From running sneakers to high fashion hand bags, today’s marketing is stamping our names on the things we buy, setting us out as unique individuals – and banking on it. To get to this point, marketing has moved from a focus on the product itself to consumers, who they are, and how they think.

The power of personalization can been seen in Coke’s successful, ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. Soft drink manufacturers have been experiencing declining sales, but Coca-Cola was able to break the downward trend. By printing individual names on cans, the company saw a 2.5 percent increase in total sales and soft-drink volume went up by 0.4 percent.

Fashion brands –  like Gucci, Burberry, Rag & Bone, and Jimmy Choo –  have joined the likes to Louis Vuitton and Goyard in enabling consumers to personalize their products, while others more mainstream brands, such as Cuyana, Vans, and Madewell, have begun banking on the power of customization.  

How We Got Here

The journey from mass production to personalization has taken more than 100 years. Mass production was popularized between 1910 and 1920 by Henry Ford’s Ford Motor Company. He famously said: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Mass production was tied to the production concept philosophy. This stated that consumers preferred products that were widely available and inexpensive. To achieve this, the focus was on uniformity, efficiency and mass distribution.

Today, even the most basic of household consumables (for example: salt, bottled water, flour) would fail to succeed by employing this simple concept, as even these products have sought to differentiate in a crowded market. The production concept is now only ever used within the manufacturing sector.

From the 1930s, as new products flooded the marketplace, marketers turned their attention to communicating, not the low price and availability of their wares, but instead the quality and features. This is called the product concept. This held that consumers favored products that offered different levels of quality, performance or features.

However, the risk of positioning your product based purely on its perceived quality and features, is that your competitor will simply replicate. Take any smartphone manufacturer, such as Apple, every 18 month or so, they need to release a new product, with higher quality and more features, to stay ahead of their competitors.

By the 1960s, marketing shifted to the selling concept, where the most successful marketing involved aggressive selling and promotions. This assumed that consumers will either not buy, or not buy enough, of the business’ products unless the business made a substantial effort to stimulate consumers’ interest. It focused on “creating a need,” rather than “fulfilling a need” for consumers.

Switch on to any home shopping television channel to see a good example of this in practice. See, you really did not realize you needed that piece of gym equipment with a free set of steak knives. The selling concept challenged earlier philosophies, which held that brands need to understand their target market in order to create and deliver value.

Customization and Personalization

Emerging today is a move away from market segments with many consumers to markets of one. In other words, moving away from understanding the needs of a group of consumers (and creating standardized value) to creating unique value propositions for one customer through customization and personalization.

There is often confusion around these two terms, customization and personalization. In simple terms, customization allows a consumer to make small changes to a product or service, from a discreet set of alternatives. This often happens in automotive manufacturing or consumer electronics, where a customer can customize their car, PC or notebook.

While customization deals with small groups of consumers making choices from a set of alternatives, personalization deals with just one, with unlimited alternatives. Attachment theory explains why consumers desire personalized products. Like human relationships, sometimes consumers form an emotional bond with a brand. Once a strong bond is formed, consumers will become loyal and engage in positive “word-of-mouth” promotion of it. So, how do brands form bonds?

To increase this bond, brands need to get personal, and that personalization needs to be relevant. So, brands use your name. Whether you see it or hear it, your name, is one of the easiest sounds for your reticular activating system to hone in on. A product with your name on it creates attachment, and with that, the opportunity for brands have you for life.