The Four Generations of Personalized Experiences

Franco Varriano
January 12, 2021
 min read

Progress within any industry typically follows a simplified pattern: big leaps (vertical progress) followed by a stream of steady improvements and wider access (horizontal leveling of the playing field).

The figure below visualizes this process:

Each horizontal stage enables wider participation and new opportunities within that industry, before one or more of those ideas or participants makes the next jump forward.

The tech sector has seen several of these big leaps. In just decades, we’ve gone from graphical user interface (GUI) in the early Apple days, to mobile smartphones, to the more recent proliferation of tools that empower users to tap into artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and more.

We find ourselves today in a horizontal stage—getting ready for big and exciting leaps forward in the years to come. One of those leaps will take us from customized to personalized products—a distinction we talked about in our earlier post about the Product Personalization Matrix.

Personalized products can be sorted into two categories: basic and advanced.

The advanced category doesn't currently exist for a variety of reasons. But that's where Creative Layer sees the biggest opportunity!

To understand these advanced personalized experiences, picture a pile of LEGO. Each block represents a different part of who you are in the digital and physical worlds. There’s a block for your favourite music, a block representing the photos you love, another with your preferred editing effects. What if tools could easily gather up these blocks and allow you to build your own physical or digital product? It would be pretty cool, huh?

That's the core essence of a truly personalized experience.

The four generations of personalized experiences

There are four stages to reach the point of advanced product personalization. These stages build on one another to ultimately create tools and technology capable of producing intimate and immersive personalization experiences.

Generation 1: Static content and static product experience

This generation of personalized products has existed for a while and most of us are familiar with it. Examples include adding custom text to a t-shirt, engraving the back of a watch, or laser etching your AirPods case.

Generation 2: Enhanced content and static product experience

This is the current generation of personalized experiences. In this stage, personalization is still viewed as a fun feature or as a marketing stunt. Consumer apps like Snapchat or Instagram enable people to enhance photos, videos, or live streams with a variety of effects powered or generated by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. These customizations use a template and users create within those guidelines. Brick-and-mortar retailers are also operating in this realm and using emerging technologies to drive the future of personalization. (link to that piece here)


It’s this stage where Creative Layer sits—for now.


Our platform enables our partners and forward-thinking brands to create their own personalized product experiences from defined product templates. We'll even work with you to create your experience from scratch!


Your experience is then handed off to customers and fans, who can create something unique and personalized to them. Take a brand offering premium pet prints, for example (who doesn’t love a good animal picture?!).


Creative Layer enables that brand’s customers to upload a photo of their pet and create a print using a special effect of their choice. Many of these effects wouldn’t be possible without AI, since commissioning an artist or professional designer would take lots of coordination, time, and money.


Generation 3: Enhanced content and enhanced product experience

This generation of personalized experiences adds the ability to produce outputs that go beyond static experiences. This is where we get those LEGO blocks of data—simple, visual elements that anyone can interact with to make things more interesting.


Within this generation of personalized experiences, both content and product experience are more flexible to the needs and creativity of the end-customer. Customers have the tools to push their ideas and experiences further, but not all the way.


Generation 4: Dynamic content and dynamic product experiences

This is truly immersive personalization; a collective virtual shared space (metaverse). While we can still only speculate what might be involved at this tier, we have some understanding of what it could feel like. Hint: it could seem a lot like magic or sci-fi. To paraphrase author Arthur C. Clarke, that is effectively what technology does: it creates magic.

Some thoughts on what these immersive experiences could be like:

  • There is no distinction between the physical and digital worlds.
  • Your "identity" (if you want to call it that, but it’s much more encompassing), is immediately known and highly leveraged from the start of the experience. No more quizzes to get going, you'll jump right into what the metaverse thinks you want.
  • You have the capacity to shape and create each moment. You can play within predetermined borders, or effortlessly push through and create your own variations.
  • Collaboration and creativity are seamless and at your disposal. Customers become creators and it is possible to remix everything as mini-experiences or alternate realities.
  • Curation plays a much bigger role in navigating this dynamic world.

What else will this metaverse hold? Only time and our own ingenuity will tell.

The personalized future of products

We still find ourselves in the very early days of Generation 2 experiences, in one of these horizontal leveling stages between significant leaps.

Empowering everyday people to use elements of their identity as building blocks to explore their own creative ideas and generate new product lines or businesses is incredibly exciting! The tools of remixable creativity and personalization are intimately tied to commerce—but don’t necessarily look like it at first glance.

But as Chris Dixon, a partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz says, disruptive technologies are “the ones that sneak by because people dismiss them as toys."

Creative Layer is enabling the next generation of personalized product experiences for brands and creators.

Sign up for early access to Creative Layer if you're passionate about these ideas and want to play a role in shaping this future!