We are entering a new, social era of brand relationships where customers expect and demand an open dialogue rather than accept passive broadcast. Logos, badges and promises are increasingly insufficient, especially for younger consumers looking for rich brand experiences, inclusive relationships and engaging storytelling.
Similarly, targeted marketing and audience segmentation are no longer enough to satisfy customers who want to be treated as individuals. The challenge is to create the kind of mass personalization that has traditionally been the preserve of niche or high-end retail.
Last year, Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign replaced its brand name on their packaging with popular forenames, encouraging people to come together in a more personalised way. Coke’s sales in the UK increased by almost 5% during the campaign.
There is a similar move towards providing such personalisation and individual brand experiences within the physical store.
The new Audi City showroom in Berlin uses touch-screen terminals and 87 square metres of digital projections to help visitors create their ideal vehicle. With over three million different customisable combinations and the option to match any colour, there’s the possibility of creating a unique car every time.
Technology is helping to introduce the same personalisation and customisation possibilities to more mass-market products. YR Store in London’s Boxpark had three interactive touch-pods that gave the general public the chance to design their own t-shirts. The one-off patterns were then printed within minutes in-store.
Entirely new companies have been formed to provide a commercial outlet for this new wave of individual creativity. Etsy is now the largest online marketplace for handmade items, with over one million active sellers in 200 countries. Approximately half make all their retail sales via the company, and revenues in 2013 passed the $1 billion mark.
The rise of consumer-creators is not just fuelling entirely new concepts; it is also behind a more general re-connection with age-old skills too. The Hab store in Mumbai was established by traditional sewing-machine brand Usha encouraging a new generation of young Indian urbanites to develop an interest in sewing and embroidery.
The space is an educational environment focused on demonstrations and workshops, but rather than an emphasis on thrift, The Hab has adapted its messaging to its new audience, highlighting the benefits of customisation and personalisation.
Feetz, a San Diego-based start-up, is currently looking at harnessing 3D printing technology to produce shoes that are tailored to each customer. Combining such an approach with creative customization and inspiration could take Creator Culture to a different level.
The appetite of consumers for individualised products and brand experiences is quickly gathering pace. This has profound implications for how brands and retailers interact with their customers. Audience segmentation will give way to genuine one-to-one conversations in which brands have to spend at least as much time listening and understanding individual customer needs as they spend talking about their own attributes.
The prize offered to brands by the evolution of Creator Culture is a far richer engagement with the shopper – a relationship in which the customer not only buys the product they desire but also realises a unique piece of his or her own creativity.
Jim Whyte is senior insights analyst at Fitch