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Co-creation: Why creators should be part of your product development team


Everyone—from marketers to social media users—loves creators. According to a Q1 2023 Sprout pulse survey, over two-thirds (79%) of marketers plan to spend up to 50% of their total social budget on content creators. Another 39% of marketers work with creators on a monthly basis. Digital content creators are reshaping brand strategy for the better.

But as social media’s influence moves from marketing departments to other business functions, it might be time to think about creators in the same light. Obviously, creators won’t ever man your customer care lines, but their in-depth knowledge of their communities (a.k.a. your potential customers) can come in handy. Creators already have their hands in sales with affiliate marketing. It might be time to think about integrating them into another key function of your business: product development.

What brands can accomplish with co-creation

Creators have platforms because they understand their audience. They know what their audience wants to see, what problems they’re facing and what stories are relevant to them. That foundational knowledge is the basis of product design and research.

Tapping into that knowledge source can be invaluable for brands. After all, an unfiltered comment section on a creator video will give you far better insight into your consumer than any formal survey or focus group ever could. In a world where businesses increasingly rely on social data, creators can provide qualitative insights to complement the quantitative results you get from social listening.

If you don’t take advantage of creator insights, they might do it themselves. Today’s marketing collaborator could easily become tomorrow’s competition. We’ve seen dozens of creators parlay their consumer insights, and existing customer base, into successful independent brands.

For example, creator Emma Chamberlain launched her own coffee company in 2020, garnering a $7 million Series A round in the process. Partnering with creators before they decide to go it alone can knock out potential competition before it emerges.

Case studies in successful co-creation

The idea of bringing creators to the product development table is new, but it’s not untested. We’ve seen successful collaborations across industries that bring value to both the company and the creator.

The Shutterfly Collective

Shutterfly, an online retailer specializing in personalized products, launched The Shutterfly Collective, a limited collection designed by influencers in July 2022. They paired popular creators like Brittany Broski, Chris Olsen, Serena Kerrigan and Elsa Majimbo with designers to create over 4,000 new designs for their customers. Shutterfly capitalized on these creators’ personal sense of style and knowledge of the customer to create captivating designs for their customizable products.

Tabitha Brown for Target

Tabitha Brown rose to prominence as a creator in 2020 as the perfect package of personality and style. She started out sharing vegan recipes on social media and quickly garnered a following through her warmth and authenticity. Recognizing Tabitha’s range, Target reached out for an unprecedented co-creation partnership that reached almost every aisle in the store.

Tabitha Brown for Target features apparel, home goods, office supplies, food, pet items and kitchenware. Each piece is inspired by her outgoing personality, commitment to health and overall charisma. It’s the result of a two-year partnership and fans absolutely love it.

Tabasco x Tinx

Your customer might be using your product in ways you’re not thinking about. For instance, Tabasco has been making hot sauce since 1869. In that time, they’ve made different varieties of their sauce, but they’ve firmly stayed in that lane.

Enter creator Christina Najarr, better known as Tinx on social media. When she posted a video about “drowning” her guacamole in green Tabasco as a DIY dressing for her Chipotle bowl, it caught the legacy brand’s attention. The result of their co-creation effort was an entirely new product for the company, an avocado green hot sauce dressing.

How to bring creators into your product development process

If you’ve been inspired to bring creators into your product development process, here are some tips to get you started.

Start with data

As they say, it’s not what you know, but who you know. You likely have a roster of creators you’ve worked with in the past. Scrutinize the data on those collaborations and look for patterns. Which campaigns were most successful? Which creators have a pulse on the demographics you’re trying to reach? What trends are you seeing across the board with your creators? All of that information is incredibly valuable when you’re figuring out which creator is best suited for the co-creation process.

Forge a new kind of focus group

Creators’ communities are living focus groups. Creators themselves are steeped in the opinions of their audience, which can help you eliminate some of the cost and time-intensive aspects of your product development process. If you bring in the right creators early on, you can cut down on the number of iterations and get to a viable product that much faster. If a creator says something will work, trust them. Obviously, you’ll still need to test and ideate, but creators should be a main source of information—and inspiration.

Make it make sense

Don’t embark on co-creation just for the sake of trying it. Make sure you’re working with someone who makes sense for your business, audience and the rest of your product roadmap. It took two years for Target to expand Tabitha Brown’s line to their entire store. Take your time and make sure you’re creating products your audience actually wants.

And remember: Bigger isn’t always better. When you’re co-creating, it’s better to have a creator partner with a deep understanding of their audience and a strong point of view than a creator with a larger follower count. The best co-creation benefits come from creators with a clearly defined niche.

Be on equal footing

You’re an expert in your product. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be running the show. Creators have a unique window into your audience, making them the experts on what they want. They’ll be putting their name—and reputation—on this product in the same way you will, so approach them as equal partners in the process.

Co-creation is just good business

Creators are one of the most valuable resources your company has access to if you can collaborate with them effectively. However you’re looking to leverage creators, our creator economy data report has insights you need to get started.

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