Create it Yourself

You now can design your own M&Ms, which reflects a growing trend toward mass customization of everyday products and services.High-end carmakers, homebuilders and bicycle manufacturers allow customers to customize their products. Now customers with more modest budgets, but similar appetites for customized products, can do the same thing when buying clothes, sneakers and chocolates.

Mass customization is a logical extension of the new rules of marketing that emphasize engagement over one-sided conversation. Customers not only love your brand, they also can join you in designing your products and services

Customizing products is not new. You could choose the flowers for a floral arrangement or specify the greeting on a birthday cake. What's new is how technology has made customization possible on a large scale across a vast array of product lines, even down to M&Ms.

In addition to giving customers a chance to design a product just the way they want it, mass customization gives brand managers a chance to see trends or preferences in real time and a proprietary format. It enables customers to become brand insiders, while allowing brands a peek inside the heads of their customers.

Perhaps the most innovative dimension of mass customization today is its extension to engagement between brand and customer. Product makers and service providers don't view mass customization as a one-off customer satisfaction technique, but as an ongoing relationship. Customer preferences influence brand decisions. Customers are viewed as valuable partners, not just people who buy things.

The benefits of mass customization accumulate over time with multiple interactions that include repeat purchases or referrals. Brands learn more about customers and their evolving tastes, while minimizing inventory. Customers develop greater trust in brands that meet their personal needs and enable personal expression through unique products.  Nike, for example, provides online space where customers can post their custom-designed sneakers. 

This form of engagement works well online, but it also can prosper in brick-and-mortar environments, such as when coffee shop baristas memorize the drinks of their regular customers or a clerk at a clothing store remembers a customer's shoe size. The key is capturing this customer-to-brand knowledge and putting it to work to sharpen service, add new products and continue to meet customer expectations.

In a competitive marketplace, brands need all the help they can get to stay ahead or get ahead. Mass customization techniques are a great way to build brand loyalty and constantly monitor for ways to improve and delight customers. 

NPR cited a German study documenting 500 international mass customization sites, which probably is an understated total that doesn't recognize smaller or more localized versions.

Do you employ mass customization concepts in your business? Share your examples and insights with us.

Now "Just Do It" includes designing your own Nike shoes to fit your taste, meet your needs or express yourself.