The Art of Crafting a Tailored Customer Experience
In 2014, marketing professional Dateme Tamuno said, “in a tailor-made service, you fit the cloth according to the size and taste of the customer; not just the taste and strength of the designer.”
Since then, customer expectations regarding customization have rapidly escalated. Long gone are the days when customers would settle for the latest Nike sneaker—they now want to design their own one-of-a-kind shoe. Brands that don’t deliver are feeling the heat.
It’s tempting to think that this is fueled by vanity; who doesn’t want to stand out in a culture that feels increasingly homogenized? But customization is about more than just a desire to make a splash and impress social media followers; it’s a way to make people feel more emotionally invested in products and experiences. And, after all, isn’t that what brands hope to achieve?
Where it all Began
Custom-printed packaging was the leading edge of this trend. For companies that offered it, it was relatively low-cost to acquire the needed technology (and frankly, printing was about the extent of what the existing technology allowed businesses to do at scale). It was successful not just because it was novel, but because Millennials—who highly value immediate gratification and hyperconnection—caught on rapidly to the possibilities for self-expression that customization opened up.
Audience, Industry and Appetite
In the years since, customization—and consumer expectations—have come a very long way as customization has expanded beyond packaging into product design and specs. Consider the fact that in 2013, a Bain survey of more than 1,000 online shoppers found that less than 10 percent had tried customization options; a recent Gongos survey shows that more than 1 in 4 people—and nearly half of Millennials—have bought a customized product in the past year alone.
It goes beyond purchasing, though; as more people experience the possibilities that customization offers, it’s become a competitive advantage. The same Gongos study reveals that 41% of people—and nearly 6 in 10 Millennials—are willing to switch from a brand they currently use to one that would let them custom-tailor their products or services.
Beyond keeping loyal customers happy (and attracting new ones), companies can find a premium in customization. Preferences vary by industry and product category, but the numbers tell a compelling story: in clothing and footwear, where interest in customized offerings is high, about 6 in 10 people would pay 20% or more above list price for a customized product or service. But even for less intuitive categories, there’s a willingness to pay a premium; for instance, 4 in 10 would pay 20% or more above list price for customized beer, wine, or spirits. Examples like this can give us a different way of thinking about what to customize and how. What might “customized beer, wine, or spirits” mean—are we just talking about packaging or something else? (Flavor? Experience?)
Is this Hype or the New Norm?
As customized packaging has matured from novelty to norm, the evolution of technology has enabled more advanced, and more imaginative, custom products and services. And that’s changed people’s expectations around customization. Exclusivity used to be beyond the means of most people, and now it’s accessible, so naturally, people want more.
It’s important to keep in mind that customization doesn’t just necessarily mean designing and creating something. It relates to an entire infrastructure that allows us to get things that are ideal for us. Here’s one really exciting example of this: you know how for some clothing companies a size M is more like an L, and for others an M is more like an XS? It’s frustrating and can make online shopping a pain. But now there’s True Fit, which allows online shoppers to create a simple custom fit and style profile that will tell them exactly what size apparel or shoe to order from thousands of companies. Things like this aren’t going to go away anytime soon.
The Future of Customization
Customization on the whole is far past the point of being a fad today; it has market stickiness (e.g., the personalized gift market is expected to hit $31 billion by 2021), and in people’s eyes it’s become a common offering.
That said, in many ways, we’re still just beginning to explore the possibilities—but we can see cool examples everywhere. An accessible approach that’s taking off is modularization, where people can assemble their own product from a preexisting set of options. You can imagine and piece together your own pair of designer Nikes, for example, or custom-print your own designer apparel featuring original work from independent artists.
The landscape is certain to change substantially in coming years. Maybe early-gen examples like customized packages and labels will fade as a novelty and become a table-stakes expectation that all companies will need to offer. There will inevitably be examples of custom applications that won’t gain a long-term foothold; maybe after trying customized wine, most people will decide it’s better to leave that to the experts. And certainly, more interesting applications will become possible and economical due to advances in technology. What becomes possible when brands begin to routinely partner to offer customized mashups of their respective offerings? What will artificial intelligence-driven customization offer that we’re not yet imagining?
But as many ways as there are to approach customization, the main thing to keep in mind is that it’s not just about finding ways to create new stuff. The exciting thing about customization is that there’s a real emotional payoff for people when they create something of their own. Psychologists call it the IKEA effect: having an active role in creating something creates a deeper emotional connection than we would have just buying it off the shelf. So, companies that are helping people to achieve that kind of emotional connection are going to have a real advantage over those that don’t.
Today, successful companies are the ones that give their customers a voice, and customization is a powerful mouthpiece. It allows customers to be part of the process, to have a stake in the game and a platform to allow their creativity to shine. Customization is a tangible outgrowth of a company that has a customer-centric philosophy and a strong way to stand out in a crowded marketplace.