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Satisfy the powerful need for self-expression, increase market share.


How can you give individuals the power to express themselves in a unique way through mass-produced products?


That’s a tough one. Brands can satisfy many consumer needs through mass-produced goods, such as:

• Value (quality within acceptable cost margins)
Consistency (repeatable process)
• Availability (rapid supply building)
• Style (trend-setting/cultural leadership)

Mass production is a method brands use to provide brand-driven benefits to consumers at scale.

There are limits to how effectively we can provide consumers with what they want and need through mass production, however. Particularly when it comes to style. 

Brands are really good at putting work into predicting styles that will be popular in the season to come. So good that they get it right most of the time.

But, inevitably, forecasts are never perfect. So, brands either overproduce or underproduce. Production for the masses will never perfectly meet the need of every individual.

What else can brands do to meet that elusive human need, self-expression? 

Is it possible to facilitate a self-driven brand experience for consumers at scale?

The answer is yes, through mass customization strategies: giving each individual consumer the option to create one-of-a-kind products with us through technologies and processes that make doing it at scale possible.

Some of these strategies can be relatively simple to implement. Giving the consumer the option to make even one small tweak to a standard product offering can have a profound effect.

Symbols, Icons, and self-expression.

We’re certainly not starting from scratch here. Your brand is already a symbol in and of itself. 

As consumer psychologist Mark Ingwer wrote for back in 2014, consumers proudly display commercial symbols like Apple stickers and the Wrangler logo on their jeans to express something about who they are.

The power of symbolism presents brands with an exciting opportunity.

Whether or not he intended to, Ingwer wrote something profound that speaks to the potential for brands to more deeply tap into this need for self-expression: 

“Marketers do not sell isolated items that may be interpreted as symbols; they sell pieces of a larger symbol – consumer lifestyle. Marketing is a process of providing customers with pieces of a mosaic from which they, as the creators of their own identity, pick and choose to develop the composition that for the time best appeals.” – Mark Ingwer, Ph.D.

In other words, brands give consumers tools to express who they are. 

The pieces of this “mosaic” have typically been brand-driven

Think about the work that goes into building a brand, developing new designs on that foundation, the stories brands tell in marketing, product unveiling events, and other strategies. 

These are the tools brands provide. They are powerful invitations to bring people together around them. 

But no matter how effective these strategies are in meeting the needs of, say, three out of four consumers in any given target market, brand-driven tools will inevitably leave the fourth unsatisfied.

What if consumers brought their own tools of self-expression to your product?

The consumers who brands struggle to reach the most crave self-driven tools of expression.

Just look at the rise of user-generated content and influencer marketing. We are in an age in which consumers are actively co-creating brands, adding their own pieces to the lifestyle “mosaic.”

It’s no surprise, then, that interest in product customization is also on the rise. 

Product customization provides this opportunity in many different ways.

The more pieces of the lifestyle mosaic you can put into a consumer’s hands to choose from, the more they can satisfy their deep need for self-expression. 

Give them the ability to add a symbol of their choosing to your brand – to, in effect, co-brand your product – and that product becomes much more personally meaningful, valuable.

Start with a few simple symbols we call Icons.

Try offering a handful of basic symbols in your direct-to-consumer and/or B2B ecommerce channels, and watch what happens. Consumers will love it, and the uptick in custom orders will justify an expansion of offerings at a strong markup – a profitable virtuous circle.

Icons are symbols customers can virtually add to a product prior to real-world production to customize it with personal meaning.

How “personal” they are depends on the degree of complexity in your Icons selection. This directly relates to the degree of complexity in real-world production, which is why we usually recommend starting simple.

Icons enable self-expression at various levels.

Icons can give consumers fairly common pieces to add to their lifestyle mosaic to enable a small degree of self-expression. Or, Icons can be far more intricate, or even totally original, allowing an individual to make a statement that’s truly one-of-a-kind.

