Creative Consumers: What’s your stance?

Creative consumers are defined as:
 "customers who adapt, modify, or transform
a proprietary offering" (Berthon et al. 2007: 39)

A few years back I wrote a paper with colleagues (Pierre Berthon, Leyland Pitt and Stephen Kates) on the phenomenon of creative consumers. These are individuals, or communities of individuals, who adapt or modify a proprietary product offering. They tinker and experiment with almost any product, ranging from automobiles to cell phones.
Traditionally, companies have disliked consumers messing with their products. They have got annoyed when the product is modified and used in a way in which it was not necessarily designed e.g., networking several Sony PlayStation 3 consoles to make a super computer. They can also get irritated when consumers alter their products and use them in regions of the world where they are not yet available, e.g., when iPhones were first released in the US they were hacked to work in Canada where they were not yet released. And firms get really angry when consumers modify products, such as the Xbox, to use pirated content. Consequently, many companies have tended to view creative consumers as threats to their business revenues and damaging to the reputation of their product brands.
In our paper, however, we argue that even though some creative consumers might initially signify a black hole for future revenue because they breach copyright and intellectual property, they also represent a gold mine of ideas and business opportunities. To explain this we developed a framework to articulate and illustrate four strategic responses that firms might have towards creative consumers - see Figure 1 (Berthon et al. 2007). For a more detailed description of each stance, see the full article.

We argue that responding to the threats and opportunities of creative consumers will require firms to manage a three-way fit between:
  1. A specific stance toward creative consumers;
  2. The relative ability and desire of consumers to adapt, modify, and transform their products; and,
  3. The firm’s ability to scan, track, and control consumer-produced innovations.
What stance does your organization have?

If it has more than one stance, how does it manage any potential conflict between the stances?

You can also download and view a presentation of these research ideas here:


  1. Very useful framework, but should a company have a "stance" or a strategy? A strategy of keeping customers inert and non-creative would seem to benefit only those companies who are inert and non-creative themselves. If the business goal is to create customers, breeding a core group of those customers in the upper right quadrant may enable the company to use those customers as a competitive weapon--a major advantage.

    Personally I see this as the task of brands, which I consider to be methods of creating value through customers.

    PS: The "full article" link did not work for me. Timed out.

  2. I came across your work while researching for my master thesis and 'Figure 1' indeed makes a lot of sense. I've got 2 questions, however:
    - do you consider mass customization as "enabled" ou "encouraged" ? Or none of them ?
    - should companies try to harness consumers' creativity by bringing them into firm-hosted communities, or is it better not to harness their creativity in any way ?

  3. If you can't beat them join them, embracing this is very important especially when open innovation, crowdsourcing and other initiatives of building open systems to innovate new things.

    Let's take for example Johnny Lee who took the wii remote and turned it into a head tracking product, these are creative consumers obviously with smart knowledge to make this happen, so thus these creative consumers need to be embraced.

    on the other hand when you have large amount of creative consumers who now have their own platforms, their own networks and are building things out of other things, these also need to be embraced, know longer is it about creative consumers, but creative co-producers with companies who can make some of the things these creative users are doing to co creative value

  4. Great comments!! Thanks.

    The stance or strategy (startgeic stance??) that a company adopts will “depend” on the business goal, the nature of the product and the market, the motivations of the creative consumers, etc. Also, companies and consumers change and learn. For instance, I see that Microsoft has altered its stance to Xbox Kinect hackers from “discourage to “enable”:

    I am not sure about the link between mass customization and user innovation. I think Joseph Pine’s notion of “adaptive customization” might be a constrained notion of user innovation.