Apple created the iPod but we decide on our playlists. MySpace and Facebook aren’t really products or services but platforms for individuals to express themselves and communicate with others of their choosing. YouTube is created by you for you.
The underlying theme is that value is based on the unique, personalized experience of individual consumers. C.K. Prahalad, described by Business Week as probably the most influential thinker on business strategy today, calls it “co-creation” in his latest book The New Age of Innovation.
Prahalad writes that successful companies no longer invent new products on their own. They create them along with their customers to produce a unique experience for each individual.
Don’t confuse this with the old ‘mass customization’ model that focused on a company offering customers choices on a wide range of product or service attributes. With mass customization, the company still decided which choices to offer and how to deliver them. With “co-creation,” the choices are infinite and the individual, not the company, decides what is created and purchased.
Look at some of the most admired and successful market innovators today and their co-created offerings: Apple, Google, Starbucks, the iPhone, Gmail, The Starbucks Experience. Each focuses on the unique customer experience through co-created products and services.
What does this mean for the average company or business?
Listening to the customer, a tactic often neglected by generations of businesses, is even more vital to success and is no longer enough. Companies need to ask customers what they think and actually listen to the response. The next step is to let customers drive product and service offerings, co-create their own unique experiences.
Unfortunately, most companies are set up in the opposite manner, built around producing products and services to achieve economies of scale; reactive rather than interactive; emphasizing structure over flexibility.
The focus needs to change and fast.
You can start by asking your customers or prospects what they want. Listen, be flexible and respond by co-creating unique experiences with them and for them.
David M. Mastovich, MBA, is the president of Massolutions, a Pittsburgh based Integrated Marketing firm that focuses on improving the bottom line for client companies through creative marketing, selling, messaging and customer experience enhancement.