The premise of mass customization is simple.

Technology allows us to target the specifications of a product to a smaller and smaller group of people. First we can make Barbie dolls in the millions. Then with more flexible machinery and computer-generated target marketing we can make ethnic Barbies, in the hundreds of thousands. Then with improved market research and advanced communications we can make subculture Barbies, biker and grunge Barbies in the thousands. Eventually, with the right network technology, we can make the personal Barbie, the Barbie of you. In fact there is a company in Littleton, Colorado, that currently makes the “My Twinn” baby doll to look like the doll’s owner. The doll’s eye and hair color and hair style are matched to a photo of the child who will own it.

The most interesting aspect of prosuming and mass customization–of this new relationship between the customer and the firm–is that because customers have a hand in the creation of the product they are more likely to be satisfied with the final result. They have taught the firm how to please them, and the firm now has a customer with a much fuller relationship with them than before.

But creating a product for “a niche of one” is only a small part of the transformation of the customer relationship. (Detroit car makers learned long ago to create customized cars, but that was all they learned.) Network technologies such as data mining, smart cards, and recommendation engines are escalating the levels of relationships available to customers.



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