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Co-Creation & Search: It's All About the Customer

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Having just returned from the iMedia Brand Summit in Miami, you could say my mind is awash with great ideas from rapid fire presentations. From the opening keynote about integrated content across channels, to the closing presentation on "Rethinking Marketer's DNA," the spectrum was extensive and the advice valuable. Although everyone at the conference had different needs, there was a central theme that kept surfacing: the customer.

Focus on the customer. Listen to the customer. Let the customer contribute.

Time and again these mantras were repeated (present company included, in my presentation on search branding), and with good reason. The channels exist for a collaborative environment between company and customer to drive the future of our varying marketplaces. The terminology used to encompass this notion is "co-creation."

Co-creation isn't a new idea, having been first put forward by CK Prahalad & Venkat Ramaswamy in their Harvard Business Review article "Co-Opting Customer Competence" back in 2000. Co-creation is the process of capitalizing on the collective input of both companies and their marketplace to create value for all parties.

A great example of this kind of collaboration would be the MySears.com initiative, a personalized online community allowing for direct interaction between customers and Sears. Sears has essentially created a feedback engine with its customers that ensures the customers' involvement in critical aspects of the business, from the planning stages through to execution and delivery.

The idea is to create a positive brand experience for the customer base and ensure an emotional connection from that group. Personal investment in most any endeavor ensures one's deeper appreciation for a well-produced end product.

Co-creation is a somewhat nebulous term that can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Social media programs offer one outlet for effective co-creation as it allows the customer to provide input in a defined forum, and the company can then analyze those inputs and take action that will deliver value for both the company and the customer. One other digital means of deriving input via customer feedback is from search data.

Search data has always been a fantastic proxy for the needs of your customers (current and potential) and their way of looking at the world. Using search data, marketers can quantify interest in a given topic, use it editorially when formulating a brand message, and even provide specific direction on how they will market and name their products. Taking the time to analyze search data prior to creating a new product and/or launching a new brand campaign can pay dividends and prevent missteps from the starting line.

The example I used in my iMedia presentation relates to GE and its "ecomagination" initiative. The theme of "ecomagination" is to help "solve the world's biggest environmental challenges while driving growth for profitable growth for GE."

Given that these environmental initiatives represent a sizeable and growing portion of the GE business, it would stand to reason that the company has invested heavily in this initiative across multiple channels. However, when searching on Google for the central themes of the campaign (energy efficiency, climate change, etc), "ecomagination" and GE are nowhere to be found.

Should it matter that GE isn't buying paid search ads or doing better with their SEO given that most of its "ecomagination" products aren't purchased online? I would argue yes.

If we look at the volume of searches on eight terms central to the "ecomagination" theme, they combine to average between 200,000 and 500,000 per month. That represents a significant amount of stated interest by consumers, but GE is missing an opportunity to influence the perception of these critical "green" consumers.

This is perhaps also a missed opportunity for co-creation to help advance the GE brand with respect to environmental innovation. By focusing on the customer -- in this instance qualifying their relevant search behavior -- GE has the opportunity to better optimize its marketing mix by investing more heavily in paid search and SEO in order to develop the "ecomagination" brand.

Beyond actively changing its search acquisition strategy, other recommendations come to mind. Based on the native interest across the web for these types of items, GE could go in any number of directions that would engage the environmental constituency, such as:

  • Creating an informational/reference area on the site for all things environment related (the top 10 search destinations for these terms are all informational in nature, such as Wikipedia).

  • Launching a contest with prizes for the most innovative ways to encourage your neighborhood to recycle ("recycle" terms generated over 3.4 million searches in May).

  • Analyzing top environmental search terms to help optimize messages in TV and print ad copy to resonate with its audience.

Search represents the thoughts of the collective, what they want, and how they perceive the world. If the central theme of co-creation is to focus on the customer, search data analysis gets right to the heart of it (and them).

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