Customization Marketing Done Wrong

When Mike Mace joined Rubicon, the rest of us got a chance to see a grown man wear funky white tennis shoes to work, and well, get away with it. Mike has been wearing Jack Purcell shoes as long as Nilofer has known him (15 years). They are practically part of his personality. Turns out that you can get these custom made to your liking, online. So when Christmas rolled around, this inspired a present. Initially, we thought Nike (which now owns the Jack Purcell brand) was cooler than cool, but as we worked our way through the process we found five areas that “broke” an otherwise fabulous idea, and inspires some lessons for good personalized marketing.
Virtually every part of the shoe is customizable. The two sides of the shoes, the tongue color, the leather/rubber siding, the inner lining and even the stitching color. Best part? You can add words to either the side or the back. How great is that? Choosing amongst 20-30 color and material choices multiplied by five decisions made for some entertainment. Zebra pattern for Mike? Leopard print? Lots and lots of choices.
So Nike looks to be cooler than cool and demonstrating once again that they are one of the best marketers. However, we lost some of our enthusiasm as we got a bit deeper into the ordering process. Here’s what they neglected to do to make the experience and the business model really thrive.

  1. Support the customer in making decisions. Given all the choices, it can be overwhelming to custom design shoes. The design process can be a bit intimidating with all the choices. What about helping to spur customer creativity with a gallery of sample designs? When you click on a button labeled “gallery,” it turned out to be clips of recent games. If athletics were Nilofer’s thing, perhaps she would have been excited. But fashionista is her thing and she wanted to see ideas so we could create the ideal, the best, the coolest shoe ever made. In frustration, we abandoned the shopping cart and left the site. To see an example of a business that really gets it, check out The T-Shirt Deli. It can’t be a very difficult idea to implement. There’s a privately-owned company based out of Chicago that got this right. And Amazon or eBay both let you provide your own images for items. So either done with company focus, or enabled by customer input, Nike missed the opportunity to enable the customer with ideas.
  2. Make it easy to shop. Nilofer wanted to create a shoe in “Rubicon colors,” so we returned to the site and carefully designed a Rubicon shoe. You have to choose from a (wide) variety of color swatches (no PMS colors), so getting everything right took a little effort. The selections were great. The visualization of the shoe was great. Then the realization hit that she never asked Mike during the interview process about his shoe size. Imagine that? How can she order custom shoes as a gift without that information? What now? Can one save the incredibly cool Rubicon shoe for later? No. There is no save button, no download button, no shopping cart feature that allows me to start back up where you had left off. We had to resort to old-fashioned Post-It Notes to remember the many choices made. At this point it was apparent that the site is a bolt-on idea and not fully integrated into Nike’s business.
  3. Create add-on sales. First off, there were no gift certificates. Nilofer’s stepdaughter Sara is a big Converse fan and Nilofer thought Sara might really dig the opportunity to get shoes just the way she wants them. Part of the gift would be the fun she could have selecting the perfect color combination. But you can’t order a gift-certificate or even design a shoe with an email code. How silly. Do they not see the potential for customized shoes as a great gift idea? What about offering me the opportunity to order multiple shoes of the same design at a discount? A whole family, tennis team, rotary club or church could easily turn one sale into multiple sales.
  4. Build a relationship. Nike is missing an opportunity to support viral marketing. Nike should encourage buyers to join “the club.” Do they think that now we’ve ordered customized Rubicon shoes, people are not going to stop and ask questions? They should collect pictures of their customized shoes “in action.” Nike neglected a great opportunity to make me a part of their channel go-to-market.
  5. And bring ’em back. The shoes arrived exactly as promised; arriving about two weeks after the order was placed. But inside the box, they didn’t include any kind of post-sales follow-up to encourage repeat buying. A simple piece of paper to say thank you for the order and please come again would be an improvement.

On the upside, Nike did enable us to spend $60 on a pair of branded shoes. That’s 100% more than what the non-customized shoe costs. But as you can see, they haven’t made the process easy. All good marketing requires an experience that “connects the dots.” It sounds so easy but it’s very challenging. This experience is one of the latest disappointments with firms that do one piece of the marketing solution well, but neglect to close the circle that drives real, lasting success by encouraging customer to complete the purchase… and then buy again and again. We hope these insights spur you to advocate a connect the dots experience for your customers.

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