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Hyper-customisation: The dawn of a new design age

Soon brands will no longer speak with one package design and one brand message to their 100 million consumers.  


Are we on the cusp of brands having 100 million ‘on-brand’ designs and messages customised to every consumer and every consumption experience?  

daniil-kuzelev-327645-unsplashThink about it. You are truly a very different consumer than other members of your family and your closest friends. Your demographics, psychographics and even your Amazon purchase history don’t define your relationships with brands such as Pepsi. You are unique and your relationship with Pepsi, for example, needs to reflect that. Adding to that, your every consumption experience with Pepsi can also be very different. Sometimes you bring it to a laid-back barbecue in a friend’s garden, and other times you serve it at an elegant cocktail party. Shouldn’t the brand experience reflect that hyper specialised, truly unique engagement? And if it did, wouldn’t your relationship with Pepsi be stronger and deeper? Could this be the “tipping point” between your choosing Pepsi over Coke every time?

Needless to say, the confluence of fast, affordable digital design, digital printing and next day logistics now makes it highly possible to customise every package to every single consumer and their every consumption experience. And that will most certainly change our relationship with all our brands. We no longer will want Pepsi, we will want OUR version of Pepsi for right now.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction


However, if marketing has taught us anything, it proves that just because something is possible does not mean that all of us will want it, nor be willing to pay more for it. If the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal has taught us anything, its lesson is that some of us do not want to have our personal information used against us to influence our purchase decisions. And now with the EU GDPR regulations in effect, privacy has become paramount for many of us.

And yet, Newton also proved that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every group that wants to hide their preferences under a security blanket, there are others who want brands to engage with them, and who want to even lead that discussion. These folks know what drives their brand affinity and would like to take an active role in shaping it.customisation

What if the brand used algorithms to inform the design of every individual package, shaping it to every individual purchaser’s preferences? What if when you ordered Pepsi on line, its package first came up on your screen with an identity informed by your preferences? What if you could shape those preferences again to customise it to your current mood or the consumption experience? A little more sporty for that BBQ or a lot more sophisticated for that drinks party.  Would that deepen some consumers’ relationships with the brand?  Would you be willing to pay a little more for that customised experience?  And importantly, would it force brand owners to transfer control of their brand’s identity to the 100 million?

A balance can be structured

thought-catalog-462302-unsplashI believe that a balance can be structured where the consumer can control the brand image and yet never allow it to exceed that which is ‘on-brand’. For example, there will be a most- masculine and a most-feminine execution of the brand image. There will be most-playful and most-sophisticated boundaries. And there will also be assurances that the brand never veers too close to a competitive brand’s identity. No Spenserian scripted Pepsi logos and no red backgrounds for example. This way, the brand message can be customised and yet remain authentic and ‘on-brand’.

But if we give control of the consumer experience to consumers, what role does the designer play in this exchange? Here is an interesting question. I see the designer having a much broader and as important role in this process as they have ever had. It will be our responsibility to create the primary brand image and then set the boundaries of its evolution. We will create the images that define ‘the most masculine’, ‘the most feminine’, ‘the most playful’ and ‘the most sophisticated’ and all other extreme, but still acceptable, executions of the brand. It will be our responsibility to create the ‘sliders’ as consumers scroll between these parameters. It will be our responsibility to create the templates upon which consumers can play. In short, we will not create the one identity but the canvas upon which the 100 million hyper customised and yet ‘on-brand’ identities will be created.   

And that will be a much larger design initiative than just creating the single brand identity. It will require insight and foresight to determine what will motivate every consumer profile. It will require discipline to determine how far the brand parameters can be pushed without going off brand’. And it also may well require ongoing ‘curation’ of the resulting imagery – analysing the result of combining a number of ‘acceptable’ elements that just don’t work together, plucking these ‘off brand’ anomalies out of the mix. To me I believe this to be a much more involved and on-going process. It will require a design eye on the brand at every moment of its evolution, and that could well be more engaging and fun for some of us.

Bottom line, my purpose in providing this vision is to encourage you to explore it. 

Help determine how it might best work and what traps we, as an industry, need to seal tight before we even begin the journey. It’s a brave new world in need of brave design leadership; leaders who are comfortable with relinquishing some control of the design process to those we are designing for. It will require next-gen design leaders who can walk that balance of ‘re-ordering chaos’ and keeping all of its results ‘on brand’. And ultimately it will require designers who seek to make the consuming community a bit more ‘design literate’ and encourage them to express their own unique relationship with the brand under the watchful eye of the design leader. That’s a future I look forward to.

About: Rob Wallace

Prior to founding Best of Breed, Rob managed Wallace Church, Inc for 30+ years where he lead comprehensive branding projects for P&G, PepsiCo, Bacardi, Pfizer, Brown-Forman, Nestle, Gallo, Colgate-Palmolive, Target, and more than three dozen corporations of equal caliber.

Rob has spoken on branding at more than 50 industry events across the US, UK, Europe, Latin America and Asia. He served on the Board of Directors of the Design Management Institute, and co-chaired its Design Value Project. He lectures at Columbia Business School, The School of Visual Arts and other MBA programs.

Often referred to as “the design industry’s thought-leader on quantifying branding’s return on investment”, Rob’s primary goal is to prove that design is marketing’s single most effective tool. Learn more here.

If you share this vision and this passion, contact to collaborate on insights for future articles on this and other design industry topics.

Image credit: 

Photo by Joshua Sortino | Unsplash

Daniil Kuzelev | Unsplash

Nick Fewings | Unsplash

Thought Catalog | Unsplash


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