Why the future is personalised – Part 1: Products
Personalisation isn’t new. I can remember the day my mum gifted me a “Me and Mayor Stubbs” book. It was something about a rabbit collecting Easter eggs. The detail escapes me, but I still remember after 32 years that ‘Matt’ was a central character. I was the story.
But product personalisation is being taken to new levels, with both positive and negative effects. The Industrial Revolution unlocked a period of mass manufacture, characterised by assembly lines, job and batch production. Today, we have entered the age of mass customisation, where computer-aided manufacturing systems can create customised output.
You may remember the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign from 2014, where Coca Cola printed over 1000 different names on their plastic bottles. Not only did this campaign generate 235,000 Tweets using the hashtag #shareacoke, but it also saw 730,000 glass bottles personalised via their e-commerce store.
Or maybe you’ve been asked your name at Starbucks while ordering your ‘Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, Sugar-Free Syrup, Extra Shot, Light Ice, No Whip’ coffee?
There’s no single trend narrative for customisation and personalisation, no one hard and fast way to analyse it. You can build your own car, create a bespoke holiday, design your own jeans. Oh – and for US$150, you can design a replacement hand! Very soon, you’ll be able to regrow a range of body parts including heart, liver and kidneys! Less glamorously, 3D printing will soon allow us to print replacement parts for consumer goods cheaply: repairs on our terms.
These examples represent a range of benefits and problems. Regrowing a heart is, most would agree, unconditionally good. As 3d printing becomes ubiquitous, moving first to the high street and then into our homes, there’s a good enough argument that “the means of production” - to quote the old socialist phrase – is democratised back to the individual; effectively reversing some of the centralisation that began with the industrial revolution.
Equally, this is a new consumer battleground. We will be less defined by what we buy and more defined by how we live ;). The future of commerce belongs to those organisations who best inspire and facilitate our lifestyles. On the one hand, that may see us being less wasteful, driving economies out of a customised supply chain. But equally we may add to the 21st Century’s problem with waste, buying things that are unique and therefore more ephemeral.
In part 2, we'll look at how the future of our experiences and how personalisation comes with psychological problems as well.