One size doesn’t fit all: The rise of mass customisation

Customer demand coupled with the power of software tools, AI and machine learning is seeing mass customisation in everything from chocolate and soft drink to jeans and sneakers

Iconic but still unique

It’s not an understatement to label Coke an iconic brand – the brand has become shorthand for cola soft drinks. Yet surprisingly, it too has felt the need or the opportunity to embrace customisation too.

Take Coca-Cola Freestyle, based on freestanding soda mixing machines using a touchscreen-operated dispenser and ‘micro-dosing’ technology to create nearly 200 drink options. The list includes 100 varieties that can’t be found anywhere else in a can or bottle.

“When we introduced Freestyle, it was truly a disruptive innovation,” said the offering’s vice-president and general manager, Chris Hellmann. More than 50,000 Coca-Cola Freestyle units pour 14 million drinks per day in restaurants, cinemas, convenience stores, amusement parks and other locations across the US and a handful of other countries.

Coke has since gone one step further, linking an app and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity into the Freestyle offering so customers can queue up a drink or create a new mix when they’re in a Freestyle location.

“Choice and customisation are not fads, they're here to stay,” Hellmann claimed. “So we're focused on making sure the Coca-Cola Freestyle platform stays current and contemporary and that we continue to offer more beverages people want.”

Machines boosting individualism

In a similar vein, character-driven chocolate brand, M&Ms, lets customers stamp their mark on tiny chocolate buds in the US and the UK. The list doesn’t end there. Think Hallmark recordable story books, customised clothing through Blank Label, personalised design t-shirts through Spreadshirt, personalised blends of breakfast with MyMuesli and mix-your-own snack boxes with Graze.

This might just represent a new, virtual production line of customisation as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) give rise to personalisation at scale. These emerging technologies give more brands more parameters and therefore opportunity for tweaking products.

“AI-powered solutions can automatically discover and generate thousands of discrete segments to evaluate exponentially more permutations of data, rules and treatments,” Wang said. Which means the next frontier could be personalisation on steroids, he predicted.

Hyper-personalisation takes personalisation a step further by leveraging AI and real-time data to deliver more relevant content, product and service information to each user. We see use cases in marketing and product recommendation for example,” he said.

And with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) giving further power to customisation, brands can even allow customers to really see a personalised product before they buy it.

“It’s never a good experience when you order a customised product online and it shows up looking nothing like you expected. The ability to take this visualisation of mass customised options and the desire to see before buying will quickly extend into AR and VR as the technology catches up to provide that feature for customers,” Jackson added. 

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