5 steps to collaborative consumption

Canadian marketer Merril Mascarenhas recently posted a piece on the Canadian Marketing Association’s blog entitled “Taking mass customization to the next level.”  The piece identifies collaborative consumption as the next frontier of brand innovation.   Customization, effectively, provides customers with the tools to control and experience your brand.

“Empowering consumers to relate to a brand in their own personal way is the new horizon of innovation.  Creating imaginative product ideas that allow consumers to explore, create and share is a new extension of real time co-creation.  Brands can learn from these new co-creations and deploy new vectors of growth, based on new product ideas.  The opportunities are endless.”

Here are some comments on the 5 steps to collaborative consumption, as identified by Mascarenhas:

1. Explore surprising vectors of innovation of your products.

Consider non-traditional opportunities for innovation.  For example, some high profile brands have experimented with mobile apps that let users play with their brand.  Instead of typical product innovation, the goal is to leverage the power of new technologies and platforms to find new ways to delight consumers.

BMW Mini iPhone app

Example:  BMW Mini launched an iPhone app that provides new ways to experience the Mini brand.  The app compliments and enhances the experience of the car itself.

2. Define the relevance of these vectors. Which ones delight customers?

It’s tempting to assume that users want to simply find your products and “like” them.   And, 35M Facebook users have already liked products on Facebook.      Only 24% of product likes are motivated simply by the desire to tell friends about the product.  57% of likes, it turns out, are motivated by already owning the product.

The real question is what really delights customers when they are spending time with your brand?  Is it the ability to personalize, the playfulness of customization (ie gamification), the power to control and edit the brand to meet their needs, or the ability to tap into their own creativity in the context of your brand?

3. Create an experiential component to the brand. How will customers create unique experiences for themselves?

The next wave of marketing innovation is all about experiences.   Think beyond just publishing an online catalog.   Your business model must depend on offering a unique ability to experience your brand in a way that your competitors can’t offer.

Example:  Offer in-store iPad kiosks.

4. Create communication channels to allow customers to share ideas and innovations.

Beyond just “adding social” to your site by allowing sharing standard products via Twitter and Facebook, give your customers something fantastic to want to share.   Customers don’t want to just share products; they want to share new ideas and innovations.

Once they have something exciting to talk about, build a community.  Your customers are your storytellers.   Give them a voice and give them a place to talk to each other (and to you).

Example: Polyvore design contests generate a creative shopping environment that empowers shoppers to aspire and inspire.   Is Polyvore a shopping site?  Not at all.  Polyvore is a fashion community.

5. Stay true to the brand position. Look for innovations that reinforce the brand idea.

All innovation, both product and digital, should build on your pre-existing brand identity.  Start by building a great brand, then leverage evolving digital tools (like a visual product configurator and mobile apps) to extend and enforce your brand.

Related: See Joe Pine’s HBR post on creating customer value on the digital frontier.

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