Barack Obama’s spectacular victory was the outcome of a collaborative movement; a campaign that was built around a strategy of engaging with the voters and listening to their views and their stories; a campaign that helped build relationships with the masses. Reaching out to five million supporters on 15 different social networks and 50 million viewers on YouTube, his was the first political campaign that truly harnessed the power of social media. It exemplifies co-creation, a concept introduced by Prahalad and Ramaswamy (Prahalad, 2000) that represents the dramatic and challenging transformation towards a two-way communication mode with consumers.
The advent of social media marked the beginning of the age of listening. This is not to say that marketers have not been “listening” in the past. They have been doing so through market research, but in a controlled question–answer or stimulus–response environment. What’s changed is the ability to “listen” to unsolicited feedback about their brand from hundreds or thousands or millions of consumers and “see” how they relate to it and how they use it.
As consumers increasingly express their views and ideas online for brands that they harbour feelings for, companies need to keep abreast of the dialogue, and anticipate opportunities and threats. Today one can ill afford to underestimate the power of a small minority to influence the masses. While companies lose control, they gain a movement, one that’s both an opportunity and a threat. And whether this shift in power evolves into something constructive or destructive, is dependent largely on how they respond.
Co-creation is one of the most constructive avenues of channelling consumers’ affinity for a brand and their desire to engage with it. It is a process where brand owners collaborate with consumers in creating brand value. To effectively co-create marketers need to listen emphatically to what their consumers are saying with the intent to understand. Once they understand their consumers, brand owners should join the conversations, learn from consumers and share their brand knowledge and expertise; empower consumers to advocate their brands, and become empowered by consumers to shape the future of their brands in a manner that is meaningful to the people who matter.
A related concept, crowdsourcing is the process of soliciting ideas or
content from a large group of people, usually an online community.
Wikipedia, which sources most of its content from a vast number of contributors, exemplifies
crowdsourcing. A number of other companies including Kraft and LEGO, use
crowdsourcing programmes to source ideas for new products.