Part 1: 5 Types Of Consumer Co-creation Research

In this article we provide a quick summary of the key types of consumer co-creation research, and an overview of some of their main strengths and weaknesses. In Part 2 we show you how to choose the right type of consumer co-creation methodology for your brand, innovation or NPD challenge.

By consumer co-creation we mean methods that involve your consumer or end user in developing ideas and concepts. So we are not including working with suppliers, internal colleagues, experts, or leading edge users AKA “1% ers” (see our article on Real vs Leading Edge Consumers if you’re interested in this).

We have also concentrated on qual. and quali-quant. research methods, at the exclusion of quant., as this is where the ability to truly co-create lies.

1. Social media

social-media-logosUse of your existing social media platforms to talk to your already engaged consumers about your products/services. Involves posing questions and starting debates on topics of interest. Tends to be a simple question and response dynamic.


  • Cheap, quick, easy
  • Capitalise on goodwill of brand aficionados
  • Can achieve some big numbers quickly

Watch Outs:

  • Can’t control who will respond and how much
  • One-way dialogue
  • Biased view of brand aficionados
  • Anyone can view it, including your competition
  • Answers are often not thought though and highly reactive

2. Online Communities or Panels

online communities and panelsUse of an online portal to share questions and challenges with a pre-selected ‘community’ or ‘panel’ of consumers. Online software allows you to control how you share; control and manage output and feedback. Thus, the most iterative and dynamic approach for online.


  • Can achieve good ongoing dialogue with your community
  • Get fairly detailed responses from a fairly large number of people in different markets
  • Communities can feed off each other to get more and better ideas
  • Closed nature of the portal means you can share sensitive information that you couldn’t in social forums

Watch Outs:

  • On-going dialogue needs to be highly incentivised and contributors may become institutionalised over time
  • Usual limitations of being online verses in person, face to face – see table below
  • Online co-creation software is varied in quality and may require considerable investment
  • In home distractions reduce concentration levels

3. Co-Creation Workshops

consumers attending a client workshopBrand and innovation teams may invite a selection of consumers or users to partake in an innovation workshop (They are sometimes referred to as ‘lead users’). The approach provides ‘live’ insight to guide ideas and thinking. 


  • Workshop dynamic allows the consumer workings to be experienced first hand
  • You can be directly collaborative and bounce ideas fast
  • Low-investment required given an innovation workshop likely to go ahead anyway
  • Get consumers’ full attention 60-80% of the time
  • You can ensure that ideas are based in commercial reality

Watch Outs:

  • The dynamics of a workshop may lead teams to rely to heavily on the opinions of a small number consumer/users’ ideas
  • The group dynamic may overwhelm attendees – difficult to challenge their thinking in a manner that is comfortable to them
  • Workshop dynamic limits the ability to pick up deep insight
  • Consumers are often intimidated so tell you want they think you want to hear

4. Small Groups

focus group meetingFormat is similar to a focus group, but in smaller groups to allow for more intense dialogue and co-creation. 


  • Allows consumers to bounce of each other ideas
  • Enables the facilitator to pick up more insight along the way vs standard size focus group
  • Dialogue between participants may be revealing
  • Full attention from consumers for 50%-70% of the time

Watch Outs:

  • Groups can be biased by dominant individuals
  • Little scope for facilitator to develop strong rapport with each individual – limiting ability to reveal deepest thoughts and the sub-conscious
  • Waiting for others to speak allows participants to police themselves too much. The usual limitations of a focus group apply – although they appear slightly reduced by size of groups, this is mitigated by the need to co-create together rather than simple show/challenge and response

5. One-on-One, Face-to-Face

one to one co-creationFormat usually begins with an ethnographic element – e.g. an in-depth interview, an observation of consumer or user. This then leads to a co-creation session with the same consumer/user which is couched in the insight gained. 


  • The participant’s contribution can be maximised – building ideas in detail but also ensuring that these ideas are couched in commercial reality
  • Optimal opportunity to use techniques that bypass their conscious mind
  • Best chance to develop a rapport that allows them to reveal their deepest thoughts
  • Subtleties of differences in consumer types are clearer to see
  • Intense focus allows facilitator to cover more ground than in a group i.e. idea generation, concept building and executional detail

Watch outs:

  • The most expensive of the options but delivers a lot – deeper consumer insight, ideas and executional detail
  • Works best with Strategists not Researchers facilitating
  • Stimulus needs to be plentiful AND well thought through to maximise the depth and creativity that the format permits

Table depicting integrity of co-creation methodology

Click here for a larger image


Of course time and budget will influence the method you chose, as much as the level of integrity it offers. But be clear that certain brand and innovation challenges fit certain methodologies better than others – this we will cover next month.

To read part 2, click here


Talk to us about consumer co-creation research – drop us a line.