level is the world of Big Data.
• At this level, the customer has passively sacrificed privacy for perks and contributes information without awareness or interest.
• It then becomes the role of data scientists (Math Men) to decipher the meaning behind their behaviors.

I believe our industry is unnecessarily enamored with the shadow world of big data. Folks are unwittingly trading off privacy for perks, thus allowing themselves to be exploited and measured, like test subjects in a Skinner Box.

In contrast, Customer co-creation is easy to measure (e.g. Did the new product succeed?). As such, the ROI of customer co- creation is easily measured and reflected in the P&L. Compare that to the murky ROI of a focus group.

I would encourage my fellow researchers to at least educate themselves on the possibilities of customer co-creation. “Lack of knowledge” is an honest assessment and fortunately, one that is easily rectified.

The overarching question is whether customer co-creation can be a viable, productive and mutually profitable arrangement for you and your customers. If the answer is yes, then the second question is whether customer co-creation will run through you.

NOTE: The GRIT survey only asked about Crowdsourcing and not Customer Co-Creation. Over the past year, the MR industry has aligned itself more closely to customer co- creation. Our industry is not looking to outsource product ideation to customers (i.e. Crowdsourcing), but welcomes a process in which customer contributions are integral to the ideation process (i.e. Customer Co-Creation).


This content was originally published by KL Communications, Inc. Visit their website at

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