Recently, I commented on the wizardry of new product customization opportunities. When we consider the endless customization on the consumer, it’s so easy to succumb to the techno-dazzle that enables these choices to exist.
Most customers could care less about the sophisticated digital means. Individuals want the experience of customization to be served up in simple, natural ways. For shoppers, customization is just another trait of a manufacturing system they want to become more eco-responsible and sustainable. The growing mandate: Outfit me via a people-friendly, sustainable eco-system!
People live in different ways and want what they buy to reflect this.
But the enabling, complex machinery needs to recede from center stage. Customization should mean bringing personal differences to the forefront in a constructive, opportunistic and easy-going way.
Today’s consumer recoils at being bombarded with marketing and increasingly expects to be rewarded with enjoyable, game-like experiences. This is all part of an emerging new world of interactivity and mash-up. Products belonging to the analog, linear world of yesterday are slated for the history books.
Customization means letting go and empowering consumers in meaningful ways. Skillful integration of the full marketing palette is what sets the brand free. Brand owners have to let their brand go to enable it to thrive. To do that, the essence of the brand has to be clearly understood or the unavoidable result will be product chaos.
As in dealing with individuals, empowerment presumes you are true to yourself and honest about who you are. That integrity is what allows a brand to be set free without de-generating into a free-for-all. Iconic, historical brands that have become unclear may need important brand work before they are can be a successful basis for customization.
Some companies radiate brand health. In automobiles, BMW has been especially alert in helping customers navigate effortlessly through models, sub-models, and a host of other detail choices. In many ways, choice has become an unending burden of modern life. Winning manufacturers turn choice into engaging entertainment. Personalization offers the thrill of gaming and the pride of accomplishment.
Firms which are stumbling in this new era of customization are often those lacking a clear marketing identity. Brand identity must transcend and permeate the whole gamut of marketing touch-points.
One glaring weakness is to lean on single-channel customer communication. Too often, firms attempt to force-feed their entire marketing identity through the most faddish medium of choice. Right now, so many consumer-goods manufacturers handicap their mission by squeezing their entire campaign through a single, narrow-range social media targeter or a master e-mailer. These specialists can be good – some of them are, indeed, excellent – but you can’t market in silos.
Today’s consuming public can be unforgiving to brands it does not respect or that suffer from a patchy identity. They have no interest in being marketed to or manipulated . . . but retain every expectation of a multi-spectrum brand identity.
Being simple and straightforward can’t be an excuse to narrowcast your brand image. The stakes for being simple and honest have risen considerably. It’s not about being modern. It’s about being worthy. As people connect, they share their experiences and views, and that lifts the standard of expectation.
We don’t learn knowledge now, we inhale it in broad sweeps. We realize knowledge rather than having it hammered as an old-fashioned, rote drill. The opportunity for injecting and respecting the human experience in product identity is much different today than ever in the past.
Four points deserve repeating:
• Customization is a powerful and irreversible statement of consumer empowerment.
• Few customers revel in complexity for its own sake, and customization without play and imagination quickly degenerates into drudgery.
• In order for brands to invite customization in a constructive way, they have to be intrinsically healthy and viable.
• One crucial measure of brand health is a clear, consistent brand identity, evident in all the touch-points consumers expect to be part of a natural brand presence.