A long journey in search of the perfect cup of coffee
I drink an awful lot of coffee, and as a result got used to drinking an awful lot
of bad coffee. In 2005 I was doing some trend work for a client, and came
across an increasing number of interesting organisations exploiting the reach
of the internet to make Mass Customisation a reality. ‘It’d be cool if someone
would do that for coffee’ I thought – ‘ I wonder if they ever will?’
Early in the days of the mass-produced age, consumers got used to the idea of ‘one size fits all’. If you wanted choice, then you voted with your feet, in choosing a product from a rival supplier, or from a different category. This worked pretty well for Henry Ford, and ran through much of the 20th century. The concept of Mass production relied on minimal variation, and predictable throughput in order to work.
Initial inroads in tailoring products to consumer needs didn’t come through innovation in production, but rather in marketing – where manufacturers realised that by promoting different features and benefits, they could market a common product to different groups of customers. As consumer insights became more sophisticated, so product variables evolved, but still within the same manufacturing premise – mass production, end-to-end on a single production line.
The advent of the internet, together with more flexible manufacturing techniques led a number of companies to experiment with cosmetic customisation in the early 2000’s with varying degrees of success. For every Dell, you’ll also find Proctor and Gamble’s “Reflect”, Cannondale, or Levi’s Personal Pair. The Economist highlights some of the pitfalls to watch for in this insightful article from 2009
More recently, Tesla have demonstrated the potential of cloud based software solutions to customise physical goods on-demand. It will soon be viable for cars to be generically manufactured with a complete range of hardware, which is only rendered usable by the consumer once activated over-the-air. It’s a fantastically flexible model which allows for endless upgrades, service variations and new features – well after the product has left the factory.
Moreover, according to our friends at Wired, 2013 promises to be the year of 3D printing – shifting the fundamental nature of production – and creating a new marketplace for manufacturing IP and 3D design.
Service companies will find the benefits of mass customisation every bit as valuable as manufacturers – and often much easier and cheaper to deliver. As for my coffee idea? Well, it took a while, but http://eightpointnine.com/ finally launched in 2011.
Mass Customisation is the focus for the Inaugural ‘What’s Next’ masterclass, launching in January 2013 - combining WIRED'S award-winning capability for storytelling and trend watching with Market Gravity's ability to turn insights into market impact, at speed. Together, we’ll be exploring the trends that will change the way we do business in the future. Find out more here: http://marketgravity.ticketleap.com/whatsnext/
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