“You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.”
— Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company, circa 1908
“If you’re interested in making money, the first thing you do is listen to your customer. If your customer says, ‘I want more than 10 colors,’ then you try to give it to her. If your customer says, ‘I want my pants longer or shorter,’ you try to give her that. If you’re not listening to her in the first place, then you never know any of those things.”
— Brenda French, French Rags, 1998
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century brought about mass production: a method of manufacturing standardized products that was faster and more efficient than building them by hand. The 20th century has seen a new revolution — the Customer Revolution — through this new paradigm shift, businesses must evolve if they wish to stay around.
The Customer Revolution means that businesses in all sectors — manufacturing, technology, service, retail — must listen and respond to what customers want. More and more, the response that makes the most sense is individualization: the production of a product or service around the specific needs of each individual buyer. This trend is being played out globally, in exclusive boutiques for high-cost, hand-made products, but it’s also creating a whole new sector of business where technology assists manufacturers in the production of custom products at a price and scale comparative to mass production. It’s called mass customization, and most analysts agree that this trend is here to stay.
When the customer is a private consumer, experts call it “egonomics.” But when customized manufacturing involves business-to-business products, they refer to it as an extension of total quality management. Regardless of the industry, IT in the form of “Industries 4.0” (or commonly known as the Internet of things) enables manufacturers to track customer preferences, (e.g habits, purchasing patterns, deep social trends) where flexible computerized manufacturing equipment allows finished products to meet those preferences.
Why Customization Is Popular
Ironically enough, despite Henry Ford’s defiance of customer choice, mass customization methods were actually pioneered by the automobile industry: Walk into any showroom, and if you can’t find exactly the options and colors you want on a model, you can order them. Of course this added “value” would delay the arrival of the car for weeks, in some cases months even. But now, most are created through flexible manufacturing methods on state-of-the-art automobile assembly lines, reducing costumers wait time to days…
Mass customization developed because of four simultaneous phenomena:
- 1. Consumers became aware of choice in reference to products like cars and demanded that this level of choice “trickle down” into other products.
- 2. In the last decade, the market power shifted from the producer to the consumer
- 3. Competition among manufacturers and retailers led to the extension of “nichification”: New companies created niche products to fill the gaps left by large, mass-produced products, but as each niche was filled it created a new one on either side.
- 4. Advances in manufacturing technology, the introduction of Demand driven supply network (the new era of Supply Chain) and order-taking interfaces (including the Internet) are making customization economically viable.
Egonomics is niche marketing to the extreme, it’s the art of catering to a market of 1, a market where each customer is occupying their own niche. Put simply, Egonomics means there is profit to be reaped in providing for the consumer’s need for personalization, whether it be in product concept, product design, personalization of a standard product, or personal service. Any company that is able to make each customer feel unique will undoubtedly succeed.