Reader Sophie R. is studying at the London College of Fashion, and sent me some questions with respect to her dissertation on fashion management. I thought her questions were interesting, and hope you do too.
Sophie: What has changed in the last decades in terms of : consumer behaviour, ways of consumption? What do the consumers expect the most from the brand today? Is consumer behaviour in fashion different? If yes, what is different?
Susan: With the advent of the internet, many people expected brands to become less important. This hasn't really happened, except in commodity purchases, where quality and status aren't that relevant. When faced with overwhelming choice, a brand that you trust can help you make a decision. In this sense, brands are even more important. The big change with brands is that we no longer choose a brand for life; most of us are pretty fickle when it comes to our brand selections. Another big shift is that we may be luxury brand purchasers in one area of our lives, and bargain purchasers in another, without finding anything inconsistent about this.
This trend is very evident in fashion, with the success of knock-off houses like H&M and Zara providing inexpensive access to high-style and design. Yet luxury brands still have tremendous presence, whether it's a Prada handbag or an Omega watch.
Sophie: Could you explain in a few words the concept of co-creation? How does the consumer react towards co-creation? How could you qualify the presence of co-creation on the market place
nowadays? Does it have implication on any brands’ success?
Susan: Co-creation is about bringing consumers into a closer relationship with the brand by inviting them to take part in the creative process. This could be by letting people propose advertising. Or it could involve giving customers tools to customize and personalize their purchase. Mini Cooper gives customers an enormous array of customization options, for example.
We would still want our brand to make sure we look good at the end -- my assumption is that BMW is not going to let me design an ugly Mini. So I can trust the brand, and experiment within the brand's boundaries.
A brand should only choose the co-creation route when they can make it fit into the brand promise -- co-creation is likely not for every brand. A brand that is all about stability, for example, might not be a good candidate for co-creation. I think most financial institution brands would struggle with this concept.
Sophie: Why is interaction important for the consumers? How can co-creation influence consumer behaviour?
Susan: Consumers don't want to be passive recipients of dispensed wisdom from big companies. There are a multitude of personal styles at work today, especially in the fashion world. There are so many 'looks' now, that we can all do almost whatever we want.
Let's consider a fashion organization that is conducting creative design workshops with their target customer on a regular basis. The customer involvement in the creation process will ensure that the product that emerges makes sense. This is a lot more than a focus group -- this is an ongoing involvement of customers in the creation of the future of the brand. The internal designers have the last word, but they have greater access to involve the customer in creation. I don't see this being relevant for all consumers, but for those that are really engaged with the category or the brand, and are opinion leaders in their segment.
Sophie: Can you describe the role of Internet in the development of co-creation? How does Internet help brands to interact with the consumers?
Susan: The internet has provided a means of communicating with customers on a large scale, and allowing tremendous efficiencies in creating supply chains that can accommodate a lot of customization, and customer interaction. Web 2.0 applications like MySpace give people the opportunity to create and interact on a huge scale. This is now setting the standard for what we expect to be able to do generally. So the internet has simultaneously improved the ability to create two-way communication, and raised expectations for it.
I expect that people like Madonna have always been able to enter into a dialogue of co-creation with designers like Gaultier. Patrons of the arts have had some co-creation capability since the time of the Medici. But the presence of the internet, and the general flattening of the global economy, has brought this possibility to a much larger number of people -- it has democratized co-creation.
Sophie: Is co-creation a short term phenomenon or a long term change?
Susan: We don't usually want to give up things we have learned to love. So I would say this is a trend that has long-term legs. But no organization, fashion or otherwise, should think this relieves them of the need to be cool and be design-focused, or to understand their customers and segments. In fact, that need has never been greater.
Co-creation does not mean telling me to go ahead and do-it-myself. It means bringing my ideas as a consumer / customer inside the company, creating an ongoing dialogue with this group, and giving them more influence over direction. In this sense, we could consider co-creation as the next phase of evolution of Voice-of-the-Customer thinking. Except VOC is often a survey, and co-creation is much more connected, more of a dialogue.
Sophie: Last words: suppose you have one advice to give to brand’s managers who want to co-create with consumers, what would it be?
Susan: I think I've said enough already, and am going to throw this one out to the readers. Readers, how would you answer that one?
So Sophie - if you get an A, send us a gold star, okay buddy?