Quirky additions to Fortune 1000 list show desire for customized products and services

By AK Brinson
Last month, Fortune magazine released its annual Fortune 1000 list. In addition to the expected oil giants, commercial banks and big-box retailers, this year’s list features an eclectic group of newcomers that do everything from brewing coffee to baking bread to helping you be healthier.
What do they have in common? They’ve invested in – and profited from – figuring out how to personalize and customize their offerings for individuals.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (No. 766 and probably best known as the owners of Keurig) saw sales nearly double from 2010 to 2011. They deliver value in single-cup serving machines that bring the coffee-house variety into your kitchen. You and your spouse no longer have to agree on the type of coffee you want to drink in the morning.

Panera Bread (No. 971) offers the “You Pick Two” option (as shown in the picture on the right), which allows customers to select from hundreds of combinations of soups, salads and sandwiches.
Weight Watchers (which weighed in at No. 973) gives its customers daily personalized “PointsPlus programs that allow individuals to tailor a weight loss/meal plan to their needs. In response to consumer feedback, Weight Watchers overhauled its Points system in 2010 and now offers more flexibility with PointsPlus.
The success of these personalization-centric companies demonstrates the billion-dollar impact that customization can have.
There are many ways companies can, and should, personalize their public relations and marketing communications. Here are five suggestions:
Customize pitches to journalists and bloggers. The days of “spray and pray” mass pitches are (thankfully) coming to an end. Now, proper pitching includes researching what individuals have written about recently, what they’re saying publicly on social media networks such as Twitter, and the requests for sources they put out on email lists such as HARO and Profnet. Technology and social media make it easier than ever to write stronger, more targeted pitches.
Personally thank customers for their business. According to Forbes, only 21 percent of stores personalize thank-you notes after an online purchase and only 5 percent personalize thank-yous after an in-store purchase.
Monitor social media and online forums for user feedback and respond to each user for better quality customer service. Social media allows companies to identify and solve customer service problems early in the process. A speedy response can turn a negative into a positive.
Design websites to be phone and tablet-friendly. Not only are people likely looking at your website on a smaller screen via a potentially slower cellular connection, they’re making judgments and taking action (or not taking action) based on what they see. So, websites coded to be just as accessible and user-friendly on a small screen are now a necessity.
Create targeted website content and LinkedIn company pages. LinkedIn has a targeting feature that will allow the information on a company page to target individual audiences (here’s how). Develop websites with special pages geared towards individual audiences.
What are some of your favorite tips for helping customers personally connect with your company?
Photo courtesy of Shannon Abigail Simbulan’s Flickr photostream.