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October 12, 2010


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The difference between mass-customization & personalization is that mass-customization is template based, whereas personalization is based on a blank-canvas. Personalized products are made from the bottom-up, and mass-customization is top-down production (the template is the top).

I think its worth pointing out that 'mass' is the operative word here, and anytime something is produced on a massive scale, standards are advantageously followed. These standards by nature disqualify the product from being 100% personalized. In personalization, there are no standards.

Charles Boxenbaum

It seems to me that the issue is that the subject of the two words or concepts is not the same. Personalization addresses a person, while mass customization addresses a process. When dealing with these concepts abstractly it's very easy to confuse the subject. However, when designing, this difference is critical to understanding who and what has to be designed/addressed.

Marko Mäkipää

Thanks Frank for this insightful differentiation between purpose and method(ology). I think that by differentiating these two it is easier to achieve clear definitions.

However, in B2B markets supplying capital goods the term personalization is not very suitable. Customization is much more understandable term in B2B markets. Thus, personalization could be synonym for customization when the end customer is an individual person and customization used when its not..?

However, neither personalization nor customization as a concepts require efficiency of production/supply, and thus, mass customization is just a method (or since a quite large assemble of different methods, a methodology) to produce customization and/or personalization in a cost efficient way.

Tom Weaver

Really interesting.

In the UK, personalisation has become quite politicised, and the term is losing favour with the change of government when talking about public services. This is a shame. Interestingly, we are therefore seeing increasing talk about customizing services to the public.

At the same time, I've just finished a large project about personalised learning. People find this concept very difficult to understand. But by comparing current education to mass production, and home schooling to customization, we can talk easily about the middle group being mass customization, which everyone understands. The father of the concept of personalised learning in the UK, David Hargreaves, actually described it as an educational version of mass customization.

So in my view they are very similar concepts.

I've written about it at length here:


... and how I see transformation as the end, and personalisation - or mass customization - as the means.

Frank Piller

Thanks to all of your for your comments! MItch, would be great to read your insights! Your 2001 definition of MC really influenced our MC thinking!

mitchell m tseng

Hi, Frank,
We have been mesmerizing about the issue of personalization lately. We published a paper on Design for Mass Personalization (2010) by
M.M. Tseng, R.J. Jiao, C. Wang, 59/1/2010, P.175-179, CIRP Annals. I would be happy to send you a copy. We continue working this interesting angle.


Sivam Krish

Not sure if Kumar's definition makes sense, because personalization is about meeting the customers desires - without having to create (through advertisements) it and get the customer to pay for it. That was the old world, manufacture and market paradigm. There may be a fundamental flaw in associating personalisation with marketing.

Benedict Dellaert

Thanks Frank for these very interesting and useful reflections.
One other distinction that I've often found useful is between cases in which customers are passive in the individual value creation process versus cases in which they are active participants. For example, many cases of personalization can be done without direct customer interaction (e.g., on the basis of collaborative filtering such as Amazon's book recommendations), while other cases such as mass customization require well-developed customer interfaces, to allow for customers to co-create their own products (e.g.,Ponoko, Threadless t-shirts). This decision to make customers passive versus active process participants typically has strong consequences for content, channels, and supply chain design.


I am thinking of another way of differenciating the two concepts, which was proposed by Ashok Kumar in 2008 : he stated that mass personalization is marketing to ONE, whereas mass customization is marketing to FEW (From mass customization to mass personalization: a strategic transformation, International Journal of Flexible Manufacturing Systems, 19, p. 533-547). This is an interesting distinction, and goes in the same way than what you are proposing.

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