In an increasingly more competitive product and service environment, the need to have an ongoing service innovation for companies in order to successfully compete in the market has never been bigger (Bugshan, 2014). A McKinsey report identifies several things to be the cause of this increasing pressure to innovate on service companies, such as big data and advanced analytics, the Internet of Things and the rise of the mobile internet with a skyrocketing offering for mobile self-service apps (Duncan, 2015). The last aspect might not simply be a cause for this effect, but it might also serve as a powerful tool that companies can utilize in their quest to increase co-innovation and value co-creation, especially when looking at the tech savvy Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1994). The work of Zhang, Lu and Kizilag (2017) is examining the motivations of this generation to increase their participation in value co-creation to make better products and services and for companies to remain competitive. Engaging this generation is very importance due to them being close to digital natives and representing a very sizable part of the overall population (22% in the US) (Schroeder, 2018). Even though the next Generation Z (1994 – today) is even more tech savvy, the are often not of age and are hence often not the customers of many products due to their young age.
Why should companies focus on engaging Generation Y in value co-creation activities?
Generation Y is/has:
General facts given by Zhang et al (2017)
- Tech savvy
- Stable income
- Entrepreneurial spirit
- High degree of social interaction and belonging
Additional facts from a background paper by Halliday & Astafyeva (2014)
- Drive for entertainment and experience (satisfied by chance to have an impact on a company’s value offering)
- High need for self-actualization (fulfilled by creating their own version of a company’s product)
- Prestige (gained due to positive exposure their idea gets if used by company)
The research explores how members of Generation Y can be engaged for co-creation through mobile technologies and what the antecedents of the adoption of mobile technology for co-creation are from innovation theory. Utilizing this can become a primary source of competitive advantage, such as in the case of Made.com an e-retail company that puts the decision of what goes from the drawing board into production in the customers hands and was able to grow by 37% in 2018 due to this co-creation strategy (Neerman, 2019).
To establish what influences the co-creation activities of Generation Y the authors use a diffusion of innovation (DOI) framework and analyze the influence of the technical, social and individual dimension on co-creation activities via mobile technology. The analysis of the responses of 689 Generation Y co-creators via mobile technologies revealed that the most important dimension for them is a social community where they are relying on an interpersonal and peer network and on informal communication with the company and other co-creators. The factors that were found to have a significant positive influence on mobile co-creation activities are visualized in Figure 1.
So what motivates Generation Y customers to engage in value co-creation via mobile apps?
Figure 1: Dimensions and factors having a positive impact on value co-creation by Generation Y, based on research of Zhang et. al. (2017)
Interpersonal networks are consisting of the social environment of a person and the findings suggest that the degree to which this network is present in a co-creation context increases the co-value creating activities due to the social response that the people get.
Peer networks within the DOI framework are examining the closeness of the relationships among co-creators and are contributing to co-creation. The better the relationship, the higher the likelihood to share information, increase interaction to co-create with others due to increased trust and willingness to accept other’s recommendations.
While peer networks create a closeness between different co-creators to share ideas, the research finds out that it is equally important to have a frequent and informal exchange of ideas between the potential co-creators and the company with whom they are engaging. Examples of such an informal communication existed at Lego, where customers were given the ability to interact with each other and Lego through the My Lego Network until 2015 (Fandom, 2019).
The individual dimension, in this study measured by the factor of consumer innovativeness, was found to have a positive impact on the contribution as well, showing that some factors might be beyond the influence of a company, should they try to use this research to build a co-creation strategy.
Interestingly out of the three proposed factors of the dimension of technology, only one (ease of use) was found to be important. Ease of use contributes to the co-creation activities of Generation Y due to its role as a facilitator of the adoption of new technologies, such as the applications that were in scope during this research.
How can companies better engage Generation Y?
To improve the engagement of Generation Y there are several useful findings from this research, that companies can utilize. Entrepreneurial spirit of the targeted customer and ease of use of the applications seem to be important enablers of co-innovation without customer engagement does not work. The real art of value co-creation lies in the building of social communities, were this research has provided very interesting further refinements along which a company can build the social environment to ensure a high degree of customer co-creation. To visualize the varying degree of how appealing online offerings are to generate value co-creation and how they can be improved based on this research, two companies LEGO and P&G will be examined.
P&G the Laggard (per Zhang et al):
- Has an online offering for value co-creation called P&G Development & Connect
- Gives the customer access to predefined areas where the company would like the customers to submit their ideas
- Only one-way communication from the company to customer
- No informal way of communication
- No community building with regards to interpersonal networks or peer networks
Improve Generation Y-Activity by:
- Allow customers to chat with the company in (interpersonal communication)
- Build a community, where equal minded individuals can share and review ideas (peer and interpersonal network building)
LEGO (text book example (per Zhang et al)):
- Has 6 different communities each serving a different segment (e.g. LEGO Mindstorms for older customers with tech affinity, LEGO Movie Maker for customers interested in directing and editing film, etc.)
- These communities are separated to allow the peer groups to be even similar and foster social interaction, trust and collaboration
can interact via Twitter and chat to get the thoughts of LEGO employees on
As can be seen by the two examples LEGO has built a very differentiated strategy for customers to interact with them, satisfying all the dimensions found by the research of Zhang et al (2017). P&G has some areas of improvement and it appears that this lag might be due to a focus on an older generation and hence the negligence of factors that are important for the engagement of Generation Y. Yet, as stated previously, even large and established cooperation can benefit from value co-creation from Generation Y and a first step towards this would be to consider the dimensions found by Zhang et al (2017).
Room for improvement
Even though this research provides a very interesting first starting point for academics and practitioners, it is of exploratory nature and has some weaknesses. The study was only conducted among value co-creators, so there is no distinction possible to non-creators. Further the dimensions are very broad and future research especially on the social dimension would be very interesting to fully understand the phenomenon that are taking place and gain insights that can be utilized by practitioners and academics alike.
Bugshan, H. (2014). Co-innovation: The role of online communities. Journal of Strategic Marketing,23(2), 175-186. doi:10.1080/0965254x.2014.920905
Duncan, E. (2015, February). Service innovation in a digital world. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/service-innovation-in-a-digital-world
Fandom. (2019). My LEGO Network. Retrieved February 28, 2019, from https://mylegonetwork.fandom.com/wiki/My_LEGO_Network
Halliday, S. V., & Astafyeva, A. (2014).
Millennial cultural consumers: Co-creating value through brand communities.
Arts Marketing: An International Journal, 4(1/2), 119-135.
Neerman, P. (2019, February 08). Made.com grows by 37%: “We can afford to fail”. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://www.retaildetail.eu/en/news/furniture/madecom-grows-37-we-can-afford-fail
Schroeder, W. J. (2018). Generations X,Y, Z and the Others. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from http://socialmarketing.org/archives/generations-xy-z-and-the-others/
Zhang, T. C., Lu, C., & Kizildag, M. (2017). Engaging Generation Y to Co-Create Through Mobile Technology. International Journal of Electronic Commerce,21(4), 489-516. doi:10.1080/10864415.2016.1355639