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How personalisation has allowed these businesses to offer unique experiences

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While bespoke or custom-made products have existed since the Industrial Revolution, for example in the automotive, niche and luxury sectors, more recently new business models have embraced customisation and are offering it across a wider set of categories.

In fact, companies have been formed to provide a commercial outlet for this new wave of creativity. Etsy is now the largest online marketplace for handmade items, with over one million active sellers in 200 countries. 

For business leaders looking to tap into the trend, the first task is to recognise and remember how different your customers are, both in terms of their value to you, and in terms of what they need from you.

According to Don Peppers, founding partner at Peppers & Rogers Group, the next task is to render different “treatments” for different customers, and in order to scale this process economically you have to reduce the need for manual intervention or constant human oversight.

This process is called mass customisation. 

Think of how you can break down your production or service delivery process into different components, or “modules” – each of which can be combined with other modules to make up an individual product or service offering. By pre-producing dozens, or hundreds, of modules to be combined into different offerings, you may be able to render thousands, or even billions, of possible product-service configurations, he said.

It’s important, however, not to confront any single customer with thousands of possible product choices, because customers don’t really like having to choose. A customer just wants her problem solved or her need met, Peppers added.

Take, for example, Coca-Cola’s 2013 “Share a Coke” campaign, which saw its brand name replaced on the packaging with popular forenames. This arguably encouraged people to stop by the drinks section in stores each day in the hope that they’d finally see their name on one. It worked, as the company’s UK sales increased by almost five per cent during the campaign.

Morgan Holt, strategy director at brand consultancy Wolff Olins, said: “True personalisation is when consumers elect a preference and build products and services around their needs. This is micro-segmentation based on the demographics of someone’s name.”

Coke’s “personalisation” is clever as it is more a manifestation of the brand’s sharing positioning, rather than customisation, Holt said. He explained: “True personalisation doesn’t make sense in Coke’s market because you’re buying a formula – reliability and heritage. You don’t want a personal taste and it wouldn’t be improved if it was meddled with. However, a wrapper with a name on does feel a bit more like ownership.” 

There is a similar move towards providing such personalisation and individual brand experiences within a physical store. The Audi City showroom in Berlin uses touch-screen terminals and 87 square metres of digital projections to help visitors create their ideal vehicle. There are over three million different customisable combinations, ensuring that everyone gets a unique product every time.

From a design aesthetic, vodka brand Absolut took an inventive step down the road of personalised packaging with Absolut Unique – four million bottles, each with a slightly different design. This was achieved by re-engineering its production plant so that splash guns and colour-generating machines could coat the bottles in a “nearly endless sequence of combinations”. This maintained Absolut’s brand values while injecting variety and excitement into the design. 

Watch the spectacular video of what went into the process of creating four million completely unique bottles.

Visit page two to find out how Nike has tackled personalisation, and why Moonpig was an early pioneer.

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