The personalization trend is being driven at the core by the desire of people to be the producers and creators of their own lives. This is the conclusion of an excellent opinion piece by Thomas de Zengotita in the LA Times: The iPod as a Reflection of You, (free registration required) and his analysis is spot on.
But what's going on underneath all this is that consumers want to displace producers entirely. What customers really want is to produce for themselves. And not just for themselves. Ultimately, they want to produce themselves.
Things being what they are — things like refrigerators and cars and stoves — consumers can't actually become manufacturers. But wherever media technologies are making it possible for consumers to become the producers, they are doing it. The terms "customer" and "customize" have always been affiliated. Now they are fusing.
The challenge I see around me is that many (most?) organizations have finally figured out branding, and finally got control of the global brand, and the last thing they want to do is give up any of that control to the consumer.
In some respects, it's easy for Apple: because they've given you content control, the look and feel are all clearly Apple, through and through. But what do you do when you are Citibank or Ford?
It's all well and good to say "be more like Apple", the challenge is translating this personalization & customization desire in a meaningful way to other industries. The organizations that figure out how to permit maximum consumer empowerment while simultaneously supporting a strong brand will be the winners in the next few years.