Emory Marketing Institute

Trend Update: Customer-Made
report from Reinier Evers & Trendwatching.com

So What is "Customer-Made" ?

Marketing has finally become a conversation. Not, in most cases, as was intended, BETWEEN corporations and consumers (that would make too much sense), but rather a global conversation involving millions of consumers ABOUT corporations. On sites like Planetfeedback.com, thecomplaintstation.com, Epinions, About.com, on hundreds of thousands of blogs, community sites, forums, viral emails, bulletin boards, and what have you, consumers relentlessly exchange views, complaints, opinions and comments about products and services, about brands, about companies, about YOUR company.

Why now? Because they finally can. For decades, consumers have been saving up their insights and rants about the stuff they consume, simply because there were no adequate means to interact with companies, or with other consumers for that matter. No longer. These fickle, wired, empowered, informed, opinionated and experienced holders of a MC (Master in Consumerism) are getting used to 'having it their way', in ANY way imaginable, which includes wanting to have a direct influence on what companies develop and produce for them.

Sure, some companies ARE now engaging creative customers in new ways. Recently, brands like Coors Light and Mercedes Benz invited customers to co-create advertising campaigns, with Mercedes encouraging proud owners of a Benz to submit snapshots of themselves next to their automotive objects of desire. And Mazda and Conde Nast have just partnered to create a similar contest whereby contestants can submit photos representative of their interpretation of Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" slogan. (Thanks, Adrants.com!)

These companies are clearly aware that tapping into the collective intellectual capital of their customers yields great creative and 'real' content. However, let's not make the mistake to think that in the end these conversations will all be about communications and branding: how about extending this cooperation with consumers to virtually everything a corporation does, by making the customer an integral part of ALL creative and creational processes?

TRENDWATCHING.COM has dubbed the latter "CUSTOMER-MADE": the phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed. The CUSTOMER-MADE trend has been slowly building over the last five years, but with the current onslaught of consumer activism and the rapid rise of GENERATION C, it finally seems ready for its big moment in the limelight, where TRENDWATCHING.COM expects it to stay for many years to come. It doesn't hurt that Management Guru C.K. Prahalad recently published 'The Future of Competition' an insightful and highly recommended book on co-creation, which prompted us to move CUSTOMER-MADE to the top of our emerging trends list!

Mind you, CUSTOMER-MADE is NOT plain feedback, it's not Do-It-Yourself, it's not customization, it's not even personalization, as all of these happen after companies have decided what the basics are, which products and services and experiences they're willing to hand over to consumers, who can then (at best) modify certain elements, change a color, replace a cover. That's still pretty much a one-way conversation, business as usual.

"Customer-Made" Examples

So what DOES qualify as CUSTOMER-MADE? Check out the hands-on examples below; a random yet varied overview of CUSTOMER-MADE initiatives, both 'corporate' initiatives and grassroots movements, which should get you going.

Last year, 120,000 people around the world signed up to join Boeing's World Design Team, an internet-based global forum that encourages participation and feedback while the company is developing its new airplane. Activities include message boards, conversations with the Boeing design team, and extensive discussions on what members like and don't like about air travel today, as well as features they'd like to see in their dream airplane. In Boeing's own words: "Flyers and aviation enthusiasts from around the world are sharing the excitement of creating the airplane of the future."

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Shoe designer John Fluevog has a section on his site entitled Open Source Footwear, wherein serious Fluevog owners can submit designs for future shoes. The winning design actually gets put into production. CUSTOMER-MADE at its best!

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A lot of talking and commenting goes on at http://www.niketalk.com/, the non-affiliated online sneaker community which so far has received more than 200 million visits and 3.5 million posts. Every Sunday at 9 PM EST, their sister site, chat room NikeChat, welcomes Nike fans from around the world, to exchange views, tips and more.

A similar set up for new Mini Cooper owners can be found at http://www.mini2.com/, for Lego fanatics at news.lugnet.com/dear-lego (BTW, Lego itself allows programmers from outside the company to access to the code that controls its Mindstorm toy robot, leading to an increased range of activities the robot can perform, in ways the company never imagined), and for TiVo users at http://www.tivocommunity.com/. About the latter: for the past four years, the 65,000 members of the self-organized TiVo Community forum have traded ideas on 'how to convince friends and family to buy a TiVo', 'how to deliver impromptu sales training sessions to Best Buy employees whose sales pitches need work', or 'how to be a better TiVotee'. CUSTOMER-MADE sales teams anyone?

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At http://www.ipodlounge.com/, avid iPod users (and aren't they all?) congregate not only to talk about their favorite device, but also to show the world (and thus Apple) what they would like the next iPod to do and to look like, or adaptations they've already created in their basement or garage. A fascinating combination of GENERATION C and future CUSTOMER-MADE trends if we ever saw one. The site gets more than 5 million hits a day, and if we were Apple designers, or Steve Jobs for that matter, we'd visit iPod Lounge weekly to get a good dose of CUSTOMER-MADE inspiration, and probably recruit loads future employees while we were at it.

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TRENDWATCHING.COM is all in favor of conversations taking place in the vicinity of beverages. Which is why we think Philips Streamium Café is aptly named. It's where owners of Philips' new WiFi TV sets and hifi systems tell Philips where they think Streamium is going, and what Streamium should be able to do. Current discussions involve everything from the time format on the appliances' display to 'Support for Real Player RadioPass + Real Rhapsody.' How long before the discussion turns to the question of which OTHER Philips appliances should become WiFi enabled?

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Online Lovemark Google has always been open to suggestions and comments from its millions of users: Google's social networking site Orkut includes two communities with over 1,000 subscribers: "What Should Google Do?" and "What Should Orkut Do?" And on Google's own business blog, visitors are encouraged to send their suggestions to gblog@google.com. And, gasp, they actually reply. A CUSTOMER-MADE treasure trove: who does NOT have some strong (and cool) views on what Google should do next?

TRENDWATCHING.COM founder Reinier Evers (34) is an accomplished trend watcher, entrepreneur, and business strategist. While at interactive agency AGENCY.COM in NY and London, he worked with global clients like British Airways, Texaco, Compaq, managing a team of strategists and analysts. Many of these projects involved trend spotting, business research, vision development and competitive analysis, making TRENDWATCHING.COM a natural progression of his activities.


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