13 Dec 2018 Craft Marketing Trends
It’s time to make some predictions for 2018! Last year, we organized our look at crafting trends for the new year based on specific crafts. This year, rather than focusing on individual craft sectors, we’re going to take a look at broader trends in Making, and how Marketing and Branding can appeal to self-identified Makers. We hope our observations give you some ideas for how to reach new customers as your year unfolds.
The millennial interest in craft is rooted in the DIY and Hacker movements, layered with their concerns about sustainability, mindfulness, and artisanship. The lines between “makerspaces”, and “communal studios” are blurring as creativity in technology and handwork intersect. For example, TurtleMade now produces fiber tools like Turkish spindles and weaving shuttles on a 3D printer. Traditionalists may shudder, but the millennial crafter sees these tools as creatively handmade as a beautifully-turned wooden drop spindle.They are colorful, durable, and in a price category that invites the curious to be willing to try a new craft. It’s important to remember that the spinner who starts on an affordable resin spindle is going to be buying fiber, as well as the knitting and weaving supplies she’ll need to do something with that yarn she’s spinning.
That’s a very specific example of a broader concept we’re seeing. Traditionally, there has been a general idea that crafts involve creating with soft materials (fabric, paper, thread, yarn) and hobbies involve hard materials (wood, metal, ceramics). Hackers writing code were not even in the same room; their work was considered technical rather than creative. The maker movement, however, views this entire range of activities as part of both a creative and practical expression of do-it-yourself values. The new generation of makers has come to adulthood in a smartphone world, and they’re happy to write an app that solves a problem in their maker endeavors, or design and 3-D print the part they need to fix the vintage leather stitching tool they’re using to make their own shoes. Seeing all of these things as related activities opens up a new way to conceptualize your craft products and put them in the hands of people who are going to use them in ways you haven’t even imagined yet.
These makers are also willing to follow a craft up the production chain. Knitting or crochet may be their gateway into the world of craft, but the general interest in where the materials originate is going to lead some of them into what we think of as second-level crafting, whether it’s dyeing their own commercially-spun yarns, or spinning their own yarn from commercially-prepared fiber. And of course, a few will take it even further, processing wool from sheep to shawl, investing in tools like pickers, drum carders and combs as well as spinning wheels and spindles (if they take up animal husbandry, they’re no longer your responsibility.)
The success of a new generation of print publications that reflect this poly-craftual approach to life is another expression of the maker values. Craft-specific publications are still relevant, but more likely to be found in the big-box craft and hobby stores or the magazine section of the supermarket, drug, or superstore. Specialty retailers like local yarn stores are investing their inventory dollars in carrying the independent quarterlies like Taproot, PomPom Quarterly, Amirisu, Laine, Rib, and Making. Some of these titles have been around for a few years, while others debuted in the last year, but their very existence is a trend. What these publications have in common is that their contents include craft projects (always more than one type of craft), recipes, in-depth profiles of makers, and thoughtful meditations on the creative, slow lifestyle that making implies. There may be travel articles in a more urban-oriented publication, or gardening/farming/livestock articles in a rural-oriented title, but the significant detail is that they present making as a lifestyle choice and the range of content addresses the idea that the reader who knits is also likely to be growing his own vegetables and crafting his own cocktails, so he might want to learn how to make various types of bitters.
They are also exquisitely produced, with heavy paper, exceptional photography and diagrams, and often include additional printed materials like templates for gift tags or actual sheet music. They fly in the face of the accepted wisdom that print is dead, but they also point readers to further digital resources, like being able to download patterns, another example of the fluidity of the boundaries between technology and artisanry. Some of them were started by groups of designers who were collaborators as well as friends, who were already self-publishing in their chosen crafts and decided to make something together. Venturing into publishing seemed like a natural extension of the deliberate work they were already doing. Some of the titles are ad-free, while others accept advertising from businesses that share both their mission and their design aesthetic, and whose products support the publication’s content.
The content of these publications integrates the concepts of sustainability and mindfulness into their editorial stance. Visible Mending, a movement begun by Tom of Holland, appears in Rib No. 2: Navigate, with instructions on how to mend a knitted gansey. Visible Mending is a growing craft concept, fusing the practical with the decorative, while embracing the values of sustainability. Embracing mending as a part of the craft lifestyle leads to other forays into repairing, another aspect of the making movement. The Repair Cafe Foundation, an organization started in Holland, grew from 20 US locations in 2015 to 47 in 2017, with more expected, as dozens of Americans have requested starter packages.
