It seems like the entire business landscape shifts every decade or so. We're talking about one giant movement that affects all businesses regardless of industry or niche. In fact, one of these shifts is occurring as we speak.

While we aren't yet on the other side of the transition, it's clear that something incredibly permanent is happening. We're leaving the old business model of offering standard product selections behind and embarking on a new business model where personalization rules the purchase process.

How We Got Here

It may seem like a new movement to some, but the reality is this shift has been in the making for 40-plus years. Throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, business experts pointed to a future of personalization. Well, it's finally here.

According to Made for One, mass customization--which is what many call this newfound strategy of creating individualized product selections--is described as "enabling a customer to decide the exact specification of a product or service, and have that product or service supplied to them at a price close to that for an ordinary mass produced alternative."

In a 1997 Harvard Business Review Article, B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore referred to this type of mass personalization as "collaborative customization." In other words, it's a process where the business engages with the customer to help them articulate and fulfill their needs in a cost-effective manner.

Later in 1992, and again in 2000, Pine published books that suggested customization would fundamentally change the structure of the American economy. And while it's taken a while, it looks like we've finally arrived at a point where this rings true. If you look at the top brands in the world, they all thrive on personalization.

3 Companies that are Leveraging Personalization

In order to understand what personalization and collaborative customization looks like in practice, it's best to study what's currently being done. Here are three companies that are effectively leveraging personalization in today's marketplace.

Nike

Nike has long been at the forefront of the battle for personalization. This is largely because of the philosophy of CEO Mark Parker, who understands the importance of being nimble and meeting customer demands.

"One of my fears is being this big, slow, constipated, bureaucratic company that's happy with its success," Parker says. "Companies fall apart when their model is so successful that it stifles thinking that challenges it." What do Parker and the company do to continue being successful? They move with the marketplace. In 2016, this means offering highly personalized product offerings.

If you log onto Nike.com to purchase a shoe, you're given the option to customize your own sneakers with different colors, textures, materials, shoelaces, and sizes. It's something that's been incredibly profitable for the athletic apparel giant.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola has also invested in personalization. This is the inspiration behind their ongoing "Share a Coke" campaign that allows people to purchase personalized bottles with different names and words. The idea is that, by allowing customers to personalize bottles, they'll encourage a different type of purchase. It's worked thus far. Sales were up two percent after just a few months.

Pandora Radio

Although a totally different product category and business model, Pandora Radio has also been quite successful with personalization. By allowing users to listen to only the music that interests them, they've tapped into a market of no-nonsense music listeners who are tired of switching from channel to channel to find a good tune. Since Pandora's launch, dozens of other competitors have emerged.

Reasons to Personalize Your Product Offering

The question many businesses ask is, "Why should we begin personalizing?" This is often framed with a discussion of how the existing business model is successful and profitable. The easiest answer is that personalization is the future. Do you think Nike and Coca-Cola were struggling to make ends meet? No--they simply saw an opportunity to grow.

Here are some specific reasons why your business needs to consider personalization and customization in the coming months and years:

Attract.
Retain.
Collect.

There are many different reasons to pursue personalization, but these three stand above the rest. If for nothing else, collaborative customization needs to be a priority if you want to attract, retain, and collect.

How Your Business Can Use Personalization

What does personalization look like for your business? Once you recognize the importance, you then have to turn your attention towards identifying opportunities and implementing strategies that allow you to present personalized product and service offerings. Here are a few ideas.

Physical attributes.
Packaging.
Ancillary services.

"The focus on the personalization of customer experience is only going to grow in importance..." says John Bertino, Co-Founder and CEO of The Agency Guy. "Marketers and entrepreneurs alike should consistently challenge themselves to deliver a more relevant marketing message and an experience that adapts in real-time to client needs and behavior. From personalized UI/UX in e-comm, to programmatic advertising, to in-store mobile engagement; personalization turns latent buyers into engaged prospects while developing more authentic brand connections and improving client retention."

Looking Towards the Future

Business personalization isn't a fad or trend--it's the way of the future. It's taken decades to get here, but we're finally at a point where collaborative customization is affordable for both businesses and customers. If you haven't recognized this yet, you're already behind. Begin brainstorming ways you can move your business model towards personalization.

Published on: Jan 27, 2016