20 November 2023 812 words, 4 min. read

The downside of participative marketing

By Pierre-Nicolas Schwab PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
Co-creation can be an interesting marketing approach for strengthening ties with customers. However, it is important to consider the possible negative effects of such a project. The example analyzed in this article demonstrates this.

Marketing projects can sometimes take a collaborative approach with customers. However, care must be taken with this so-called co-creation approach, as shown by the example presented in this article. This is a case study of a Spar supermarket chain initiative. The format chosen was an open competition. Not everything went according to plan.

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Co-creation is an innovative approach that has gained in popularity in recent years. It enables companies to integrate consumers into their value-creation processes actively. This often translates into collaboration in developing new products, as in design thinkingMarket Research Companies can implement these collaborative approaches to maintain certain neutrality in the approach.

However, as with any strategy involving direct consumer interaction, it has risks. The “Spar” case research was presented by Johannes Gebauer (University of Innsbruck) at the EMAC conference under the title “The Dark Side of Co-creation.” The slides of this presentation are reproduced with his permission. Two main questions were posed in this research:

  • Why do some members make negative comments?
  • How can companies proactively respond to these comments to protect their reputation?

This case study should provide interesting food for thought for all marketing professionals planning to involve large numbers of customers in research for a new product.

The dark Side of cocreation: how to deal with angry community members from IntoTheMinds

The motivations behind co-creation

According to research, there are several reasons why users choose to engage in co-creation activities. The main motivation is that they anticipate a gratifying, rewarding experience. Being able to influence decisions reinforces their sense of competence and involvement. In addition, by being involved in the creation, consumers can develop an emotional bond with the product, positively influencing their brand perception.

For a brand, the motivations can also be multiple:

  • Increase customer loyalty by strengthening the emotional bond with the brand
  • Create products/services that better meet expectations and thus gain market share from the competition
  • Purely communicative objective (getting the word out about the brand by attracting a large number of participants)

Co-creation SPAR Bagdesign Contest

Case Study: SPAR Bagdesign Contest

Contest background

The “SPAR Bagdesign Contest” was conceived as an online competition inviting participants to propose shopping bag designs. The initiative attracted many participants, with thousands of designs submitted, community assessments and comments, and thousands of page views. From a communications point of view, there was no doubt that it was a success. The interaction was plentiful, and Spar had succeeded in creating excitement for what is a trivial objective (to create a shopping bag). The strength of the Spar brand in Austria certainly had something to do with it.

The challenges encountered

Despite the apparent success in participation, the competition also revealed the challenges inherent in co-creation. Some participants showed signs of dissatisfaction and even anger:

  • when their designs were not selected or
  • when they felt that their contributions were not sufficiently valued

A sense of loss of control amplified this frustration. Despite their investment in the process, they needed help influencing the outcome. The decision-making process remained opaque. Negative comments began to emerge, ranging from simple expressions of disappointment to calls to action to address complaints directly to SPAR. The crux of the matter is managing disgruntled members within a community effectively. The parallel with managing customer complaints is obvious.

Managing dissatisfaction is crucial because a single disgruntled member can disproportionately impact brand perception. In the age of social media, it will not have escaped your notice that opinions can spread quickly and cause major damage in terms of branding.

Community management response

Faced with this growing dissatisfaction, community managers had to step in. They tried to respond to participants’ questions and complaints transparently while remaining firm on the rules and decisions. This paradoxical situation highlighted the importance of:

  • clear communication from the outset of the co-creation initiative
  • managing participants’ expectations
  • rapid, empathetic response to participants’ concerns

Conclusion and recommendations

Lessons learned

Co-creation, while offering many opportunities for innovation and consumer engagement, brings challenges that cannot be ignored. The “SPAR Bagdesign Contest” case research highlighted the risks associated with managing participants’ expectations and the need for clear, transparent communication.

Recommendations for companies

  1. Proactive communication: Companies should establish clear lines of communication from the outset, defining expectations, contest rules, and selection criteria.
  2. Managing expectations: Explaining the selection and decision-making process is essential to avoid disappointment or misunderstanding.
  3. Rapid response: In the event of dissatisfaction or concern, a rapid, empathetic response is crucial to defusing the situation.
  4. Valuing contributions: Although not all contributions can be winners, it is essential to recognize and value the effort and creativity of all participants.
  5. Training community managers: Managers need to be trained to oversee tricky situations with a clear understanding of the principles of co-creation and the expectations of participants.

Co-creation is a promising avenue for innovation and consumer engagement, but it requires careful management to reach its full potential.

Posted in Research.

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