The power of personalization: When a product on the shelf calls your name

At Digital Design Days in Geneva, print gets personal as HP technology helps brands build connections with the modern consumer.

By Tara Giroud — March 12, 2019

The era of “one size fits all” products is over. From drink labels bearing the tartans of various Scottish clans to magazine covers adorned with individual messages for its top subscribers, personalized products are what today’s consumers want — and they’re willing to pay a premium for it.

A shift in the world of retail is driving consumers to demand more from brands. Shoppers expect more than just the same products on the shelf — those products need to be customized and connect with shoppers on a deeper level.

“We live in a shoppertainment society,” says retail consultant and trends expert Nicole Leinbach-Reyhle, founder of Retail Minded. “We, as consumers, have basically said to brands and retailers, ‘Hey, entertain me. Give me something worth wanting,’ and that comes down to personalization.”

According to the Deloitte Consumer Review, 36 percent of consumers want personalized products and 22 percent are willing to share some personal data to get it. For millennials and Gen Z those numbers are even higher.

A study by sparks & honey and commissioned by HP broke down the desire for personalization by generation, revealing that 45 percent of millennials want customized products, and that number is expected to climb to 53 percent for Gen Z. And it’s not just the newest generation of consumers, who grew up with social media and targeted news streams, expecting customized products. Some 27 percent of baby boomers and 32 percent of Gen Xers also want products that speak directly to them. Additionally, consumers are willing to pay a premium for a personalized product. In some sectors, such as fashion and home goods, more than 3 out of 4 would pay at least 10 percent above list price.

“Humanizing technology is the thing that really helps your business grow.” 

Jose Gorbea, HP brand owner for digital print

HP's Jose Gorbea explaining the power of print personalization in Geneva.

Digital Design Days 2019 / Stefano Pollio

HP's Jose Gorbea explaining the power of print personalization in Geneva.

Personalization in practice

Last month, personalization was the buzziest topic at at Digital Design Days, an art-forward trade show uniting the world's creative digital agencies with influential decision makers, as well as digital artists and the companies that make technology and tools for creators and brands. HP was a sponsor of the three-day event, a collaboration between Italian designer Filippo Spieza and Geneva-based creative agency Buzz Brothers. In fact, personalization was a key feature of the trade show experience: After registration, attendees were given a choice of small cubes printed with unique designs, like hands coming together in the shape of a heart or a comic book-stylized version of two women. The cubes were printed with invisible watermarks that, when scanned with HP’s app on a smartphone, took the viewer to different online destinations, which changed each day and where guests were able to play games and win prizes.

At HP’s booth, event-goers could watch demos of HP’s free Adobe Illustrator plugin,  HP SmartStream D4D (Designer 4 Designers), which uses algorithms to take a single motif or piece of digital art and, with a few clicks of a mouse, produce billions of unique designs. Designers took part in a "creative battle" where they competed for an HP Z workstation.

Elsewhere at the show,  in front of a sold-out crowd of some 1,500 people from the business and creative worlds, HP brand owner for digital print in EMEA Jose Gorbea unveiled a new “personalization framework” for brands, backed by the new research from sparks & honey, and a host of proof points to show how brands could grow through personalized digital print.

According to Gorbea, brands can grow sales and loyalty by targeting their customers in a meaningful, personalized approach using technology such as HP’s digital print programs. But that growth will only happen as long as the technology is being used to connect to a deeper purpose, he says.

This deeper purpose can be identified in the framework, called the Personalization Pinwheel. HP’s research found six emotional drivers that draw consumers to a personalized product: Fingerprinting; flying your flag; letting it all hang out; permission to indulge; bringing bonds to life; mindful materialism.

“Humanizing technology is the thing that really helps your business grow,” Gorbea says. “One of the six drivers, or benefits of personalization, which we call ‘mindful materialism’, is all about inspiring thoughtful consumption … If I’m going to spend extra money or buy more bottles of a product, what is that brand doing for the planet?”

For example, the South African cream liqueur brand, Amarula, printed 400,000 labels picturing an elephant logo with a unique graphic design and an elephant’s name. This created a connection between the consumer and the estimated 400,000 African elephants, all of which are under threat from poaching and habitat loss. In an earlier phase of its  “Name them, save them” campaign, for every bottle sold, $1 was donated to the Kenyan-based conservation group WildlifeDirect.

Line Jørgensen, brand manager of Aqua d’Or, speaking at Digital Design Days.

Digital Design Days 2019 / Stefano Pollio

Line Jørgensen, brand manager of Aqua d’Or, speaking at Digital Design Days.

The proof in personalization

Other customized products from companies who used HP print technologies for their personalization campaigns were on display at Digital Design Days. Packaging from an Oreo campaign, which illustrated the “bringing bonds to life” emotional driver, allowed customers to create personal messages online that were printed on single boxes of cookies and sent to friends. Oreo ran the campaign three years in a row and generated 85 million social media impressions and sales of more than 140 percent of its target.

The “permission to indulge” driver was illustrated by the one million unique Origamoo labels on Parra cow chocolate bars, each one a different pattern created by HP’s SmartStream software that also printed dotted lines for folding the wrapper into a million one-of-a-kind origami cows.

This high level of unique customer experience is what Line Jørgensen, brand manager for Danish water company Aqua d’Or, wanted for its “Flow Your Way” campaign in 2018. Aqua d’Or wanted to print 300 different labels representing each year the company’s water is filtered through the ground. Jørgensen struggled to find a print solution for such a large number of designs, but by using HP’s D4D software, her concept grew to encompass 3.2 million unique labels created by Danish artist Emil Kozak. He focused on playful designs with symbols like rocks and water drops. When the algorithms went to work, it produced combinations he’d never imagined. “It was this totally different way of thinking about graphic design,” says Kozak. “That’s really refreshing.” 

The response was tremendous, Jørgensen says. The “Flow Your Way” campaign led to a 50 percent growth in market share during that period, and Aqua d’Or ran a smaller personalization campaign during Christmas with 100,000 variations on ornament themes. Engagement was high and customers even posted pictures of their water bottle collections on social media, which she said was unusual for fast-moving products like water.

Event goers got to create their own designs using HP SmartStream software.

Digital Design Days 2019 / Stefano Pollio

Event goers got to create their own designs using HP SmartStream software.

Consumer choices, personal needs

Customization also goes beyond packaging and the shopping experience to the products themselves.

For example, Olay Skin Advisor from Olay, a skin care brand of Procter and Gamble, can analyze a shopper’s selfie and make a personalized recommendation for skin care products, said Gemma Andreu, Procter and Gamble’s hair care division communications director.

Because consumers see themselves as very individual, brands have to be as targeted as possible. “What used to be a delight is now an expectation,” she says.

In the past when products were mass-produced, customers could find some customization through specialized stores or through engraving and monogramming, retail analyst Leinbach-Reyhle says.

Now, in our digital world, where consumers want exciting products that are fun and accessible, brands and retailers have new opportunities to connect with shoppers.

“Customers don’t need to go to one store to make something personalized, their favorite brand can deliver on that now,” she says.

For Gorbea, technology is helping bridge the gap between product and people.

"It’s not about what the technology can do," he says, "it’s what the benefit is for the human being interacting with what you print.”


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