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 mymuesli.com. American consumers can create a tissue box with their own personal photographic image on it for as little as US$ 4.99 at mykleenextissue.com. M&Ms can be customized at mymms.com—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.