The Self-Expressive Customization of a Product Can Improve Performance

Ulrike Kaiser, Martin Schreier and Chris Janiszewski
Article Snapshot
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Product Customization Improves Performance
Key Takeaways

​What? Products can be customized for function, aesthetics, or self-expression. For example, Nike athletic shoes can be customized to reflect the identity of the person that buys and wears the shoes.

So What? Self-expressive product customization may have motivational consequences for tasks performed using the customized product. For example, those customized shoes may motivate the person to run more.

Now What? A consequence of self-expressive customization is that they can be identity-affirming and build brand loyalty.

Article Snapshot​s: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing Research

This research demonstrates that the self-expressive customization of a product can improve performance on tasks performed using the customized product..

Research Question
While one might expect that functional customization (e.g., shaft length of a golf club) influences objective performance, the idea that non-functional customization (e.g., color of a golf club) influences performance is less intuitive. In this research we wanted to test anectodal evidence that people believe the customization of non-functional product attributes enhances performance (e.g. many athletes believe that they will perform better when wearing a jersey with their preferred number).We propose that there is sth. uniquely motivating about using a customized self-expressive product.

One set of studies was with business students and a promotional university pen. Some participants customized the pen to self-express themselves, another group picked the pen they liked most. Later, participants used their pens to solve an anagram puzzle, and we measured their persistence and task performance. In our other studies, students decorated a paper dart flight or a beer coaster, and we observed their performance in a subsequent game of darts or a coaster flip game.


When participants used their customized, self-expressive pen, paper darts flight, or beer coaster, they found more words in an anagram puzzle, scored higher in a game of darts, and caught more coaster in a coaster flip game. This performance effect does not always occur. It only occurs when the customized product is used to pursue a goal whose desired outcome can affirm the identity that has been extendet into the product.


Brands offering mass customization typically promote design utility to potential customers (e.g., Adidas Eyewar: "Millions of combinations", Salvatore Ferragamo: "Your shoe to reflect your personal style"). Our results suggest that performance utility might be another way to market mass customized products. For example, one could say, "compete better with custom Nike sneakers", "score lower with customized Callaway clubs", or "drive better with your custom Mini", though the effectivness may depend on the believability of such claims. 

Questions for the Classroom

  • Is it true that 'you are what you wear'?
  • Why do people consume identity-relevant products?
  • What do you think would happen if soccer star Lionel Messi swapped his shoes (he has the Argentine flag and the name of his son on it) with Neymar before the next match?

Article Citation: Ulrike Kaiser, Martin Schreier, and Chris Janiszewski (2017) The Self-Expressive Customization of a Product Can Improve Performance. Journal of Marketing Research: October 2017, Vol. 54, No. 5, pp. 816-831


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Author Bio:

Ulrike Kaiser, Martin Schreier and Chris Janiszewski
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