Posted on June 27, 2016 by: Cooper Crowell, Business Analyst
About two years ago, I decided I wanted to get into woodworking. I grew up in a family of woodworkers and craftspeople. My parents are both incredibly handy. My dad is a former professional carpenter who built beds for his kids, finished out my childhood house and built himself a boat. My mom wove baskets, created stained glass artwork and has yet to find a craft she can’t do. Unfortunately, none of that knowledge is genetic. My first couple of forays into woodworking fell somewhere between “future firewood” and “surrealist table.” So I sought out people who knew more than I did. It turned out there is a robust and active woodworking community spread across the Internet. What was even more surprising was that this community was a small subset of a much, much larger community of Makers.
The Maker Movement
The Maker Movement isn’t new. The idea of doing things yourself because you want to is very old. In fact, archaeologists have unearthed Roman do-it-yourself (DIY) manuals. The Victorian Age saw the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement. The 20th century had the DIY revolution. All of these are connected, but the Maker Movement has taken a large group of disparate interests and given them a broader umbrella under which to group. The Maker Movement pulls in everything from woodworking to microelectronics. The breadth of disciplines is almost astonishing. At the very basic level, though, what brings them all together is that people are saying “I can do that myself.”
The size of the Maker market is fairly astonishing as well. USA Today estimates that Makers pour around $29 billion into the world economy every year. 3-D printing, one of the more visible elements of the Maker Movement, has seen a growth from $300 million in 2012 to around $3 billion in 2015. Instructables.com, a place for Makers to share step-by-step instructions so other people can make on their own, receives around 30 million unique pageviews a month.
On top of the current generation of Makers, there is a large group of younger people growing up in the Maker world. Schools are implementing Maker programs. Some are even building Maker Spaces for kids to use for classes and just for fun. The White House hosted a Maker Faire in 2014 for young inventors. A generation of children will be growing up with the Maker mindset. These kids will be heavily steeped in the ethos of Making.
Makers and Brands
The Maker Movement presents something of a conundrum for brands, though. Part of the ethos of the DIY and Maker Movements is the idea that you can do pretty much everything yourself. Outside of some industries that supply tools and raw materials to Makers, is there any room for brands to speak to Makers? As it turns out, there is tons of room. Both Toyota® and Levi’s® had successful marketing campaigns aimed at Makers. The appeal to Makers doesn’t necessarily need to be “Buy our product to make things!” but “Buy our product to complement your lifestyle.” Jeans and cars aren’t necessarily part of the Maker tool kit, but letting Makers know that you acknowledge them can go a long way. I know for myself that when I see advertising that features woodworking, even in some tangential way, I pay attention.
GE recently embraced the Maker movement with its Garages. These are pop-up Maker Spaces put together with the help of TechShop, a Maker space pioneer. They provide tools for Makers to move their ideas from the drawing board (or computer screen) to the physical world. These Garages don’t just pop up in tech-heavy parts of the world, but in places like Lagos, Nigeria, and Jakarta, Indonesia.
Levi’s recently partnered with Alice Saunders to produce bags made from vintage military or industrial fabrics. Alice had been making them through her company Forestbound and was approached by Levi’s to make bags for them. The partnership was one of the first non-tech-centered partnerships between a Maker and a large company.
Something else agencies can do is start their own Maker Labs. When I was hired by The Richards Group, one of the things that excited me the most about coming to work here was that The Richards Group had its own Maker Lab. The Lab currently boasts a FlashForge Creator Pro 3D printer, several Oculus Rift headsets, an Amazon Echo, several Arduino boards, a Raspberry Pi and enough tools and distributed know-how in the agency to build pretty much whatever you want. It’s also a working lab, with the patina of a shop that is in use regularly. The Maker Lab also encapsulates something we hear a lot at The Richards Group. It’s a place to “go out and have fun.”
So what does this mean for brands in a world where people are increasingly looking around and thinking to themselves, “I don’t need to go out and buy that, I can do it myself.” As we’ve seen, brands can partner with Makers to bring their skills and outsider thinking to products they sell. They can be seen as partners of the Maker Movement, even if they’re not directly involved.
And what do brands get out of engaging with the Maker Movement? In an age where authenticity is a highly sought after commodity, the Maker Movement is positively exploding with authenticity. The Maker Movement, if engaged thoughtfully and openly, can help brands discover what their consumers really want and lend some of its cachet to brands. It also offers brands new and exciting ways to engage with their consumers. So much of the Maker Movement is built around crowdsourcing ideas and crowdfunding.
The Maker Movement more than likely won’t challenge any current industries, but what it will do is open up new avenues to reach consumers. It offers brands a new language to speak to people about their products. The brands that can best position themselves as friends of the Maker Movement will be able to utilize this pipeline.