Is "Personalized" Always "Customized?"

Mark Osborn

At the recent Best Practices for Consumer Products conference in Chicago, I had the opportunity to see PepsiCo’s Deanna Jurgens speak on “Changing the Game with Connected Consumers.” She highlighted her company’s partnership with the Brazilian National Soccer team to develop Drinkfinity beverage pods. Designed to take into account an athlete’s unique physiological requirements, the pods deliver a formulation of hydration and flavor blends tailored to each individual athlete’s hydration needs, helping to optimize performance.

It’s a compelling example of personalization, but it also got me thinking. What do we really mean by “personalization?” In previous blogs I’ve described how consumers in the new digital economy now expect personalized “just for me” experiences and outcomes delivered directly in moments of need. As consumers, when we hear the word personalization, we tend to gravitate to the idea of a finished good that’s customized to our needs and preferences, as PepsiCo is doing with Drinkfinity. But that may not always be the case. In fact, personalization can be delivered in a variety of ways beyond customized finished goods.

Consumer-created personalization

For example, creating a personalized experience doesn’t necessarily mean delivering a fully customized finished product. It may mean simply reconfiguring how standard products are presented to the consumer, thus empowering consumers to create their own ideal experience.

Coca-Cola Freestyle is a great example of a branded beverage company enabling personalization through the delivery of standard products. By reconfiguring its beverage dispensing machines, Coca-Cola not only provides a significant variety of branded soft drinks and flavors in one vending machine, it gives consumers the option to mix and match soft drink flavor combinations to create a unique beverage. Whether the consumer takes advantage of this option is entirely up to them. But the brand has given the consumer the choice. And by giving the consumer choice and options, it has enabled personalization at the moment of opportunity, creating entirely new opportunities for consumer engagement, affinity, and loyalty for Coca-Cola while giving consumers control and flexibility to personalize their own experience.

Perceived personalization

Personalization can also be perceived. This is done by providing the ability to interact with a product in a way that creates an individualized personal experience.

For example, in a previous blog I described how Nivea introduced a water-resistant “connected bracelet” that consumers could tear out of printed advertising and attach to their child’s wrist. By downloading an app and pairing the bracelet with the app, parents could set limits on how far their child could wander away from them at the beach. If the child passed the set distance, the app would trigger alerts on the smartphone and provide a visual indicator of the child’s location, making it easy for the parent to make sure their child is safe.

Protecting a child is an inherently personal experience for any parent, and Nivea delivered an engaging solution to help parents achieve a personalized outcome. What’s interesting here, though, is that Nivea did almost nothing that was actually personalized to individual consumers. The company made no changes to its product, packaging, distribution, merchandising, or marketing. And the app it delivered was a standard app for all consumers. But by enabling the consumer to pair the app with the embedded sensor in the bracelet, the company created an experience that each individual consumer perceived as intensely personal.

Actual personalization

Finally, with actual personalization we arrive at customization, often down to the level of the finished good itself. Here, the strategy and objective is to define and create a product uniquely tailored for each individual end consumer.

In another example similar to PepsiCo Drinkfinity, Adidas recently launched a platform called “Mi” Adidas to allow shoppers to customize their shoe and apparel purchases, placing product development directly in the hands of consumers. Personalization options include enabling consumers to have their name embossed on their shoes, choose unique color combinations and define both the inner and outer soles.

With this level of personalization, consumers participate in the process of designing their own “just for me” product, with the flexibility and options to control the customization of the finished product designed into the overall experience itself.

Delivering in the moment of opportunity

In our digital economy, personalized consumer experiences may take a variety of forms – consumer created, perceived, or actual. The takeaway is that companies have a wide variety of options available for delivering experiences and outcomes directly to consumers in moments of opportunity, including some that may require little or no actual customization.

In my next post, I’ll dig into more detail how companies can benefit from increased product personalization, regardless of their product personalization strategy. In the meantime, what do you think? Are there other examples of personalization companies are leveraging to deliver “just for me” consumer experiences? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

To learn more about how you can be better prepared for moments of market disruption, visit Consumer products: Reimagined for the new economy.


About Mark Osborn

Mark Osborn is Vice President of Digital Strategy and Business Planning for Consumer Products at SAP. He focuses on strategy and thought leadership development, strategic growth initiatives, and operations and go-to-market planning. Prior to his current role, Mark was the global lead for the Consumer Products industry marketing for SAP. He holds a BA from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and an MBA from the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management.