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The Advantage Of Harnessing Consumer Creativity


The Advantage Of Harnessing Consumer Creativity

Watching TV or spending a week on a sandy beach is relaxing, but not fulfilling. Neither experience is involving, nor will we feel entertained and relaxed for any longer than a few hours, if not minutes after it ends. We find fulfillment in creating and discovering new art, which is no longer the exclusivity of elitist galleries catering to a few well-heeled, overly-educated, individuals. Indeed, art has become more accessible and is now omnipresent in our daily life and through social media. Here in lies an opportunity for brands.

Harnessing Consumer Creativity

In my conversation with Marcus Engman, former head of design for IKEA, he emphasized the importance of harnessing consumers’ creativity rather than imposing a finished product on them. For Marcus, creativity is the main currency of today’s world, propelled by social media. “It is not about imposing the designer’s creativity on people but about letting the user design the object themselves.

“You can let the users decide,” says Marcus. Quoting the example of Lego, Marcus reminds us that the bricks themselves are not much to talk about. What is meaningful is what people can create with these bricks. Also, people usually don’t get rid of their Lego bricks because of the value and meaning they carry. For consumers and marketers alike, “being creative means being curious,” says Marcus. “It is the starting point for any good design, communication, or advertising. Curious, creative people ask you about you and don’t talk about themselves.” Asked to reflect on his long tenure at the furnishing giant, Marcus summarized, “I made IKEA a far more curious company.”

The Power Of Visual Literacy

“Visual literacy” is a term used to describe our ability to think, perceive, learn, and communicate with images as well as participating in visual practices using images. It shows our ability to create visual statements to express ourselves and our ability to interpret visual messages. Visual literacy can be learned at art schools and design colleges, and in everyday life through interactions with brands and products. Indeed, our consumer society provides us with an image bath of virtually infinite visual resources needed to develop visual literacy. Dr. Leonie Lynch, who researched visual literacy at length, brought to light that consumers use images as visual short-hand to make quick statements about their everyday lives. They leverage visual techniques to express themselves, communicate with others, and for their aesthetic enjoyment.

For example, consumers stage and compose images for effect, cropping and applying filters to accentuate image qualities. Through the guidance they provide, brands educate consumers in visual literacy and give them the confidence to create images, engage with culture, and become co-authors of the brand narrative. The visual allows the brand to connect with its consumers on a personal and emotional level. These brands create a visual language used by consumers to participate in visual communication. There are several ways in which brands can leverage visual literacy: They can allow consumers to create and interpret messages, statements, and visual images. The “Paul Smith’s Pink Wall” is famous in Los Angeles and all over social media. Everyday, dozens of fashionistas come by the Los Angeles store on Melrose Avenue to take a pose before the wall. As you can see for yourself on Instagram at #paulsmithpinkwall, many of these pictures are real works of art. People express themselves with dance movements, contortions, or glamorized shots enhanced with filters and visual effects. As of April 2017, the wall had generated almost 1,500 geotagged posts, reaching 129 million users combined. The only real cost to the brand is to repaint the wall every three months. That’s visual literacy applied to branding at its best. They can allow consumers to be part of the design process by allowing them to personalize products.

NIKEiD provides another example by enabling customers to customize their sneakers extensively. Shoppers can add logos on the midsole and the lateral tip of the shoe, customize the “swoosh” from twelve different colors along with the base, heel, and even laces of the sneakers. They can dramatize and perform their brand myths and stories through visuals.

Artist-led brands such as fashion designer Orla Kiely, artist Romero Britto, or designer Philippe Starck educate consumers on visual meaning and design. They also help them express themselves through a range of products from prints, to kitchenware, luggage, stationary, kitchen utensils, and even cars. Their designs combine visual elements such as textures, lines, dots, shape, directions, scales, form, and space to provide consumers with a collection of visual tools that convey balance, harmony, contrast, or variety. Brands can also provide consumers with detailed instructions on how to design their homes and interiors or assemble outfits.

You will find many more case studies and tips in my new book Brand Hacks: How to Grow your Brand by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.

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