Cultural Trends & Innovation: Part 1 – The Rise of Craftsmanship

One interesting trend happening is consumers are questioning what quality means to them. Typically lower quality products have lower expectations, lower price points, and are disposable – whereas higher quality products have higher expectations, higher price points, and are durable.

The Decline of Quality

Now this isn’t news to anyone – most consumers are familiar with price points and quality. What is different though is that quality has been decreasing. As more consumers were able to afford technological at cheaper costs, we started to shift towards a disposable goods economy. Knowing this, companies stopped making products that would last a lifetime because consumers were trading up to the next latest/greatest model when they were able to. Think of Televisions – you can still find and buy retro/vintage televisions that work and can be repaired – but if your new entry-level HDTV stops working, it is cheaper to buy a new one than it is to repair it.

As technology and manufacturing became cheaper, we slowly moved towards a throwaway economy. This comes with a big cost though – it is not sustainable, it increases waste, and the overall quality and experiences of products have decreased. What we are seeing now is a divide between two consumer groups.

The Rise of Craftsmanship: Disposable Goods v. Durable Goods

The economic downturn has caused a growth of two consumer groups:

  • Disposable Goods – Those who are price sensitive and want more for less. They are willing to sacrifice quality (to a point) in exchange for quantity and discounts. These products have limited amount of uses and are throwaways.
  • Durable Goods – Those who are less concerned with cost as long as the product had longevity. They are willing to pay more as long as the quality is high enough that the product retains its value over time. These products can be used multiple times, repaired, and possibly even outlast the consumer.

There is no better example of this divide than to look at men’s grooming. Right now we’re seeing two big trends emerging. One is the Dollar Shave Club – cheap razors for a cheap cost that are disposable. The other is the increase of double edge safety razors, high-end shaving soaps, badger hair shave brushes, and everything else that comes with this throw back style.

One of the reasons why were seeing this divergence is that the economic downturn has created a perfect storm for the rise of Craftsmanship.

–      Our eyes have been turned back to American manufacturing. Purchasing goods closer to home, supporting local businesses, and decreasing carbon footprints.

–      Layoffs and downsizing have forced workers to either seek other vocations or to produce things themselves to cut down on costs.

–      Access to information has decreased the barriers for people to learn trades on their own. They are able to connect with other craftsman, and the rise of niche ‘tribes’ gives them readily available access to consumers that care about their product.

These niche tribes are increasing and have huge potential for growth. Some companies have recognized this and have jumped on the boat early, like P&G’s purchase of The Art of Shaving. Unfortunately, there can be huge missteps since it is the higher quality that is the large draw. The Art of Shaving is an entry level brand for those who are new to the movement – but once they learn about the other smaller brands that are higher quality, will they still stay around?

This is just one example – but there are multiple groups like this. From high end chef knives, to custom dress shoes, and custom tailored jeans – more people are discovering this movement, and it will only get bigger.

What are the businesses around you (or that you know of) that are part of the Rise of Craftsmanship? Let me know if in the comments.

What Drives Your Business

A lot of businesses now are run on faulty models. Things that worked in the past no longer work – they’re broken.

Newspapers run on advertising profit. The length of the papers aren’t dictated by news, or what people want to read about, but by how many pages need to get published for advertising revenue. Virtually all television programming, from the news, to sports and sitcoms, are set to cover certain amount of times to allow for commercial breaks. Guess what – these systems are failing.

Newspapers and Magazines are being bypassed for internet sources, which gives content faster and allows for interaction. Television commercials have become noise that we’ve learned to block out. Not only are people no longer listening, but with the advent of TiVo, DVR, and Internet Streams, commercials can be bypassed completely.

Probably the most interesting commercials I have seen lately have come from Bank of America, and it was with the series ‘America: The Story of Us’ on the History Channel. As the commercial break starts, Bank of America tells its own documentary style story that fits in with the theme of the program. I was really impressed with the quality and how well it fit in. Why did it fit in so well? An article in the NY Times explains that it’s because the first half of the 2-minute commercial was produced by the History Channel. Each of the 12 commercials begin in the same era as the episode it corresponds to, with the 2nd half fast forwarding to modern day and how the bank still follows those same principles.

Interestingly enough, they are not being called commercials, but mini-documentaries, or interstitial content. This type of marketing holds the biggest hope for commercials and advertising because it targets the viewers of the show, preaching to the niche.

Who is your niche? What do your customers care about? Find out what they want, what drives them to your product, and then find ways to market that. Marketing to the masses doesn’t work – think forward and be progressive. The businesses that dont are the ones that are boring and will slowly fall into obscurity.