The list below doesn’t cover every type of Icon you could come up with, but it illustrates their scalability. From simpler to more complex:

• Universal – holidays, seasons
• Cultural – flags, teams, religions
• Cult Followings & Causes – artist and organizational collabs
• Individual – original designs and artwork

Here are some examples of each.

Universal Icons

These are symbols that are almost universally recognizable. They’re very common but when added to your products allow for a light degree of personalization.

Example: A handful of Icons just for the Christmas season. Many consumers or souvenir shops will add a Christmas tree, candy cane, etc. to a Corkcicle mug or thermos to make it seasonal.

This enables just enough self-expression to delight the consumer who just wants to say, “I love Christmas!” or who wants to give it as a gift and recognize a loved one’s holiday spirit.

It’s a great place to start with customization. From holiday season Icons, you could expand into other holidays, other seasons. Provide this customization option for a modest markup, and expect a solid return on your investment in custom production.

Cultural Icons

From there, you could add selections of Icons that tap into other sources of identity. An individual’s sense of patriotism, their love of a particular sports team, or religious symbology are all different ways of enabling them to bring their culture to your brand.

Example: A selection of regional sports teams for a test market. Golfers in the Chicago area might want to add a Bears or Cubs logo to their TaylorMade custom golf gear.

This concept doesn’t require partnering with major sports franchises. That’s just one example of Icons that enable consumers to imbue your product with their own cultural context.

Consumer interest would justify charging a higher premium to offset the cost of setting up more complex custom production, which we can help you recoup rapidly with automation.

Cult Followings & Causes Icons

Artistic works often speak to consumers at an even more personal level than cultural symbology. Consumers develop a sense of kinship with individual artists and personalities, which is why influencer marketing is so successful.

Example: Collaborating with artists to develop a unique line of Icons for t-shirts. Volcom has featured artists. What if they were to commission a set of select Icons for consumers to use in their Customize Your Design tool?

Artist collaborations often work toward the benefit of causes, another meaningful piece of the consumer lifestyle mosaic. Proceeds from Volcom’s give-back series of artist work go toward the Pangeaseed Foundation in support of environmental change for oceans.

These collaborations give consumers the ability to bring several pieces of their identity together. With Icons, they could do even more, choosing which base t-shirt to print on, which version of the artist’s work they like the best, and which cause they want to support.

Depending on the artist, collaborations can potentially bring in top dollar for brands. This is a huge opportunity for ROI.

Individual Icons

Among Icons, the ultimate in self-expression are the symbols that are consumer-created and completely original.

Example: Allowing consumers to upload an image to be printed on custom socks. This is exactly what DeFeet offers with JTB Custom’s customization software, SilhouetteTM.

This takes the concept of Icons to its greatest extent, theoretically. Being able to order whatever they want to be printed on a product allows consumers to express themselves in a completely unique way.

Then again, this technology is really only limited by your imagination. How else do you envision enabling your ecommerce customers to express themselves? To remake your brand their way, in their image?

With our help, your vision makes enabling this degree of self-expression possible.

You can do what Vera Bradley has done.

Vera Bradley started small in their journey into customization. They offered consumers the ability to add basic monograms to their bags.

They wanted to expand. With our end-to-end support, from front-end customization tools on their ecommerce site to setting up their onshore custom production facility, we added Icons.

Among other advancements, like more text, customers can now add fun shapes like flowers and sea horses that Vera Bradley calls “whimsies” to their custom bags.

Rather than pre-produce bags with every possible whimsey, they are set up for efficient made-to-order production and fulfillment.

• The consumer can design and view the product virtually through a Silhouette-powered configurator.
• The custom order is promptly sorted and delivered to the factory, ready-to-print, through Silhouette’s automated order management system (OMS).
• Their OMS is integrated with other operations software to manage fast and efficient order fulfillment, shipping in as little as 3-5 weeks what would otherwise take months.

As your brand looks to expand your customization program, don’t let your worries about the “how” of it all stop you from casting a vision.

Start by imagining what you might do to satisfy that human need for self-expression.

Then, talk to a JTB Custom expert. We’ll help you figure out how to get there, step by step.