Page Moreau is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She obtained her Ph.D. In Marketing from Columbia University. Her research interests span the areas of customization, value co-creation, innovation, and customer collaboration. Her 2005 paper: Designing the Solution: The Impact of Constraints on Consumers’ Creativity, received the best paper award in 2008. No that’s not a typo. Academics like ideas in papers to ferment before they recognize them!
I met Page a few years ago at an MSI conference on Innovation. We met again in June this year at yet another MSI conference at which she presented some of her ideas on customization. I thought the blog’s readers would be interested, so I invited her for a conversation, to share her thinking, and she most graciously accepted.
Page, let’s start by examining the relationship between Co-creation and Customization. Are they related?
Co-creation is the bigger concept. Any time you involve customers in the creation of value for themselves and for the company, you are in the realm of co-creation. It spans the entire range from idea generation to product development to post-purchase occasions, like usage and consumption.
Customization is a sub-set of co-creation. In majority of the cases, when people speak of customization, they are referring to mass customization, where the emphasis is on feature or attribute customization. A classic example being Dell – customizing PCs.
However, that’s only part of the picture. Customization is more than just feature customization. Companies can do more. For example, companies can customize customer experience touch points, like web sites, user interfaces, and personal services.
Beyond the obvious benefit – I like it more – what are the key benefits of customization you have observed in your research?
As you rightly say the most obvious benefit is generating higher customer preference. But there are other equally interesting benefits. Take the case of products that can be publicly displayed. Customization give consumers the power to express their identities, what they value, and what their values are. A person who uploads the photo of an endangered specie on a coffee mug, like the Polar bear, is deriving a very different benefit and signaling a very different identity than a consumer who uploads the photo of a Parent.
In the context of gifts, the benefits of customization are equally interesting. Being able to customize a gift signals some level of effort undertaken by the giver, leading to both the giver and the recipient deriving greater value from the exchange, not just the receiver.
But can’t this backfire. Can’t customization sometimes be intimidating, as when you receive a very elaborate, heavily gold embroidered, wedding invitation card?
It could. There is the obvious signal of feeling that I am important enough to have received this elaborate invitation. But then there is also the added stress – what should I wear, what would the reception be like, should I brush up on my dancing skills, what gift should I give, how expensive should it be? I guess all that could be intimidating – would vary though from person to person – how much the person values the signals associated with customization and its implications for self-worth and self-identity.
Do the benefits of customization hold across different product categories or are they limited in their scope?
Interesting question! This has not been explored extensively and would actually form an interesting research agenda. Let’s go back to our staple – signaling and signal value. Technically speaking customization could be more valuable in the case of products and services that are publicly consumed; because there is a greater ability to communicate self-identity.
But then how do you explain a customized Michael Graves toilet bowl brush?&n
bsp; No public display there, at least I hope not! There will always be exceptions. But I think that the benefits of customization hold across different categories – but we clearly need more rigorous thinking here.
What about the relationship between customer-centricity and customization? Can one exist without the other?
I thought we had an agreement Gaurav. Only easy questions!
First, we need cleaner definitions. I guess customization could be one way to characterize customer-centricity. But where does it say that all customization has to involve the company’s product or service? If customer-centricity is being sensitive to customers’ ideas and inputs, then that sensitivity can be reflected in one’s advertising, or packaging, or customer service. I think there is an asymmetry here:
- a company can be customer-centric without customizing. But it would be difficult to argue how a company is not customer-centric if it is willing and able to customize its products and services.
Finally, – - -
Sorry, one more thought – my guess is that as customization increases, meaning more companies customizing their products and services, the demand for customization will increase, because customers’ expectations will increase.
Which brings us to an interesting and provocative question – will the pulling power of brands decrease as customization increases? Will brands begin to mean less?
Who are the leaders of the pack when it comes to customization – best in class, so to speak?
Tough question again. The best way to answer that question is by simply saying those who are the most successful at it. Companies like Dell – functional customization; Nike – aesthetic customization; and Timbuk2 – flexible manufacturing.
Thanks Page for sharing your thinking on customization and its relation to co-creation with a larger audience. Hopefully, more readers will be motivated to experiment with and execute customization and co-creation programs.