Isn’t it time for product personalisation?

coke-20130930041218497Over the past decade marketers have become obsessed with personalisation. Creating unique customer experiences for each individual user across the ever increasing diversity of media and content channels seems to have distracted them from what they learned when they first studied marketing – the importance of the Four Ps.
To use the standard textbook definition, marketing is fundamentally about identifying and satisfying customer needs. So why does the main focus of so many marketers seem to be solely on personalising the ‘P’ of promotion?
Customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation, and analytics are all well and good in the right hands. We’d all rather receive communications that are relevant to our tastes and interests – but are we not living in the era of consumer empowerment?
For all marketers’ best efforts at gaining attention for their products and services, ultimately consumers are in the driving seat; and rightly so, remembering that textbook definition above. Consumers can now quickly and easily research products, brands and suppliers, tapping into the wealth of peer review and comment, using comparison sites and search engines to find the cheapest source of the products they need.
This creates a particular problem for providers of highly commoditised products, such as mobile telephony and financial services, where there is little to differentiate one company’s minute of airtime or pound of loan from any others.
The marketer’s response has typically been to employ “confusion marketing”, creating bundles and packages that make like-for-like comparisons between suppliers practically impossible to achieve. This frustrates consumers and creates a web of complexity and mistrust around what should be relatively simple products to purchase.
Surely if we go to such lengths to personalise our “promotional” communications, we should apply the same logic to “products”. Why then do so few businesses offer personalised products? Many car and PC makers have adopted this model, with mind-boggling arrays of specification options that empower consumers to create their own uniquely specified products. Even Coca-Cola has tried it, albeit on a far less sophisticated level, with named bottles of Coke.
But few suppliers of true commodity products, such as mobile phone operators, loan or insurance companies, seem to have embraced this approach. To me it is the logical way of identifying and satisfying individual customers needs – and personalising the offer for each individual consumer. It is a relatively simple model to deliver using digital technologies and creates a consumer-centric experience that is transparent and decommoditises products by making every specification unique.
andrew woodgerWhy shouldn’t empowered consumers be able to design their own uniquely specified products, creating their own bundle of minutes, texts and data, or choosing the risks and perils they want covered under their insurance policy?
It does strike me as ironic that we work ever harder to personalise our promotional marketing and customer experiences, all to drive sales of standardised products. Have we forgotten that the first P of marketing is product – and that what we are always trying to do is to identify and satisfy the needs of each individual customer?

Andrew Woodger is data and planning director at the Purple Agency

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