One size doesn’t fit all

I was listening to David Pensak the other day and an example from his talk really challenged me to think what difference personalization can bring to a product. He was talking about the Teva Gamma’s innovative application in personalizing the women shoe line using thermoplastic microspheres (this is an innovative solution he came up with at DuPont and is currently being tested by Teva Gamma shoe manufacturers). It was observed that in case of shoe fitness, the biggest problem for women was the width of the shoes which makes them not fit perfectly. So David and his team developed these microspheres that are half a millimeter thick and can expand up to one and a half millimeters on applying heat and being spherically symmetrical, cannot compress again. Teva Gamma applied a layer of this material in the walls of the shoes and by applying heat to the shoes using a hair dryer, they can adjust the width of the shoe right there in the stores. Now Teva Gamma is planning to launch this line of shoes under the name Perfect Fit which has about 4 cents of this material applied to it and are going to charge $75 more per pair of shoes claiming that they make the shoes personalized just for you and that too instantaneously! Their initial market research of this product shows that women just loved the shoes which custom fit them and are willing to pay extra dollars for it. This is the kind of difference personalization can bring to your product.

Lot of products out there are personalized and this personalization factor makes a company’s product stand out above others in many cases. I can’t think of a better example than Dell Computers here. Dell changed the way PC industry functioned in many ways, and letting the people personalize their own computer is one of those. It is more appealing to anyone to configure a computer personalized to their own needs and fit their own budget as compared to picking one from three standard configurations on a store shelf. Another personalization example from a completely different industry that stand out is from the fast food industry. People love eating at Subways and Chipotle for the same reason, you can get whatever you want to put in your sandwich or burrito respectively. Personalization does not have a fix magnitude attached to it. Amount of personalization can be as big as building your own BMW and as small as getting your name engraved behind your IPod.

Personalization is one of those things out there that is not required for your product to sell, but if you add it to your product, it adds a lot of value. And more than that, people love getting special attention and getting a personalized product. Personalization gives a big boost to the marketing department of a company. Marketing is normally the voice of the customer, and what better thing can be out there as compared to letting the customer build their own product. Personalization essentially puts the customer at the driver’s seat hence easing the task of the marketers.

Personalization sometimes bring hidden value for the company as well, along with the obvious ones mentioned above. For example Teva Gamma, they are now personalizing their shoes to fit a woman’s feet. But it gave a hidden benefit to them which they didn’t even think about at the beginning. It reduced their shoe production categories by a factor of three. Shoe companies normally have three categorization of shoes based on the width – wide, medium and narrow. The width differs by one millimeter between each of these categories. Now based on this shoe customization technique to change the width of shoes, Teva Gamma only produces wide shoes at their factory and reduce the width in their customization process. Another example of hidden benefitter – Dell computers. They have a system set up where they order parts from the manufacturers only after they receive orders from the customers based on their personalization, hence reducing the unnecessary inventory in this fast moving industry and getting a payment lag of approximately three weeks (the customer pays them right at the time they order a PC and Dell pays the manufacturers three weeks after the part is supplied). In fact Dell only has total space to store 200 computers in its factory that assembles more than a few thousand computers every hour.

Personalization is one of those things that people are starting to take for granted in many industries nowadays. How long can you survive without personalization? Till you or one of your competitors do not introduce it in your industry. I think there is no product out there that cannot be personalized, so the call of the hour is to knit the perfect fit for each one of your customers.