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  Customized Branding: Consumers Get Creative Control   Customized Branding: Consumers Get Creative Control  Barry Silverstein  
Customized Branding: Consumers Get Creative Control The concept of customized branding—one the consumer helps to create—is not new. Highly customized “My” web pages have been around a while. Apple’s iTunes could just as easily have been called “MyTunes”—it offers the unlimited potential for the consumer to build his or her own own digital songbooks. My Twinn creates uncanny doll likenesses of little girls from their pictures, right down to freckles and birthmarks.

One of today’s more successful consumer-created brands is NikeiD. Consumers go online to design their own personal versions of Nike shoes and apparel. Conceived in 1999, NikeiD has seen its business triple since 2004.

Nike has followed up the success of its online service with “NikeiD studios,” one of which opened in London in November 2007. The London studio, the first of its kind in the UK, is similar to one that opened in New York’s Nike Town in October. Pilot NikeiD spaces have previously opened in Paris, France and Osaka, Japan.

The London NikeiD studio is a stylish two-story glass and steel cube suspended in the Nike Town store. It gives consumers a hands-on design experience using the online design process, aided by one-to-one appointments with trained Design Consultants.

Once consumers have created their designs in the studio they can be stored in an online "locker" and shared with others online. After ordering, the shoes are individually made and delivered to them, either via the Nike Town store or direct to their homes.

Obviously, Nike believes in the consumer-created brand: “The world has changed. Consumers interact with brands on their own terms,” says Trevor Edwards, Vice President, Brand and Category Management for Nike.

So what is it about this point in time that is causing the avalanche of consumer-created brands? According to, a worldwide service that keeps its eye on new consumer developments, it’s part of a much larger evolutionary consumer trend: Participation. Generation C (the C is for Content, or more broadly, Creation) is the primary driver behind Participation. This generation of primarily young consumers “have come to expect to be able to create anything they want as long as it’s digital,” says Trendwatching. “The next frontier will be digitally designing products from scratch, then having them turned into real physical goods as well.”

This creates both an opportunity and a huge challenge for traditional brands. Brands like Nike are focused on the individual anyway, so for them, moving to a consumer-created brand is a natural fit (excuse the expression). Nike is fearless about innovations that bring the consumer into the process—and the firm has the financial and technological firepower to pull off something like NikeiD. Nike also sells high-end products that are worth customizing.

But is it possible to customize simpler products than athletic apparel?

The answer is an enthusiastic yes. Even now, the consumer-created brand is starting to rapidly move down the product chain. German consumers can make their own cereal from 75 organic ingredients at American consumers can create a tissue box with their own personal photographic image on it for as little as US$ 4.99 at M&Ms can be customized at—even a company’s logo can be added to each tiny candy.

Perhaps the most uniquely personal brand available today is “My DNA Fragrance,” which creates a customized perfume based on a human DNA profile (Cost: US$ 134.99). The consumer uses a DNA home collection kit to provide the company with a DNA sample. “With more than 30,000 designer fragrances on the market, My DNA Fragrance assures that no two people will ever smell alike again,” says the company.

Consumers are heavily engaged in the product creation business. The leading office supplies store, Staples, invites inventors to submit their ideas for office products, offering them a chance to win US$ 25,000 if Staples develops and sells the invention. Several Staples brand products have already been brought to market as a result of the “Staples Invention Quest.” Similarly, Dell's “IdeaStorm” encourages customers to suggest ideas they would like Dell to implement. Users vote on the ideas, and Dell pursues those that seem feasible.

With the consumer wielding such power—actually participating in product creation—we have now entered an era in which consumers can help create brands themselves. Consumers already decide the fate of brands with their purchasing power. The time is likely near when brand owners will let consumers actually help decide which brand names to use, or even which new brands to introduce. It may be inevitable, in fact, that brand owners will take on consumers as full, participative partners in branding.

This raises an intriguing question: How far are companies willing to go when it comes to real consumer involvement in long established brands? Brands are valuable assets that directly affect profitability, so will a company’s senior management be all that anxious to let the consumer play such an influential role?

But Pandora’s box has been opened. Consumer empowerment has been unleashed. Once the consumer realizes the amount of control he or she exerts, the brand owner may be forced to let even an established brand ultimately become a consumer-created brand.     



Barry Silverstein has been a frequent brandchannel contributor since 2007. He has thirty years of advertising and marketing experience and is currently a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He founded and ran his own direct marketing agency and held executive positions with Epsilon, a leading database marketing firm and Arnold, a major ad agency. Silverstein is the author of three marketing books, including the McGraw-Hill book, The Breakaway Brand, which he co-authored with Arnold CEO Fran Kelly.

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Customized Branding: Consumers Get Creative Control
 I think companies have gone as far as they can to have real consumer involvement without jeopardizing a long standing brand. As mentioned in the article, companies like Nike thrive off of this type of consumer interaction and when it comes to sport culture everyone is searching to stand out as an individual even if it is a team sport. Personalizing products with our name or company logo is really the easiest and least finacially risky form of consumer branding. Our individual taste are so discriminating that it wouldn't be fiscally responsible for a large corporation to allow consumers to individually create products to their personal liking. Remember-Customizing products is totally different than creating and developing products. 
Tobiah Taylor, Creator/Brand Junkie, - February 9, 2008
 a beer company in Australia did this a few years back - i understand they gave away shares in the business in exchange for ideas and input in developing the actual business model and the beers as well. I just checked again and they are still around, looks like the floated the company on the stock exchange a couple of years back. They seem to have had success with this customizing and individualism - if it works for beer should work for more important stuff? 
Liam Wilson, Marketing, Sterling Packaging - February 11, 2008
 Calling these ideas "consumer-created brands" is misleading. The ability to design the way a product looks when you buy it does not make it "consumer-created." The brand is still the brand; customization or personalization is a brand attribute. Web-enabled personalization is another attribute. The benefit to the company is greater interaction with the consumer. But don't think for minute a company as smart as Nike is actually going to cede control of the brand. Enabling personalization has been a viable and popular strategy for many years, especially in the way M 
Tim Johnson, Manager, Brand Development, SessionsGrop - February 11, 2008
 This is an excellent idea for companies because it branches out to the consumers and their needs. Everybody is differnet and allowing them to make their own custom items will only attract more people to these industries 
Cesar Amado Benitez - February 12, 2008
 The idea is very good.It can influence alot of good progress in the buisness world. 
Jaydsha Taquenae anne marie Johnson, student, Denbigh High school - February 12, 2008
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