Trends in Personalisation - a talk

Trends in Personalisation - a presentation by Joanna Miller
Paperfest, Top Drawer London, Sunday 10th September 2017


Personalisation:  The story so far

Why do people purchase personalised gifts?  I think we would agree that it makes us feel like we are spending our money on something unique that will say, this isn’t for just anyone, this is for you, I thought of you when I was buying it, you are special.

Personalisation is a fast-moving trend.  My daughter is 13 and has received just two personalised gifts; a monogrammed passport and a Christmas bauble.  My youngest son is 8 and has received a personalised money box, sweatshirt, book ends, a wallet with his initials Velcro-ed on, a personalised sword, cutlery and Christmas bauble.  In 5 years things have moved on!

Personalisation has progressed partly due the advent of digital technology.  As creatives we have easier access to cheaper materials from places like China on which to sublimate, engrave and work.  The world is getting smaller and technology cheaper.

As a result of demand and the need to come up with new, there is increasingly sophisticated use of materials such such as cloth, leather, wood, glass, metal, paper.  In small studios we can now personalise aprons, clothes, shoes, cushions, towels, prints, mugs, pots, belts, bags, bottles, frames, and children’s story books.  Is there anything left that we haven't personalised?

Personalised products are available as high end, or low end purchases.  They’re on the high street from Boots to Burberry, everywhere you look and it’s often brilliantly convenient.  Moon Pig in Australia recently saved my bacon, getting a 40th birthday card to my sister in two days, without me having to pay for international delivery.  Result: one happy customer.


Personalisation:  The Challenges

  • We know customers also want speedier delivery – hard when you are crafting a skilled piece or work from scratch, but easier with simply personalised items. Sometimes simple is better if you feel the pressure to compete.  But is it really you?
  • We also know ease of ordering improves the chances of a purchase so that the customer does not give up half way.  This may mean fewer option boxes or hoops to be stepped through. 
  • The customer may feel that personalisation is too ordinary or easy now – it’s actually a cop out, not taking much effort. Like me and the card perhaps!
  • The market is saturated and there is the inevitable copying of innovative personalised products. This leads to the inevitable the race to be unique.  Creatives like myself feel the drive to create newness all the time.  Retailers feel the pressure to stock new products too.. .
  • And of course, there is the issue of sustainability of this vast market – personalised gifts have no reuse and cannot be given to charity shops.
  • Growing a business built on bespoke commissions and your talent is hard to scale. It can be exhausting.  You become the strength and weakness of your business.  How do you price your time, what is your creativity and your time worth?


Personalisation:  The Opportunities

  • It’s a massive market still expanding, especially for big occasions.
  • Technology developing means more personalisation can be done by small businesses in house. Things are constantly moving and changing.  You need to be able to respond to that.
  • Customers are looking for more subtle and original ways of personalising, from soundwaves to songs or ingenious use of images.   For me, the move is away from dominance of words on products.  The single word or name offering on word art, mugs, cushions is a saturated market and is, perhaps, on the wane.
  • To double up in the offering, for example a personalised star constellation chart and message, foiled map and message - these offer imaginative appeal and tell a story as well.
  • Many creatives report a move towards subtle and light touch personalisation. eg beautiful passport holders with initials. 
  • We see an increased desire to be involved in the creation or design of an object. And also, increased orders from men.  To quote a friend of mine ‘customers are getting more demanding but more creative.’ Can we offer opportunities for this?
  • We also see an increased appreciation of the fully bespoke ie items that contain the heart and soul of the creative, for example hand painted animal or house portraits.


Personalisation:  What does it mean for me?

As a retailer you may be asking:

  • Should I offer personalised products.  Should I work with a large personalised gift business who drop ship or a local maker? 
  • Have I got space to display?  Will the creative drop shop or drop off at the shop ? Can we agree a percentage? Who pays for samples?
  • Do the products fit with my range and the tastes of my customers.  Are they authentic? Do they stand out?
  • Can the maker come to the shop and personalise there if they are local?
  • Can the maker supply me with a storyboard to make this a special purchase?  Do their forms or online processes make it easy and quick for me and the customer to order?

 As a creative, I may be considering

  • What sorts of personalisation suits my customer, if any?  Can I create a range of price points and levels of personalising can I offer?
  • Can I offer fully bespoke? And price it according to my skill?
  • Can I offer imaginative products that tell a story – and let the customer express themselves by being part of the creative process?
  • Can I offer subtle and light touch personalisation? Perhaps of packaging not product which drives sustainability.
  • Or do I focus on creating more personal products that speak to the customer without actually personalising them?


    Personalisation:  Conclusion

    A trend is not an absolute thing – it is a broad sweeping aspect that may relate to some businesses more than others.

    In my business, fully bespoke orders are a constant rather than a trend.   Otherwise, I am seeing a move towards the personal rather than the personalised.  I see this particularly in our bereavement card which resonates with both customers and recipients.  For other creatives, this could be birthstones, maps, initials, star signs.

    I will close with an example that summarises what I’ve been saying so much better than I could – it’s been used by the wonderful Ella d’Amato at 

    The example she gives is from the film ‘Me before You’ where three gifts are received by the heroine – one handmade, one personalised and one thoughtful. The one that makes her hysterically happy is the pair of tights that her employer has found for her, having remembered her telling him that they were her favourite as a child.

    We all want to know we’ve been listened to and there is someone who will go the extra mile for us.  And at the end of the day, that is what a truly personal gift does.


     (Thank you to my wonderful creative friends who contributed their ideas and experience to my research for this talk.)


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