Community, sustainability, and shared makerspace–there’s a constellation of energy around these ideas to which the craft industry should pay attention. Making is a lifestyle, and unlike the Arts and Crafts movement a century ago, making embraces technology rather than standing in opposition to it. Making is also a philosophy that values quality and durability. Creating useful objects that will last out of fine materials with purpose-made tools defines the maker movement. What’s the best way for craft businesses to reach these customers?
Reaching the potential customers who self-identify with the maker movement is a little tricky. Since much of what they value is generally anti-consumption, marketing to their desire to acquire can be counter-productive. Event-based marketing that reaches out to their priorities of community, sustainability, and shared resources may be a more effective approach. For example, let’s say you’re an independent yarn dyer with a handful of wholesale accounts and a couple of festivals you attend. If you’re selling directly to consumers, too, it’s through an online e-commerce site. Your brand does not interact on a face-to-face level with your end customers.
That’s something you might want to change in 2018, on a limited, special-event scale. The customer who identifies as a maker wants to buy craft supplies from other makers, people who share her making lifestyle. The popularity of an event like Indie Untangled, the offsite indie-dyer pre-party that’s held in a hotel convention space the Friday night before Rhinebeck, is an example of such an event. Dyers who don’t have booths at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival itself banded together to put on their own event, which is a huge draw for customers who usually buy from them online or possibly at smaller festivals. Yarn enthusiasts really enjoy the opportunity to meet and buy from the dyers whose yarn they want to knit or crochet. Mason-Dixon Knitting, whose online shop features Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne’s curated collection from makers whose products they enjoy, did exactly this on Black Friday 2017, and Ann posted about it on the blog shortly afterwards:
“One knitter said it was fun to see our yarns and books in person, after seeing them online. I had the exact same feeling, in reverse—it was so great to see people in person that I know so well online. It’s like an O. Henry story, I tell you.”
If you’re working at a wholesale level, you might want to host an event for your customers at an industry show like TNNA, giving your stockists an opportunity to hear about your yarns in a relaxed social setting, where getting to know you as well as your brand is part of the event.
Another way to reach this market is to have an Open Studio Day a couple of times a year where customers can actually shop directly from you in your workspace. They’ll enjoy the chance to see where the magic happens, and you’ll get to connect with your local crafting community and you get input from customers about the directions in which they would like to see your creative endeavors expand. If you wanted to, you could have samples of all your colorways available and take special orders to dye project quantities of colorways that are pre-sold at your Open Studio event. To appeal to your faraways fans, you could pair your studio event with a Facebook Live feed, or do it separately as a digital event, incorporating that technical fluidity into your craft brand.
If you don’t want to invite the public into your workspace (because it’s in your basement and you don’t want them to know where you live), consider partnering with one of your local retailers to do a similar pop-up event. One LYS we know partnered with an independent dyer a couple of years ago. The dyer’s rep had samples of all the bases and a ring with samples of every colorway and customers ordered the base and quantity (minimum 2 skeins) of whatever color they wanted, paying half the cost upfront. They paid the balance when the yarn was shipped to the LYS about six weeks later. It was a winning combination for both the yarn company and the LYS, as the former dyed yarns to order in determined quantities, and the latter avoided the guesswork in picking which colorways on what base would sell in the store. The customers loved it because they got exactly the yarn they wanted with a chance to see the colors and feel the bases (there were even some sample garments to get an idea of how it knit up), instead of ordering online.
The last example, partnering with a retail store, incorporates the concepts of retail kinship. As a popular brand for that particular store, the independent dyer knew that the customers who attended the event would also be ambassadors for the brand. Whether they were wearing their own finished objects made from the yarn, or were sitting at the communal table working on current projects as they planned what yarn they were going to buy for their future projects, the customers were selling the yarn to each other, with very little input needed from either the LYS employees or the dyer rep, other than weight and yardage information on the yarns. It was peer-to-peer selling in which the LYS was as much a social and entertainment venue as it was a place for commerce. There absolutely are trendy designers in the knitting industry, but they become trendy when a group of knitters who see each other’s work frequently get inspired by it and jump on the pattern bandwagon. The drive to push a pattern into the Ravelry Hot Right Now list can come from bottom up from the knitters themselves as well as top-down from the designer or yarn companies. Doing a partnered event, like a special order yarn sampling night or a trunk show, creates excitement around a limited retail opportunity for your brand.
