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In recent years the market for old fashioned toys has been steadily slipping away as children move to Xbox's and tablet computers for their excitement. The one exception to this has been Lego, who calculate that their are enough of its little bricks around for every person on the planet to own 86 of them.. It was not always so; for a while in the 1990s Lego looked like it was in terminal decline.
To move Lego from the abyss back into the forefront, delighting children and parents alike (not to mention analog grandparents) the company teamed up with its customers. Many of the best products produced by Lego began to be developed by unpaid customers who were occasionally supported with free product but who beavered away with new ideas for the delight of being involved.
It seemed remarkable and we named it "co-creation"; a business strategy which is based on interactive relationships, working for an active involvement from the customer to create a value rich experience. Beyond Lego other companies such as Microsoft and Coca-Cola (with their new FreeStyle fountain dispenser) now use co-creation and Burberry's inverted marketing is sometimes considered in the same category.
In the business-to-business world, of course, this is nothing new. Who would make a new wheel system for an Airbus airliner without working with the Airbus engineers to ensure all elements were fully compatible? It is increasingly rare for any manufacturer to be so confident in its product being correct in every aspect as not to consult with its clients.
Co-creation is just one of a number of areas where business-to-business thinking is spilling over into the business-to-consumer world, driven by the expectations opened up by new technologies and better education. One unifying feature of all these developments, be it co-creation or more complex thinking such as service dominant logic, is that it forces businesses to become much more customer oriented.
This is much needed still in our tanneries. It is to easy to get fixated by our involvement in the raw material, to see the hide with the hair off for the first time and to process it in the "conventional way" as that is “the correct thing to do”. Of course what is the accepted treatment today need not be the only treatment and a look back into the past often uncovers better ways of dealing with surface characteristics. Working with designers, engineers (real education is required here) and other customers to co-create consumer value opens up exciting avenues and opportunities. Innovation in leather making and everything around should never become static.
If we want to change the conversation about natural materials in general and about leather in particular and if we want to add value to all grades going through the tannery we need to focus on customer experience. It is time to go co-creating!
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