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Imagine…Today’s the big day: the day your agency partner presents ideas and solutions to your brand. After a thorough process of finding this agency, you challenged them to meet the changing landscape of your customers’ needs by reinventing your product line. They’ve conducted workshops with you, key stakeholders and product teams. They’ve interviewed your customers and remote offices. They’ve even sat in your call center to hear real customer complaints and issues. Then they went away….
Today you’re seeing the fruits of their labors with unbridled excitement. The agency kicks off the presentation, but by the end you’re left disappointed. Yes, they understood the challenge and brief. Yes, they did talk to your teams and stakeholders. And yes, they brought in industry experts to tackle this challenge. But it just fell short. If they had talked to Jim on the product team, they could have understood why this solution won’t work. Or if they had met with Sally in marketing, the activation plan would be better. Now what do you do?
We’ve all been there. We’ve spent a lot of money to find ‘almost there’ solutions, and it becomes a struggle to move forward. Do you compromise because you don’t have time or budget to go back to the drawing board?
Maybe it’s time to consider co-creation.
The main reason to hire an agency is for their expertise to help solve problems. They hire talent and bring subject matter experts in areas where your brand may have gaps. They will have an impressive roster of clients whose problems are similar to yours. But even with those credentials, your team will still have expertise the agency doesn’t. Who knows your organization’s systems, processes, products and quirky nuances better than your team? Not that agency you just hired. And that’s why co-creation can be extremely beneficial.
By co-creation, we don’t mean a discovery phase with interviews and research. Rather, co-creation enables organizations and agencies to originate and accelerate the development of standout ideas. In a compressed span of time – usually just a few days to a week – your stakeholders come together with the agency to dissect a complex problem through an iterative and collaborative process and arrive at a prototyped solution.
Two methods that break the mold of existing organization-agency relationships are design thinking and agile development methodologies. Both are rooted in the idea of focused intent; you can deliver working products in a short period of time, and then iterate on those products until completion. Using these methods in place of a more traditional approach, your stakeholders are engaged along the way, with sign-offs to ensure the solution meets all use cases and captures all perspectives.
For Wiley Education Services, using co-creation methodology with ICF Next has led to new partnership opportunities and improved customer experiences. Wiley, which helps universities build their educational platforms for online degree programs, had started to see the number of abandoned applications (student prospects who decide not to continue the application process or do not complete it) increase year-over-year. They believed the application experience and application workflow design made the process too cumbersome and lengthy for students.
So, Wiley and ICF Next worked through two, week-long workshops to create a new student-prospect experience, one that exceeds any online applications that exist today. In the first design sprint, the team envisioned various models for specific student pain points within the application process, building a prototype that captured the prospect's entire application journey. The second week, the team focused on one priority aspect of the process, student transcripts. which led to a prototype with enough fidelity for a partnership with National Student Clearinghouse. The outcome? A new solution that decreased the amount of time to get transcripts from 14 days to 48 hours.
Co-creation can effectively kick off new products and projects, and can also breathe new life into existing products and services. In either case, the collaborative process leverages the complementary strengths of brands and agency participants to spark innovation.
When done well, the co-creation process that unfolds behind closed doors – collaborative idea sharing, rapid prototyping, agile development – is exhilarating, inspiring, and incredibly effective.
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