Businesses that connect with the creativity of their customers forge meaningful connections and add value to their products.
Self-expression is a fundamental human need. Answering that need fosters a deep sense of reward and community. By channeling that creativity into brands and products, businesses can transform customers into communities - and their products into conversations that bring people together.
Engaging an invested and creative audience opens up the chance for exposure to new ideas and opportunities. It creates the chance for businesses and customers to come together and collaborate to enhance, or even create, products.
The first time I saw this was way back in 2008 with Radiohead’s competition surrounding the release of their album ‘In Rainbows’. By inviting their fans to remix and create new music from the songs on that album, Radiohead created a platform to showcase their fans, reciprocate their support, created the incentive for their audience to share and publicise their album, and what later lead to the tools to create an entirely new product - an album of some of the remixes.
What’s enabling creativity?
It’s an exciting time for creativity. There are a number of factors coming together that are reducing barriers and making tools easier and more fun to use.
As creative technologies become more widespread, so do opportunities for the creative urge to express itself. On the release of the iPhone 3GS, the first iPhone with the ingredients to record video and share it, YouTube saw uploads from mobile devices increase by 400%. Popular, ubiquitous technologies like smartphones are giving us the tools to create using photography and video.
In the early days of the internet, to process images and post them online required expensive software and an array of design and coding skills. By creating a visual interface that encourages experimentation with effects and styles, Instagram moved those cryptic processes into the background, making it easy and fun. As we get better at making complex processes more accessible, what were once difficult tasks become more intuitive and rewarding.
Touch is appealing
Touch devices offer a creative experience closer to entrenched behaviours such as paper and ink, which could lead to more intuitive and tactile tools. As touch device sales overtake traditional PCs, it’s safe to assume that users will feel closer to the content they create.
What are the future implications?
Since the release of a Morgan Stanley report in 2010 (PDF), many organisations have expected mobile internet use will overtake that on desktop computers by 2015. These things have a way of bucking expected trends, so it'll no doubt happen sooner. Meanwhile, mobile is maturing as a creative medium. In February 2013, Adobe - a leading producer of digital creative software - launched a range of creative tools for mobile devices, including a version of their keystone product Photoshop. This suggests both the importance of mobile as a creative medium, but also that the technology and interfaces for mobile are maturing to make complex tools more usable.
It’s important to acknowledge the contribution that creators make by giving them credit. As creation becomes a more important part of everyday online activity, there may be more need expressed for authorship to be integrated into the ways that we create and distribute content online. A robust attribution system will make sure that the people that create great content get the credit they deserve - even after it’s shared, posted, tweeted and remixed. Systems like Creative Commons licences are giving content creators big and small the ability to control their content, while at the same time opening up the possibilities of how it’s used.
Just as the ‘cut and paste’ look of the punk movement was defined by the tools and materials available, so too will creativity on branded platforms be defined by the tools and the interface. For instance, on mobile devices, touch relys on gestures from fingers so there would be a limited number of movements - and so shapes and lines - available.
With the prolific adoption of camera phones, there are more images being captured than ever before in human history. With so many photographers out there, the chances of capturing moments of great beauty, novelty and serendipity are almost certain.
It’s impossible to plan user generated content. You have to create the tools and then respond to how they are used. It is possible to guide what audiences can do by setting the mood with tone of voice and tools focused on desired behaviours. It’s important to remember the change in mindset needed to engage a community, rather than broadcast to an audience, requires a conversational approach. What you can plan for is how to measure the way customers are using a tool and when those measurements suggest the need for a response.
Lego Super Hero Movie Maker
Lego’s app allows their customers to quickly and easily create stop-motion animated films with lego products, adding value to their core product.
Touch Mix allows users to create new music based on samples from their favourite musicians and share it with the world. This reinforces the value of that music by using it as a means for the community that’s developed around it to express themselves.