Mass customization: No one can do it alone


There is still a certain amount of confusion when people talk about mass customization. Not just because it is difficult to pronounce, but also because there seems to be a lack of understanding. But this is understandable, because mass customization is basically a paradox: individual production with the efficiency of mass production.

To understand this contradiction, we need to look into the past. The starting point was the industrial revolution in the second half of the 18th century, as a result of which the assembly line made mass production possible and made goods of all kinds affordable for everyone. Mass-produced goods manufactured in this way still serve global markets today.

However, the ‘one size fits all’ strategy no longer meets the needs of all customers. We are seeing a partial move away from mass-produced goods, as people (at least) in the developed industrial markets are no longer interested in just the bare essentials. They want the thrill of variety, not to go with the flow, but to do exactly what others are not doing – to be unique.

Overstretching the curve

However, mass production has led to the absurd “cheap is cool” mentality with ever cheaper products and has thus overstepped the mark. “The more, the cheaper” was also the motto in print for decades. Print buyers made use of this to the point of absurdity, with the result that a conservative estimate of a third of printed products ultimately ended up in the bin unread because the consumption of a mass print run takes longer than the content can remain current.

As a result of this realization, print runs are becoming smaller, update cycles and the number of smaller print jobs are increasing and printing is generally becoming more and more demand-oriented – which also saves resources such as paper, energy, etc.

Demand-oriented can also mean: a print run of 1. And that brings us back to mass customization, the global trend that has been going on for several years and has recently intensified massively.  

Global trend in all sectors

At the Online Symposium 2024 in Munich, José Salgado reported that the Portuguese Bizay Group, which he co-founded, has set itself the goal of making mass customization one of the largest industries in the world. “To this end, we have developed a global operating system that provides access to the world’s most extensive catalog of over 50,000 customizable products,” explained Salgado.

Bizay uses artificial intelligence in its mass customization consulting services and has for example focused primarily on potential applications in hotels, restaurants and retail. In hotels, individualized mass products range from door hangers, printed bags, notepads and ballpoint pens to textiles for employees, carpets and wallpaper. Restaurants have a similarly extensive demand for individual tableware such as plates, cups and glasses, their own bottles with labels, menu cards or uniform clothing for staff as well as shopping bags, displays, brochures, flyers, packaging and loyalty cards for retailers.  Bizay is represented in 23 countries and after 10 years (founded in 2014) has achieved a turnover of over 40 million euros. Salgado’s goal is to use mass customization to promote tailor-made products for small to large companies around the world. This is because the market extends far beyond the industries mentioned. “The market is huge and incredibly complex. However, no one should believe that they can do it alone,” Salogado noted and recommends cooperating with competitors (coopetition).

Mass Customization Crew

This is precisely what the five solution providers rissc solutions, Tessitura, be.print, ctrl-s and calibrate have now recognized and have joined forces to form the Mass Customization Crew (MCC). According to their own statements, they want to support print service providers and companies with their own print departments with the implementation of process-optimized, highly automated and networked production and facilitate entry into the megatrend of mass customization.

However, the companies behind the MCC do not see mass customization as a phenomenon that only exists because modern technology, IT and software make it possible, but because it is a genuine need. Many people and companies have understood the value of individualized products and the power they can develop. High-quality refinement through individualization turns a standard product into a personal, emotional and valuable product.

Mass customization is not just hype – or limited to certain industries. Mass customization is a social megatrend from which the printing industry and related sectors can benefit in particular.

According to zipcon consulting GmbH, mass customization is growing by 6% to 7% every year in Germany alone – and therefore represents significant and promising growth potential in an overall shrinking market.

In addition, mass customization is closely linked to online printing, which has also grown steadily in recent years, due to the high demands on selection via editors.

Streamlining work processes

In order to be able to offer highly individualized products at an affordable price and benefit from the economies of scale of classic mass production, companies not only need the right mindset, but also highly automated, networked processes and workflows.

This is where the Mass Customization Crew – distributed across its various members – offers its services. This is because the MCC is an entrepreneurial alliance that promises to find solutions to challenges and questions. The members of the Mass Customization Crew provide support for every issue – either themselves or via an MCC partner.

For instance, when it comes to e-commerce systems, web stores or editors for creation, be.print and rissc are the people to contact; when it comes to automating the PDF workflow, including data check and automatic correction, calibrate is the right choice. And if you need support in optimizing and automating your production process, including the integration of online stores, ctrl-s is the right partner – or Tessitura, which ensures that analogue systems are integrated into a uniform digital workflow.

It makes no difference whether a print shop is active in traditional commercial printing, large format or newspaper printing or in the label and packaging market.

New forms of communication

Individualization, personalization, one-offs, 1:1 marketing and mass customization are probably widely known in the industry due to the discussions of recent years, but are still being implemented rather sparsely. However, this segment will become considerably more important. Online platforms on which customers can design and order their own personalized print products with ease have great potential for the future. Print shops are therefore well advised to become more active in this field, build up expertise, invest, create easy-to-use tools and offer creative services and products.

Mass customization: No one can do it alone
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Mass customization: No one can do it alone
There is still a certain amount of confusion when people talk about mass customization. Not just because it is difficult to pronounce, but also because there seems to be a lack of understanding. But this is understandable, because mass customization is basically a paradox: individual production with the efficiency of mass production.
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