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« How to advertise a mass customization offering? A collection of TV spots | Main | The Customization500: Global benchmarking study of mass customization online offerings »

April 23, 2010



How do you make a great product that successfully scales? How do you make your product easy to use? Ryan Spoon wrote a great piece on how a viral marketing strategy starts with a great user experience that customers will love, talk about, and recommend. http://bit.ly/z937D .

Certainly, network effects are important as indicated by Professor Piller. (Point B). In this case its not just the impact of each individual customizer but the influence of the power-customizer. A good customization site needs to have creative suggestions from both the company's product experts and from the community of designers.

In addition to creative suggestions, a good customization site should include a user flow that includes suggestions and guidance from the company's product expert. The website should reflect the dialog of a "personal shopper." Related to "the paradox of choice," users may not want millions of combinations. Trek.com, for example, boasts 56 million combinations for their custom bike. First, it takes several minutes to download all the images (causing abandons) and then the choices are overwhelming because they are technical and there are too many of them, causing frustration and more abandons.

Users do not know your product as well as you do and they appreciate your tips and suggestions, just like having a valuable dialog with a top sales person. When Rickshaw Bagworks www.rickshawbags.com customers select a specialty fabric, they are presented with matching binding options. In this case there is less clutter and choice so users build better products and are less likely to abandon or get frustrated (or return them).

When it comes to designing a great ecommerce experience, there is plenty of room for improvement. Users appreciate performance, simplicity, guidance, and great navigation, as well as the power to build their own creation.

Of course you need to offer fast delivery (Point A). Of course the price of a custom product should be competitive and on par with standard products. Of course your customizer should be strategically important to your company and easy to discover (point D). These factors are points of parity and should be already be non issues given the maturity of ecommerce.

Once your customization experience is fast, fun, and helpful, conversion rates will increase, word of mouth will spread, and your community will drive your marketing strategy for you (point C).

Related, your customizer should be social-integrated and mobile-ready. Again, obvious points given the state of the Internet's evolution.

-Dave Sloan

Carmen (chocri)

Great article Prof. Piller, thanks.

Sivam Krish - you say you are not seeing growth of branded niche customization companies - chocri is seeing very high growth! But what I do agree is that a "social phenomena" is missing, and I say that because I've seen what is happening in Germany. In Germany, mass customization is a lot more common. (maybe Prof. Piller's influence?) There are a lot more startups in the space, and companies like mymuesli.de made the idea of design-your-own anything widespread. In the US - not so much. The average (young) German Joe knows to google for custom anything and expects a fair price, the average Joe in the US does not. It will take somewhat of a movement to do scaling up in the US, but I believe we're just on the brink to that. Hopefully the MIT Smart Customization Seminar will help us to rally together and drive that movement!

Thus I see Nr. 3 in Prof. Piller's list above as extremely important. We (in the US) need the Press to note what's happening, and then we need marketing communications that makes customers **aware**. Agree that marketing in the sense of "branding" is only for boring products, but marketing also has the task of letting people know that there's something new out there now.

Sivam Krish

I think we need to take complexity into account. Currently a lot of large scale mass customization like that of Zazzle and Cafepress are based on print technology - in effect they are online print shops with user and community engagement. So there is clarity in their model. The brand is defined by the customer and they are the efficient manufacturer. This efficiency will for some time guarantee an audience.

What we are not seeing, is the growth of branded niche customization companies - that are doing far more interesting stuff and dealing with much higher levels of complexity. Shapeways and Ponoko are of this category. While all companies tend to target "Joe" the customer, their clients are early adopters. Only social phenomena can take this to the next stage. If kids in California did not think that is cool to wear a reasonably priced hip t-shirts , zazzle and cafepress would not be there.

This seems not to be happening for the other rage of very exiting products now customizable online. So I would argue that this "the creation of value" to be the major barrier and I would not associate it with marketing. Marketing is for really boring products.

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