In today's ever-changing, increasingly interactive media world, marketers are captivated by a new business buzzword: "consumer-generated content."

While word-of-mouth has always been powerful, consumer-accessible technology (the Internet, podcasting, video production, social networks, etc.) puts it on steroids.

Success in this new world order requires marketers to develop a new perspective, a new skill set, and a new role in consumers' lives.

Those who do will be hailed as tomorrow's marketing innovators. Those who don't will be labeled with the dreaded T-word: "traditional."

The Age of Co-Creation

In the future, our job as marketers will be, dare I say, to collaborate with our consumers and co-create marketing content—to co-design the brand experience in all its forms. For those who can loosen their grip on their brands and go boldly, openly, and honestly into a true partnership with their consumers, amazing relationships will blossom.

This paradigm change will not be without perils and pitfalls. Marketers' tendencies to manipulate consumers will be met with disdain and distrust (and disseminated rapidly via the Web), but those willing to hear the bad with the good and empower consumers to express themselves, regardless of the consumers' views, will be rewarded with preference and loyalty.

Successful practitioners of co-creation will bridge the divide between skeptical consumers and the once impervious, impenetrable corporation.

The Rise of the Consumer Catalysts

Marketers and their agencies will need to retool, repurpose, and reinvent their skills, transforming their efforts to understand consumer needs into an uncommon alliance.

They must now both engage and enable:

  • Write a new job description: Consumer Catalyst

    I don't know if there will be a job title in the future called "Catalyst for Co-Creation," but there most certainly should be a job function that takes the brand/consumer relationship to a whole new level of equality and mutual respect.

    This new organizational function goes far beyond the tradition of merely listening to the "voice of the consumer." What's needed are true consumer allies within your organization who can play the game-changing role of maintaining constant contact with your consumer, relentlessly searching for ways to extend consumers' creativity into the marketing process in real time, all the time.
  • Shatter the glass wall between the consumer and your brand teams

    Instead of spending endless hours behind one-way mirrors hoping to glean insight from unsuspecting consumers, create a collaborative atmosphere where marketers' ambitions and consumers' desires come face-to-face.

    At The Martin Agency, for example, we've developed "The Brand Exchange," a discussion session that breaks down that wall and puts marketers and their customers in the same room—as equals—to collaborate on business-building ideas, creating synergy out of what has been an adversarial relationship.
  • Learn from the early successes in co-creation

    Martin's UPS blog for its "Race the Truck" NASCAR sponsorship and GEICO's Caveman Crib Web site invite consumers to go behind the scenes and engage in writing an a ongoing storyline with the brand.

    Dove's Real Women campaign puts the consumer front and center of the marketing effort by making her, not the product, "the star" of the campaign.

    Doritos and Chevrolet have engaged in co-creation by inviting consumers to create advertising for their respective brands.

    In fact, the prestigious Cannes advertising awards have acknowledged the importance of co-creation by sponsoring, along with Yahoo, a global competition for consumer-generated advertising.

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How such partnerships come to life will be as different as consumers and their relationships with brands. But if they are relationships that truly foster co-creation with consumers, they are sure to have a unique and profound impact on how businesses gain a competitive advantage in the future.

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Earl Cox (, partner and Chief Strategy Officer at The Martin Agency, is recognized as one of the leaders of the US account planning movement.