Lead By Example


Prior to customizing for themselves, consumers often encounter products customized by other people within their social network. This research suggests that when encountering a custom-made example of an identity-related product created by an identified social other (e.g., a friend, an acquaintance), consumers infer this social other was motivated to express uniqueness. After making this inference, consumers are also motivated to express uniqueness, particularly when the example was created by a close versus a more distant social other. Consumers express uniqueness through their own customization choices, choosing fewer options shown in the example or choosing fewer best-selling options. Consumers sometimes even pay a monetary cost or sacrifice preferred choices in order to make their own product unique. Further, this effect dissipates when motivations other than expressing uniqueness are inferred about a social other (e.g., for functionally-related products). Across eight studies that span different product contexts, involve real choices, and isolate the underlying theoretical mechanism (i.e., motivation to express uniqueness), this research documents the unique role of custom-made examples, demonstrates the importance of social distance for customization choices, and identifies a novel path explaining when and why individuals express uniqueness.

Jennifer K. D'Angelo / Kristin Diehl / Lisa A. Cavanaugh
JCR Article
Supplementary Materials
Web Appendix