Collaboration between brands, brands and consumers, and within team structures is nothing new. After all, the best way to find out what your audience wants is to ask them, right?

In the agency environment, the creative process has generally been the reserve of the creative team in service of the client or business stakeholder. With co-creation, this line becomes blurred, as stakeholders increasingly become part of the ideation and, well, creation process. There have been some epic examples of brand collaborations over the years, but co-creation takes collaboration a step further. It isn’t simply implementing an idea that originates from a consumer or employee, it’s about involving outside stakeholders from inception, including them in the ideation process and making those ideas or that feedback central to the development process of a product or a service.


Co-creation is fast becoming a key ingredient for next-gen brand innovation. According to a white paper by audience collaboration tech firm, Bulbshare, 86% of consumers said brands that co-create are more trustworthy, and 79% felt that being involved in a brand’s online community would make them feel more involved with that brand. While co-creation and collaboration may have similarities, they really aren’t the same thing. In her article on the differences between the two, Lauren Fleiser, author, entrepreneur and a master in product co-creation, explains that while “collaboration produces a familiar team output”, “co-creation produces something that did not exist before”.

LEGO Ideas is an excellent example of successful co-creation. Fans submit concepts for new LEGO sets, which are voted on by other fans. Once votes hit a certain threshold, those concepts are then considered for production, and the submitter earns a percentage of the global profits. As a reflection of consumer relevance, co-creations typically receive revenue performance of up to 40% higher than average.

In contrast, and to Lauren’s point about collaborations producing a familiar output, Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu created a one-of-a-kind work of art when she collaborated with Rolls-Royce, embellishing the interior of a Rolls-Royce Phantom with her brightly coloured designs.


The Unilever Open Innovation platform also exemplifies meaningful co-creation at all levels of the value chain – across categories ranging from climate and nature preservation to waste management, nutrition and more. It invites established suppliers, academics, designers and regular consumers to contribute ideas for these challenges in an effort to improve their products and services.

Ikea’s co-createIkea is also a well-known example. The Swedish company invites consumers to share their struggles and wishes at home and to be part of creating new product lines. Key to the process is transparency – working together with the consumer every step of the way.


To put your ideas on the table and allow others (strangers even) to give input requires a great deal of trust and willingness for your ideas to be tweaked. This can be challenging for creatives, who easily become attached to their original concepts. But co-creating enables the idea to grow legs and evolve into something greater than what you might have come up with on your own.

MOSAIC (Maximizing Options to Advance Informed Choice for HIV Prevention) is another great example of co-creation. A global project funded by USAID, the objective of the Africa-focused project is to ensure that individuals, especially young women, can protect themselves from acquiring HIV. And 2Stories is a part of the team. “It’s a collaborative effort between different agencies and institutions, which could seem like a nightmare to manage, but isn’t,” says Chrisna Basson, senior strategist at 2Stories.

“2Stories has worked alongside our project youth advisors, who are all young women themselves, to truly bring them into the process. Co-creating in marketing and communication is not something that is traditionally done in global health, and is something we hope will lead to greater innovation in the space,” adds Emily de Lacy Donaldson, HIV Prevention Technical Advisor II at Mosaic.

Underpinning the success of the project so far is an inherent culture of honesty and openness. “We have learnt to (or you could say chosen to) trust one another. We sit with team members from all over Africa and the US, who each bring different perspectives and experiences. This is incredibly useful because it keeps you objective and energised,” says Chrisna.

How is the project driven or executed, practically speaking? A key practice has been to make it easy for everyone to contribute, which is as simple as setting up and sharing documents on the cloud, and showing up for weekly check-ins.

“Clear and objective two-way communication and production timelines keep everyone accountable and clear on where and when they need to contribute,” says 2Stories co-founder Joanne Hope. “You also need to work in sprints instead of deadlines. For co-creation to work, you can’t wait for a presentation, creative or copy to be perfect. You have to be willing to share work in progress.” And that is where the challenge lies.