How do you select a product type that might perform well as a customisable, manufactured on-demand product?

One of the key questions you should be considering if you are considering offering a customisable product or service are:

  1. What is the market for my custom offering?
  2. Is this market large enough to sustain the company? 

Sound simple right, find the existing market for the for the product type that you wish to customise and assume you can capture a similar slice of the pie and if it’s big enough proceed.

The reality of finding a market for a custom product is somewhat difficult, it is a mistake to think that offering customisation on top of an existing successful product type is sufficient. In many cases customisation is not sufficiently appealing to enough of the market to justify proceeding. 

Often a start-up or firm embarking on customisation actually find that those who consume the product are a small subset of the market they anticipated capturing, and sadly often that the subset is not sufficiently large enough to justify their continued engagement. Interestingly they also often find that these customers are already customisers of the product type they offer, and were so long before the company offered their service. 

These customers may be categorised as “lead users”, users who are innovating on a product that does not fully serve their needs (von Hippel). According to von Hippel lead users may be categorised as those who 

“(1) They are at the leading edge of an important market trend(s) and so are currently experiencing needs that will later be experienced by many users in that market. (2) They anticipate relatively high benefits to from obtaining a solution to their needs, and so may innovate.”

Such user innovation activities has historically been instrumental in bringing about development in sports equipment and highly specialised tools where the users are experts and their needs have not been fully served by the existing iteration of the product.

With this in mind, how does an organisation working towards customisation as an offering determine if their product might capture a proportion of a market sufficiently large enough to justify their endeavour? 

That is a long and complicated process of research and testing more of which I will cover in a later post but one key strategy is to start identifying areas in which consumers have varying needs that is - heterogenious needs. Wide ranging needs combined with prevalence of user modification  can be indicative of an item likely to perform well if provided under customisable and on-demand services. 

Don't forget though that mass production has been very successful in satisfying the needs of the majority, it does so in a way deemed 'good enough', at comfortable price points, it ships fast, you can inspect it, understand it's brand values and quality indicators. We understand mass produced products, less so customisation.