Your retail stockists are a great resource for marketing your brand, because they want you to succeed, too. Work with them to reach those maker customers both in digital space and physical space. Promotions like craft-alongs, in which the retailer provides the space and the knowledgeable support for their customers to make a project designed specifically for your materials, can bridge the physical and digital worlds. Instructions can be posted online in installments and participants can ask questions, share pictures and engage in discussion around the projects and your products. Create hashtags to go with your craft-along so that customers can engage not only locally, but across social media (and thus, around the world) over your products.
While we’re focusing on how to reach that millennial maker customer, we don’t want to leave out the traditional crafter, and connecting those generations is one way to do it. Today’s hipsters are the grandchildren of the hippies, and they share that do-it-yourself ethos. Reach out to both customer bases with intergenerational how-tos, where the elders are teaching the craft skills, and the youngers are teaching the tech skills that enhance the crafting experience for both. Again, sharing ideas with your local retailers to create events that bring the generations together helps your products reach new audiences. It also creates in those customers a sense of warmth and authentic connection to your products, because they have been part of a shared experience, not just a shopping excursion. The satisfaction of learning something new associates your brand with pride and accomplishment.
Whether you’re a maker of the soft craft supplies (yarn, fabric, thread, and patterns for projects) or the hard tools of craft, getting your products in the hands of your customers is the best way to sell them. The way to make that happen is to offer regional sampling or test-driving opportunities as special events, either in partnership with a group of your retailers, or with a local guild or craft show. The “Library of Things” movement describes how traditional libraries and other community centers now have collections of circulating items like tools, kitchen appliances, and toys, that borrowers can use and return. It’s another way the Making movement shares resources when they can’t have a dedicated makerspace. Finding and supporting such efforts in your community (or other communities) is another way to get your products into the hands of your targeted end users. The ones who get serious about the craft become your customers.
The makers who are interested in the crafts your products are for want to know everything they can about you and your company. They want to buy tools and materials from people like themselves, to support others in the making lifestyle. Telling your brand story on your website and through your social media channels helps makers follow your products and company, getting to know who you are as well as what you do. Including customer testimonials or media coverage gives them a reason to trust your company and turns them into customers. Handling the details of their buying experience well makes them loyal. It’s all part of the Know-Like-Trust funnel of customer relationships. So tell a compelling story about what makes your brand unique and how it supports the maker values of community, sustainability and shared resources.
Another way to reach the makers is by working with them. Just as they are checking out your brand to see if it fits their values, you could be checking out your customers to see what they do with your products. Whether it’s on Instagram or Pinterest or through your Ravelry group, identifying some key makers whose projects express your brand aesthetic can lead to a fruitful partnership. You could approach them to be brand ambassadors, whether that’s as low-key as being a moderator for your group or a formal contract as a partnering designer to showcase your yarns or fabric. If you admire their work, chances are that people you want as customers also admire their work. As influencers, their endorsement of your products can bring your brand to the right audience.
Finally, pare down your marketing messages, whether it’s your email newsletter, your website, or print media. Go heavy on high-quality, evocative images that showcase not just your products, but the lifestyle associated with using them, and keep text simple and direct. Focus on a single product or one idea, rather than cramming everything new into an enormous newsletter. When you keep your marketing messages inviting and uncluttered, they provide an escape from the busy pace of your customer’s daily life, and that is attractive. Makers make as an antidote to the stress of 21st century living and a message that offers that respite is one that will be seen.
The Making movement is great news for the craft industry. The artisanal values that the food and beverage industry has embraced have made their way into clothing, decor, and other home arts, and that interest drives the makers’ desire to learn how to do it themselves. Connecting your products with the values of community, sustainability and shared resources gives makers a reason to choose them over your competitors. Embrace the makers.They’re ready to try anything and you can be ready to help them do it.
If you find our insights useful, contact Leanne@stitchcraftmarketing.com to learn how we can help you grow your craft business.