Tech Talk: New trend: taking personalization offline

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Remember how personalization was the hottest thing going on the Internet about two years ago? Site visitors were able to customize the homepage of whatever site they were on by dragging/dropping page elements, and they could select the background images for their search pages in Google.

It was a user-centric and fairly odd-looking trend.

Interestingly that trend is diminishing online but increasing offline. What we learned is this: Users want a final result that is customized, based on what they actually want. Users are not that interested in customizing the Internet experience used to get there.

What does this mean?

Customers now expect to be able to customize absolutely everything they buy. They don’t want a simple array of colors and sizes. They want to put their personal stamp on the item. This means custom colors, applying photos, adding text and so on.

I just saw a proposal come through where the requested application was to build customizable Pop-Tarts, where users could upload a photo and craft a message that would print in frosting on top of their custom-flavor pastry.

That’s some extreme customization, my friends. And people want this kind of product/service combination. Actually, they expect it.

Technology’s role in the customization trend is to help retailers and manufacturers create the ability to customize end products. If we do it right, the database and fulfillment software structure will at least make individual orders possible to process. Add a few 3-D printers to the manufacturing chain and we may have something.

How did this happen?

My go-to response for the development of all societal problems is to blame social media. This is no exception.

Companies that have embraced social media developed very intimate conversations with customers. They learned that each customer is different, and that customers who have a stake in the creation of the products they buy become much more loyal to the brand. (Not the product — the brand. Isn’t that weird?)

If you follow the customization trend to its observed conclusion, it looks something like this: Customer wants a customizable product. Customer gets a custom output from the brand. The next time the customer wants a product, he/she will buy the brand off the shelf because the customized version is more expensive and time-consuming to create. Plus the emotional need of the customer (which is to be able to get exactly what he or she wants from a brand) has been met, so now the customer is comfortable with the brand and will generally accept what the brand offers.

So think about it. Is there anything you can offer your customers as a custom option? Can you fit your product into their lifestyle?

Can they upload a photo of their cat anywhere on your product?

If so, get cracking on a customization program. You won’t regret it. Well, you’ll pretty much totally hate it for about two years, but then you’ll like increased revenue. You’ll see.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at