Individual Marketing

The ultimate level of segmentation leads to "segments of one," "customized marketing," or "one-to-one marketing."6 For centuries, consumers were served as individuals: The tailor made the suit and the cobbler designed shoes for the individual. Much business-to-business marketing today is customized, in that a manufacturer will customize the offer, logistics, communications, and financial terms for each major account. Now technologies such as computers, databases, robotic production, intranets and extranets, e-mail, and fax communication are permitting companies to return to customized marketing, also called "mass customization."7 Mass customization is the ability to prepare individually designed products and communications on a mass basis to meet each customer's requirements.

For example, Andersen Windows, a $1 billion Minnesota-based manufacturer of residential windows, turned to mass customization after additions to its product line led to fat, unwieldy catalogs and a bewildering array of choices for homeowners and contractors. Then the firm equipped 650 showrooms with an interactive computer catalog linked directly to the factory. Using this catalog, salespeople help customers customize each window, check the design for structural soundness, and generate a price quote. Andersen has also developed a "batch of one" manufacturing process in which everything is made to order, thus reducing its finished parts inventory (a major cost to the company).8

Joseph Pine, author of Mass Customization, says, "Anything you can digitize, you can customize." In fact, the Internet is bringing mass customization to an astonishing array of products. Mattel's Barbie.com site invites girls to log on and design their own Barbie Pal doll by specifying skin tone, eye color, hairdo and hair color, clothes, accessories, and name. CDuctive, a hip, New York-based company, lets customers cut their own CDs online. If a customer likes acid jazz, he can click on the category, see the various titles, listen to a brief sample of each, and then click to order a CD with his chosen tunes.9 Technology like this is transforming marketing from "a broadcast medium to a dialog medium," allowing the customer to actively participate in the design of the product and offer.

Although individual customers are taking more initiative in designing and buying products, marketers still need to influence the process in a variety of ways. They need toll-free phone numbers and e-mail addresses to enable buyers to reach them with questions, suggestions, and complaints; they must involve customers more in the product-specification process; and they need a Web site with complete, updated information about the company's products, service guarantees, and locations.

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