Personalization Beyond Digital For CPG

Personalization for CPG has long been a buzzword, and it’s easy to see why. It has led to more sales, higher brand affinity and loyalty and deeper engagements between brands and consumers. 

It has primarily played in the digital space, where consumer customization is relatively inexpensive and easily executed without having to do a large overhaul of existing infrastructure. But now brands are migrating their efforts into other channels to create personalized experiences and communications with their users.

Amazon works on behalf of household cleaning products like Bounty, Charmin and Windex to suggest add-ons for shoppers’ carts. Brands use interest-group segmentation on Facebook to target consumers with ads perfectly aligned with their interests. CRM programs are now giving users unique coupons and content depending on their purchase behavior and past engagements. 

Brands are discovering more ways to provide meaningful engagements with their consumers to move beyond the functional relationship, a feat that has been a long and difficult road within the CPG category. But what does that look like in actual product development? How can CPG brands bring that same personalized interaction to the actual products consumers are buying? What can we learn from a few of the daring brands that have executed product personalization at scale?



There have been a few brands that have moved here. The first that comes to mind is M&Ms. Way back in 2004, the world’s favorite hard-coated chocolate launched “My M&Ms,” allowing consumers to print customized messages on 17 different colors of the candy. Marc Meyer, professor at Northeastern University, who has studied the business extensively, estimates that soon after its launch, sales for My M&Ms exceeded $10 million. Now, consumers can upload photos and images and screen-print them on to candies through the My M&Ms’ “Faces” capability. 

For Mars, the M&Ms test-and-learn opened other opportunities for customization so the brand split off the venture to be Mars Direct, which works across M&Ms and Dove chocolates to invent innovative ways to customize products at scale. 

Oreo is beginning to explore the art of tailoring its cookies based on consumers’ needs. This past December, the brand launched Colorfilled, which allowed cookie-lovers to customize the packaging for the holidays with artwork from graffiti artists and custom messages. At SXSW 2016, the brand spoke about the long-term objective of customer customization – moving beyond offering flavors, colors and variety to adapting products to specific health and dietary needs of consumers. 

Imagine if the brand could create the perfectly sized cookie for you based on the number of steps your Fitbit tracked, so you could enjoy your treats but still maintain your health goals?

Naturally, overhauling an organizations supply chain and distribution not only takes time, but demands a rallying effort from all parties internally. So, what can we learn from the Oreo and M&M examples? 

1. Test your customization concept internally first. 

Is it custom packaging or a personalized line of new products? What sizes do you need to sell and what’s the price point that will help you be successful and not deter people from buying? See what gets people excited and gets the momentum going internally. This will help ensure the success of bringing your personalized product to market 

2. Ensure it’s feasible.

It needs to be inexpensive to sell in internally and needs to be easily executable to ensure people keep the initial excitement. The easiest type of personalization where brands have found success is through art or text on the packaging (as in M&Ms, Oreo’s initial examples, and Coke’s Share a Coke campaign). 

3. Work through the user experience.

How many choices of customization is the sweet spot? Too few and it doesn’t feel special or unique enough. Too many and a user may get decision paralysis. Where is this personalization happening? M&Ms found during their testing phase that offering a preview of what the product would look like was necessary to convert to a sale. 

4. Decide when and how to launch

Is there a specific time of year that people are especially drawn to your product or your brand has heightened awareness? Ensure that your launch timing creates enough demand for your product. 

Consumers today want to leave their mark. They want customized experiences that feel tailored for their exact needs and wants. They crave individualism and originality and expect the brands they use to provide them opportunities to bring this to their product experience.

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