The Next Brand Wave: Customizable Products

Launching new products is more than often a risky and difficult task to complete. Companies that have dominated segments even face this when they’re introducing something that is completely new. Getting consumers to go after something new when they’re already enjoying the traditional product is tough. Equally, if a new product does pass the introductory phase it doesn’t guarantee success. Many seem to fizzle out just a few years after.

With all the work that happens behind the scenes, such as research and development, marketing, advertising, etc, a failed product can be a costly venture. Even with everything companies think they know about the consumer, many of them still can’t get it right (because if they did all products would succeed all the time). I never understood why companies never just asked us in a more direct manner what we would like. And I know some of you are thinking they already do that. But to what success? What is interesting is that there is a strong trend fuelling direct consumer involvement. It’s allowing us to customize what we like, just a little bit more than usual.

Although customizing something has always been around for as long as there has been something to customize, this is customization on a completely different level. And all indications so far are pointing to some success. Companies like BMW and Coca Cola are doing new and cool things. The key seems to be not in introducing a brand new product but rather reinventing an existing one. And letting us reinvent it for them.

BMW is pitching a concept of “built-to-order” vehicles, in the US, where you get to customize your X3 model to your liking. This shouldn’t get confused with traditional options. You can create your X3 from a list of characteristics, making your choices original and your own. Wouldn’t it be great knowing there could potentially be no one else driving the exact same car as you?

Coca Cola has gone down a similar path. Although buying a soft drink doesn’t compare to the dollars spent on the X3, it still applies the same ideology. Always considered one of the best brands ever, Coca Cola is taking it one-step further with their Freestyle concept. Freestyle is based on the idea that you get to choose and pick what you’re going to drink. You literally get to “freestyle” and mix whatever you like from a series of flavours offered by the fountain dispenser. Just think about the combinations you and your friends could come up with. It’s all about you!

Interestingly, Coca Cola’s rival, Pepsi, has been doing something similar in recent year’s, which is something that has already been deemed to be a great success. The concept of DEWmocracy is not only clever but it works. It’s based around the idea that you and I can make-up some cool new flavour, amongst creating other things for the product, and then vote for the best one. We the “fans” are choosing what we want. It is up to us to decide what we want.

And if you still haven’t figured out the underlying point, it’s quite apparent that it’s all about consumer engagement. I’m not simply referring to the clichéd line “the customer is always right.” But what I am trying to point out is (and I’ve been doing this from the beginning of writing blog posts) that we the consumer, customer, “fan”, we all know what we want. Yes, sometimes we think of stupid things. But what company hasn’t come out with something stupid. Not only are you giving people what they want, you’re recreating interest within in your own brand. You’re giving them something to talk about. You’re giving them value by adding value to yourself. We all want our lives to be customized. We all want to be unique, different and great. Engage us, we’ll do the rest.

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Benjamin Leis
Benjamin Leis

Scion was really the brand that made this possible. They were one of the firsts that realized the growing movement in auto customization. The tremendously lucrative "after-market" market.

I pulled this link from 2003 where a GM Exec was very skeptical of the Scion when it first launched saying young consumers want cars that are universally appealing. Well, not so much. Scion crushed it when they offered a product that was more like a blank canvas with interchangeable parts at an affordable price, I guess you could call that the universal appeal:) Owners could do what they want to the car and have a massive inventory at their disposable to create their dream automobile. Being able to empower your customers like that leads to tons of word of mouth and we know how this story goes, it was a smash success. Of course their grassroots marketing style and embrace of urban lifestyles had much to do with it as well.


Great comment Benjamin! The concept has definitely been around for a while but it seems that it takes a while for corporate exec's to buy into an idea. Case in point with the Scion example you just brought up. However, with the world shrinking now these same exec's are pursuing these ideas.

Also, I took a look at your link. It's fascinating to see these ideas started 7 years ago and yet few individuals are actually going with it.