craft economy

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Group Solve.

Marketing is problem solving. Through productizing and service-izing. And since marketing is inextricably linked to branding, problem solving is inherently a good brand strategy trait.

The digital economy has brought us many things to be excited about as marketers: the web, big data, small batch/craft economy offerings, and the Uberization of services aka the sharing economy. But when it comes to problem solving, few of these things are as exciting to me as the “group-solve” phenomenon.  Think open source R&D.

Recently, the Opioid Epidemic Challenge Summit hack-a-thon sponsored by Mass General Hospital and the GE Foundation came up with a Narcan lock box idea that may stem death by opioids. A number of years ago, I worked on an idea called Future Boston (there’s that city again), whereby virtual teams were to come together to solve Boston city problems like traffic, education and population health. This teaming event was sponsored by MIT, IEEE, and the Boston Globe. (Disclosure: it never made it out of plan.)

By bringing great and willing minds together in these hack-a-thon problem solving initiatives, we are doing what humans, with our large brain cases, do best.

When marketers crowd source problems, sans economic motive, amazing things can happen. This is not just a non-profit space, it’s for all members of the commercial community.



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If you visit big box stores like BJs, Costco and WalMart, no matter where you walk outside the food aisle you are going to find some really low cost products. Izod shirts for $16. Patio furniture for $399. Plastic hose winders for $14. Most of this stuff shares one thing in common.  It has a shelf life of about 3 months. Then it will be put out with the trash. You just know the colors will fade, the nylon  unravel, the legs will be uneven and the handles fall off.

When all this stuff — imported from other countries, stuff that low earning families buy to fill the American dream — breaks, they go out and buy more.  Because it’s so cheap. When the new administration puts a border tax on this “stuff,” adding, who knows, 40% more to the price, what will people do?  No longer will they be able to send their kids out in the snow in a $22 ski jacket.

It will change consumerism. It will force to people to spend more wisely. On better quality. I will force makers of dreck to become makers of goods. (There’s a reason they were once called goods.)

This isn’t a political statement. It’s a quality statement. We need more quality. We need less crap in the land fill. Less is more.




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On Long Island where I live we lost 1,200 grocery store jobs year-over-year. Where did those jobs go?  Costco I am betting — a much more efficient and price-favorable retailer. This is the way of the world, this big box approach. Yet as we know, what goes around comes around and even Amazon is experimenting with brick and mortar retail stores. And big consumer packaged goods companies like General Mills and Campbell’s and even Anheuser-Busch InBev are investing in start-ups and small participants in the craft economy.  The craft economy dabbles in small batch, high-value products with an artisanal bent.

I suspect the craft economy will also result in a resurgence in small specialized retailers popping up in towns again.  In our little town, Crushed Olives opened a year or so ago offering assorted olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  Kilwins is offering specialty fudge. And our second independent coffee barista just opened. They’re premium priced but seem to be worth it. The craft economy will by no means be in every neighborhood. But it’s here for those with a little extra cash who like to savor the flavor.  It is fueled by people tired of selling junky or pedestrian quality products. And there is demand.  The craft economy is a multi-billion dollar category.




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The sale of frozen foods has tip-toed along at about 1% gain a year so a number of large food producers are making bets they can see larger growth. ConAgra is making R&D investments in the Marie Calendar and Banquet brands in an attempt jump start things. Efforts to reduce preservatives, salt and sugar are all smart moves but frozen food will never have the allure of dishes that require some assembly. Frozen food is a convenience play and one that is counter to the new craft economy.

Busy moms and dads who have to do some food manipulation, e.g., cutting peeling, shredding, stirring, however slight, feel better about meal preparation. Today’s two income families we are all busy. And dinner prep takes time. But when parents ask why aren’t the kids at the table, they should know the answer: the food is average. Some assembly required meals makes a convenience dinner a better dinner. More smells in the kitchen. More commitment to ingredients. More participation.

Eight minutes of prep time and about 10-20 minutes of cooking sounds about right. Let’s turn the R&D people loose on this type of meal. Healthier eating, healthier preparation and perhaps a few pennies saved.




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The promise of the craft economy is higher quality products. There’s little question that the love that goes into craft beer (or batch beer) is exponentially greater than that going into mass produced brew like Bud Light. Sir Kensington Ketchup is another example of a craft product in search of a sliver of market share. With less sodium and sugar and no genetically modified ingredients, the product has a built in market. So long as the taste is there. Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo is a successful craft product. The craft economy is growing.just mayo

Here’s the thing about the internet age. A craft product can go from zero to 3/5th of a mile in ten seconds like that. Distribution channels aside, if a craft product “hits,” demand can soar in hours. New product producers and manufacturers need to have a “soar” plan.

And not all craft product people want to mass produce (wink wink), but those who do shouldn’t be caught off guard. It takes months and lots of money (in stocking fees) to get consumer packaged goods onto a grocery store shelf. That’s too long. You need a plan. Costco? BJs? Direct to consumer via the web? Options all.

New product people in the craft space – crafty they must be.           



