Harnessing consumer creativity: a difficult but rewarding task
By Dr Ben Voyer, Associate Professor at ESCP Business School
At the CMC, we think that consumer creativity accounts for a lot of the (perceived) value that consumers experience in the act of consumption. We believe that much of the act of consumption occurs through creative processes. But one of the questions that many find challenging is: ‘what exactly is consumer creativity’? Is consumer creativity simply about the many ways in which individuals consume goods? Oreo cookies, for instance, can certainly be consumed in many different and creative ways. Or is consumer creativity something even broader, that includes the integration of the many associations we have with the brand (e.g. childhood memories of eating Oreo cookies…), or multiple encounters with brands (through advertising, product placement, etc) with our own life experience. I would argue here in favour of a broad understanding of consumer creativity, as a process of integrating our current experience of consumption with a set of associated and related memories, perceptions and emotions involving brand-related and product-related experiences. In other words, consumers re-interpret the value proposition while consuming the goods they purchase, and integrate it with the brand eco-system and their previous experience.
A related question is: when does consumer creativity actually happen? Two opposite views can be confronted. On the one hand, some scholars argue that consumer creativity is a process that mainly occurs during the act of consumption – which implies being present and in contact with the product / service. On the other hand, some scholars argue that consumer creativity is a continuous process, which can precede and follow the act of consumption itself, thanks to consumers’ imagination. Given the previous broad understanding of consumer creativity previously discussed, I would also argue here in favour of a creativity continuum.
Understanding how your product or service and its associated perceived value can be re-created and re-interpreting by consumers is not an easy task. The reason being that most of the time, this will not be apparent – perhaps not even to consumers themselves. Marketing and consumer research can help in that respect, for instance by using novel research methods (e.g. netnography, portable video-camera…), as discussed in my last blog post. Companies who succeed in this difficult task will be able to improve the perceived value of their product and service offering, by making sure that the value proposition is correctly understood, and also leaves room to consumer interpretation and integration with their own universe.