Friday 13th of December 2013 may be perceived as a day loaded with superstition. However on this day doctorial students, professors and persons interested in research gathered at the KU Leuven for the interesting occasion of the 18th edition of the annual Marketing Winter Camp. One of the presentations that triggered my attention talked about user-driven firms, by Professor Christoph Fuchs. The key research question here was whether user-driven firms lead to an increased preference amongst consumers. An interesting debate, if you ask me.

What exactly are user-driven firms?

A commonly used example when referring to these types of firms is Threadless, a Chicago-based e-commerce website selling t-shirts. The unique aspect of their business plan is that the different designs are created and chosen by an online community. Each week, around 1,000 designs are submitted and the community gets a chance to vote on their favorite design. The winning designs are selected based on the votes and community feedback and are printed on the shirts.

Threadless community

The core idea is built around the philosophy of crowdsourcing, where you rely on your community for innovation and conceptualization. This formula offers several benefits, Threadless does not have any designers on the payroll, which leads to cost-efficiency. Next, the success rate of these types of products is likely to be higher, as a community votes prior to market launch. This formula basically integrates some form of pre-testing before the actual product development.

Do non-participating consumers also like it?

Since community members are involved in the conceptualization and in the decision-making process, they are likely to choose the products they help co-create. But do consumers who are not part of such a crowdsourcing community share this increased level of preference for co-created items? Professor Christopher Fuchs uses the social identity theory to explain the impact of crowdsourcing on preference.

The social identity theory explains that our personal identity can match a social identity. This is done by the principle of self-selection. Your social identity might be triggered by a shared aspect, for example your country of origin. Yet, it could also be triggered by the identification with user groups. You might identify with other users because you feel they are just like you. The latter thus has an influence on preference.

Hands thumbs upComparison testing done by Professor Christophe Fuchs showed that products co-created by other users trigger this social identity and entail an increase in preference in comparison with products which are created internally by a cooperation.

In this environment where consumers are confronted on a daily basis with an overload of choices when buying a certain product, this co-creation effect on preference might be yet another heuristic that could just help consumers in their decision-making.

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