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Smith: No more one size fits all: Consumers demand customized products

POSTED: February 23, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Once upon a time when businesses wanted to reach customers, their method was quite simple. Cast a broad net and bring in as many people as possible. After all, back then people were people.

This method is commonly referred to as mass marketing. Looking back 20 to 30 years ago, corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble and McDonald’s offered a basic line of products.

In 1970, Coca-Cola was not concerned about whether its products contained caffeine or saccharin. Tide detergent came in a rectangular box, not in a plastic bottle with a handle and an easily opening screw top as it does today. The last thing on the mind of Ray Kroc and McDonald’s was having no trans fat or items with low carbohydrates on the menu.

The times, they have changed.

For various reasons, the concept of mass marketing is fading for many businesses. An increased number of media alternatives, product segmentation and changing lifestyles are significant reasons why niche marketing is supplanting mass marketing.

Let’s revisit Coca-Cola for a moment. In 1970, Coca-Cola offered consumers regular Coke, Tab, Fanta or Fresca. Today, you have those products along with Vanilla Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and Coke Zero. You may choose to have these brands with or without caffeine in an aluminum can or plastic bottle.

As a kid growing up in Mobile, I have vivid memories of the family RCA black and white television complete with rabbit ears and aluminum foil. We were able to pick up the local NBC and CBS channels. If the sky was clear and we held our tongues at just the right angle, we could also see the ABC station.

With cable and satellite access today, there are almost an infinite number of television programming alternatives. Each of these channels appeals to a separate market segment. The same logic holds true for radio, magazines and newspapers.

Many of us grew up and adopted the same buying habits of our parents. If dad used Gillette products, then the son was likely to follow suit. If Betty Crocker was good for mom, then it’s good enough for me.

The plain and simple truth is that there are now numerous brand names and products from all over the world. There are no guarantees that the next generation will adopt the buying patterns and habits of their parents. Just as mass marketing is shrinking, so is the concept of the herd mentality. There is more and more evidence of independence in today’s consumer market. From financial planning to groceries, automobiles to golf clubs, today’s shopper is demanding customization.

If you don’t think so, take a minute and look around at your competition at home and abroad.



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