I recently wrote in an IW50 Leadership Insights Enewsletter that manufacturers should make every attempt to look into the future and see where its customers are heading, so as to create a product to greet them when they arrive.
Here's a trend for future-thinking manufacturers—it seems like Gens X and Y are seriously buying into the trend of “celebrity-as-brand” and individualized customization of mass-market products.
This season’s premiere of the ever-popular MTV show “Pimp My Ride” featured California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger teaming up with host Xzibit to "pimp out" (that simply means “customize” for all you "non-players") a '65 Chevy Impala. The Governator and the show's crew gave the classic Impala—already popular with customization aficionados—an aesthetic as well as ecological make over, converting the engine to run on biodiesel.
In a similar vein, popular hip-hop DJ Funkmaster Flex teamed up with Ford to pimp an Expedition. The deal is mutually beneficial for both the brands involved (Flex gets his media exposure and Ford gets some street cred) and follows on the heels of some unrealized deals between Ford and rap producer/clothing entrepreneur Sean “P-Diddy” Combs.
This type of co-branding strategy by Ford has precedent—my uncle owns a Eddie Bauer-branded Ford Explorer. Knowing him as I do, I'm sure that he bought that truck as an expression of his "brand" of rugged individuality (the fact that it matched his flyfishing vest was a purely secondary motivator, of course).
So customization and co-branding isn't just child's play, but the next generations are taking it to the next level, such as the “skin” phenomenon in which everything from cellphones and iPods to online avatars to software user interfaces have interchangeable coverings that supposedly reflect the purchaser’s uniqueness.
In the auto world, this has already proven a very successful formula at Toyota’s Scion division. Scion’s marketing was based in a large part on its ease of customization, and was successful enough that the Japanese automaker has actually cut back on production due to the threat of oversaturation.
I know, I hear you—assembly-line individuality is an oxym0ron—but if adding
"pimp-able" options to your product moves enough units to offset the production costs, isn’t that the only equation that counts?