design and marketing blog

Mass-Marketing and the Individualist

Consumers often define themselves by the things they purchase. What they drive, how they decorate their living and work spaces, the clothes and accessories they wear, the foods and beverages they consume, and the tools or toys that they have.

For years brands have mass-marketed their brand stories to drive purchases and brand affinity. But some consumers actively resist such conformity, seeking products and brands that let them express their uniqueness. Is there a way we bring these revolutionaries back into favor with traditional brands?


Traditionally, consumer brand marketers have used aspirational depictions as a way to attract audiences or consumers en mass who collectively aspire to that life style. Apple appeals to the aspiring hipster-technocrat, Kohler appeals to homeowners who are prosperous and style conscious.

Beyond the functional value of purchasing these brands, consumers use them as status symbols to validate the self-perception of themselves as hipster-technocrats, or prosperous and style conscious. They show off and talk about their purchases with their peers, to gain admiration and validation of their status and taste, and evidence of how they perceive themselves.

The problem with this approach is that it reflects niche conformity. And conformity doesn't always appeal to everyone. In fact, consumers are spending increasing amounts in purchases to define themselves as unique and non-conforming. Essentially some consumers are buying their way out of a fear of conformity. And although status symbol brands aren't likely to become extinct, brands can find prosperity by finding ways to engage and empower those consumers seeking to create more individuality.


Most everyone has experienced the sheer terror of meeting someone with the same shirt, or the same purse, or the same shoes. And maybe in response to that, you purchased a one-of-a-kind purse, tie, eyeglasses, shoes, or a car. Maybe it was customized just for you, maybe it was hand-made, or maybe it was simply really hard to find and required extraordinary tenacity and shopping skills on your part. Either way, you've experienced the growing desire and choices available for more unique and personalized goods.

Looking at the automotive market we see Mini-Cooper, Scion, and Harley-Davidson serving this desire for personalized brand experiences and purchases. The purchasing experience seems designed to serve the individualist, not the masses. Personalization is part of the purchase. And these consumers buying for individuality often become the most passionate about telling their "I made this" story about those brands, as a way to validate their independence and uniqueness, stellar shopping abilities, and peerless taste.

Some brands that can't offer customized products or services, are instead personalizing the purchasing experience. By providing personalized shopping consultation, or frankly just more "brand experience" around shopping they are able to create loyal customers, foster great word of mouth, and charge premium prices over competitiors.

These insights reflect the evolving trends in consumer desires and loyalty. To earn or keep their loyalty, these individualist consumers seek brands that provide transparency and let them be more deeply involved, brands that empower them to express themselves uniquely, and brands that give them visibility and recognition among their peers.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Think about which of your products could allow some level of customization by purchasers.
  • Think about changing your purchasing experience to feel more like an individual consultation with a unique outcome.
  • Let individualists tell their stories. Use your web site as a forum for their expression.
  • If you feature hard to find or limited selections of products, celebrate them with passion. And find ways to build longer term relationships with your customers.

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