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I had an amazing girlfriend in college who used to hand-paint socks. They were cooler than cool. Almost still have a pair…it was a long time ago. B Street Shoes is a concern whose founder Blake Barash had made a business out of hand painting kicks or sneakers. His site on Etsy gets more than 140,000 visits a month and his shoes sell for about 2 hundie. Blake, has found the craft economy. I love to read this kind of story.

My college psych profession tried to steer me into “leisure time counseling,” thinking as technology evolved people would have more time on their hands. The craft economy is an answer to that free time. Rather than ingest digits, saturated fats, TV shows and movies, people are finding it exciting to make stuff. And, in the craft economy the stuff we make is meant to last, not hit the landfill. Woodworking for men of a certain age is all the rage. Cooking and gardening are coming back into fashion. In the craft economy, we have a newfound appreciated of goods and services. Keep it coming.


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hain celestial

I was listening to Irwin D. Simon the CEO of Hain Celestial on a webcast yesterday and he mentioned a consumer insight that was both true and funny. Mr. Simon’s company is the largest natural organic food producer in the U.S. Not too long ago, said Simon, people would prefer to eat the bag over the food. Add that to the fact that natural organic products typically cost 15-20% more and you have some serious roadblocks.

Hain Celestial is doing so well these days because it is focusing on taste. For many people, when you say “nature bars” or “grain and oat cookies” the mental response is cotton-mouth. The reason obesity is pandemic in the U.S. is because sugar, salt and fat taste good.  Changing the taste profile of natural food is why Hain Celestial is growing a 3 times the pace of traditional foods. 

Hain Celestial’s product portfolio is growing. Their products are 99% GMO free (Genetically Modified Organisms.)  And though I wouldn’t exactly put them in the craft economy category, they are getting there. BluePrint, their cold pressed juice brand, is definitely a craft product.

Keep an eye on Hain Celstial. The CEO gets consumers, product, and marketing. And that’s a tasty recipe.


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Gentrification is often seen as a bad word. It’s happening in Brooklyn, Oakland, Brixton and well beyond. Frankly, gentrification is a sign of economic progress. It’s also a demographic phenomenon; a changing of the boomer guard. The Brooklyn surrounding the Barclay Center is very different than it was 10 years ago. The Norwegian enclave in Bay Ridge is no longer what it was decades ago. We are an economically driven, upwardly mobile society when the economy allows. And with so many stories of gentrification, it seems the economies are on the mend.

I talk a lot about the craft economy – an economy where “junk” products and services shipped here in containers from China are less welcome. Where it is better to buy something for more money that won’t go into a landfill in 18 months. Where tradesman and craftswomen are more interesting to talk to than investment bankers. Where lettuce grown on your own property tastes better than something wrapped by Dole in plastic bag.

The craft economy is about taking pride in your planetary contribution. Dialing down pesticides and PVCs. Living a healthier life so you needn’t pump the body up with pharmaceuticals. It’s about fixing up neighborhoods. And reaching out to all kinds of people, to learn the crafts of yesteryear and create the crafts of tomorrow. Marketers are learning from the craft economy. Go forth and prosper.


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Extracting Gold.

A friend has a great business idea. It is intended to help businesses sell more, to more, more often at higher prices (thanks Sergio Zyman for the “more” nugget). The fact-finding rigor is wide and deep but also thorough and quite brilliant.  A small component of the business idea — “how” fact-finding occurs — is also really smart. It is agile, contemporary and befitting of today’s social business. More importantly, it may be a potential business unto itself. A huge potential business. All it needs is to be productized, branded and packaged.  We’ll see how it all plays out.

A mentor of mine named Dick Kerr, the world’s first million dollar a year copywriter, once said “The idea to have an idea is sometimes more important than the idea itself.” Yes, he was a tippler. Anyway, his entrepreneurial point was to “do something” and good things will happen. In today’s craft economy one might say “make something” and good things will happen.

Brand planners are sometimes accused of overthink, head-in-the-clouds pattern recognition, and inoperable observations.  But without all of that up front work, the big extraction can’t take place. Call it what you will – I often refer to it as the boil down – the big chucks of gold are there. They are gleaming and waiting to be found. You just have to start doing and making.  Peace.

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A little bit of a 4-trick pony when I land on a market insight, I ride it and ride it and milk it in What’s the Idea? Todays trick is The Craft Economy.  Words are important, brand planner agree, and the word “craft,” according to Jeremiah Owyang, may not do my craft economy business meme justice. Jeremiah feels it may suggest more “arts and crafts” than I intend. Michaels Stores kind of things.  The reality is, the word was borrowed more from craft beer than the ribbon and button set.

To me the craft economy is about craftsmanship. It’s about building things that last. Physical things that can be passed down through generations – not thrown into the landfill.  Things we repair. In my current Henning Mankel book, a character suggested civilization took a turn for the worse when we stopped darning our or socks.

As technological advances create more leisure time for Americans and Europeans we need to find more life-positive things to do with our hands and minds.  The TV, eating, drinking are not the best of pastimes.  By focusing on save-the-planet activities we will save ourselves.  That’s the craft economy. And maybe there is some art in that.



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