Up Close and Personalized

In the search for a competitive edge we strive to offer customers “exactly what they want”. This is a long drive from the comment attributed to Henry Ford: “they can have it in any color, so long as it’s black!” This search is the driving force behind both product customization and personalization.

Personalization is a lot more than allowing the customer to choose from a short selection of options. Done properly, it creates a product unique to an individual consumer. Personalized license places have existed for a long time, as have dolls made in the image of our grandchildren, or storybooks taking place in our homes, complete with the names of our pets, children and street addresses.

Be Your Own Suds Star

Today the personalization of product has taken either a great leap forward or, depending upon your personal taste, a stumble backward. If you visit http://www.bluebyyou.com and submit your photo (and payment, of course), Labatts Breweries will ship you a case of beer with your picture on the label.

There’s nothing new about personalizing labels of your favourite beverage. Home brewers and wine makers have done this for years. What is still relatively new is the growing trend for large organizations to attach the customer’s personal brand to their products.

Nike is another good example. Visit http://Nikeid.nike.com and prepare to personalize your running shoes. There are of course limits to the personalization which these companies can, or will, allow. A simple search of the Internet for the words “Nike Personalization” will provide a hint of some of the pitfalls encountered when a company enters the world of customer brands. The dangers of losing control over the corporate brand by allowing co-existence with personal brands are, or at least should be, obvious.

The reason for this shift towards personalization is the potential increase in market share. The belief is that if it isn’t too inconvenient to purchase, or if the personalization is worth that extra time, especially for gift giving, then consumers will choose personalized products over the vanilla versions, even when there is a premium purchase price.

Personalization opportunities exist in all consumer markets, some more than others. It naturally requires some creativity to determine what personalization might interest your consumers and what exactly is technically possible today.

The publishing industry is low hanging fruit in this garden. The growth of e-books and the potential of in-store publishing could easily generate boom times ahead. Imagine book sales if, for example, you could buy a Harry Potter novel with the names of your children in all the major roles? And/or the names of their teachers as the villains? Nearly every Harry Potter book sold already would sell again at a premium.

Naturally, as with beer labels and Nike, we’ll have to impose restrictions on personalization. As much as it would drive up sales, I don’t think personalizing the villains will get the approval of the lawyers.

And The Oscar Goes To…

If we push the boundaries a bit, the arena of computer-generated images opens up some interesting future scenarios. Imagine purchasing a personalized DVD of a mainstream Hollywood movie with you in the starring role.

It’s not as farfetched as you might imagine. A 3D image is taken of your head and then matched point by point to a 3D image of the actor’s head. The computer morphs the image of the actor’s head to yours, frame by frame, and produces the most unique personalization of product possible.

Possible today? I doubt it. The computing power required makes this cost prohibitive for a quantity of one. But thanks to Moore’s Law, every 18 months we’re one step closer to making this a reality. In case you think this is still too far fetched, video game personalization is already here. There are games available where you can attach your image to one of the virtual figures. Movies are only a step up the scale, not a quantum leap.

Chances are the potential for the personalization of your corporate product lies somewhere between a case of Labatts Blue and “Gladiator You.” The challenge is to find the opportunity where it exists.

Peter de Jager is a speaker and consultant on management issues relating to Managing the Future. Contact him at pdejager@technobility.com.