Selling stuff? It's not enough

Henry Ford clattered way out ahead of the pack, of course, with his assembly-line-built cars for everyone.

So cut the innovative industrialist some slack for his Old Economy view of product customization: His Model T came in "any color," a Ford ad famously said, "so long as it's black."

Today Mr. Ford's company is hustling to hop on the runningboard of a trend long under way: Letting consumers pick from a product line that offers something to please every kind of customer.

It's about more than color.

Ford's new "Outfitters" marketing campaign mimics a Land Rover tactic: displaying special-purpose trucks (short beds, fancy racks), with special-purpose recreational equipment as props.

The idea: There's a vehicle built for what you want to do.

Smart move. But among many consumers - in areas far beyond automotive - customization is already taken for granted.

Today's pace-setting marketers now throw in tastes of the experiences the products were built to facilitate - off-road adventures, in the case of trucks.

That's the "takeout" version of something called experience marketing. There's an "eat in" version, too: That's where stores let you run a product through its paces before you fork over any cash.

When you get down to it, even the local mall is now selling a walk-through experience. The dot-coms are driving local stores to be much more creative - just to make it worth leaving the house.

A friend who's a real estate developer in Chicago now focuses exclusively on the boom area of "entertainment retail," artfully arranging stores, eateries, and theaters into nice worlds to visit - environments in which to spend.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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