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Tequila. The mere word might be enough to bring back memories of poor choices made in the form of a round of shooters at 1:30am - and, subsequently, the headache the morning after. Or perhaps, like me, you think of it as one of the most misunderstood spirits today.

In a recent internal project, we explored the idea of selling tequila as a product that can be more widely sold in stores. We ran the project to collect data and better demonstrate how ideation works and invited people to participate in an innovation community where they could submit and vote on new tequila product ideas.

The lessons I learned running the project can benefit brands that tap into their customers' creativity when generating next-generation product and service ideas. Here are six things to keep in mind if you plan on co-creating with your customers:

  1. Set clear (but not too restrictive) objectives.

As it turns out, not everyone loves tequila. Some people love it, some are indifferent, but others hate it with passion. It was important for us to frame the problem clearly to appeal to all groups. So when presenting people with options, we had to ask, "If you hate tequila, what might make you want to try it?" and "If you like tequila, what might make you want to buy it more often?"

It can be a tricky balance. You want to provide enough information without stifling people's ideas. But if you have a clear research objective in mind, it's easier to write clear instructions that can also get the creative juices flowing.

In our case, a major research goal was to create a new product that can be sold in stores. We didn't say what type of product or how it would be used (since we thought that might skew people's answers and perhaps send some people down a path they would not have originally gone down), but we did explain that we were trying to solve a problem: we wanted more people to use the product category.

  1. Prepare for some "bad data" and outliers.

Some ideas required scrubbing. Some people in the innovation community may have misread the challenge or interpreted it uniquely: perhaps they hit "submit" accidentally before they could finish the idea. It could also be that they threw together an idea without much thought.

While the majority of the ideas submitted were great, many contributors provided more details than we expected. We've received well thought-out marketing plans, complete with product line extensions and other promotion details, when we only asked for an idea for a new tequila-based product.

It's not unusual to have outliers, people who are notably different from the rest - in this case, those who provided significantly more (or significantly less) than the average participant. Have a plan for monitoring and dealing with these types of ideas. Great ideas can come from outliers, but they can also skew the voting process. For example, a very detailed idea might get more votes (regardless of whether the actual idea itself is better) just because they tend to stand out and people have more information about them. On the flip side, some people may get turned off by too much text and might not consider such ideas at all.

  1. Recruit the right mix of people.

To get the right ideas, you need to have the right mix of people who are excited to participate in co-creation. (These people are pretty easy to find in your insight community since community members already have an affinity to your brand.) You also need people who may not be able to come up with creative ideas themselves but who can identify great ideas when they see them or who can offer constructive evaluation to working ideas.

The recruitment process is essential in any insight community, but even more so for a co-creation project. You'll have a better shot at getting high-quality ideas if you know who you want to reach. Qualifying people who are already involved with the product category will ensure that you get ideas for products that are not in the market yet, but sometimes it's those with no involvement who can bring fresh, non-biased ideas to the table. Think about creative recruitment methods that can help you attract the right consumers.

  1. Offer appropriate incentives.

People in the innovation community valued being recognized for their efforts. When it comes to rewarding people in your innovation community, giving credit where credit is due goes a long way.

Extrinsic incentives such as iPads or monetary rewards are important, but intrinsic rewards are just as crucial. Your incentives should match what you're asking for: if the project will take up a lot of people's time because the product or the category is complex, then the reward - both extrinsic and intrinsic - should reflect that.

  1. Get buy-in from other stakeholders.

One of the biggest roadblocks for companies doing co-creation projects isn't necessarily the process as much as it is about what happens afterward. When departments are so separate in a company, projects sometimes go nowhere, resulting in wasted efforts. For example, ideas from a co-creation project run by the insights team might go nowhere if they weren't vetted by legal, evaluated for logistics and feasibility by the R&D team, and evaluated by marketing to assess brand fit.

My advice? Engage the necessary departments as early as possible. Get buy-in from the necessary stakeholders and keep their needs and requirements in mind when planning and executing the project.

  1. Have a plan of action for what happens after the co-creation project.

Depending on the company you're working with, you may get a report or a bunch of data after the project. But innovation doesn't stop at ideas. Even before the project starts, have your ducks in a row and determine the appropriate next steps once you have the ideas in your hands. Agree on key decision-makers to avoid wasting time and effort after the project.

New products need to start with good ideas - and co-creation is an efficient and effective way of generating great ideas. Just like tequila, co-creation deserves more attention - the latter from brands looking to find innovative ideas.

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