Marketing Mythbusters: Maker Culture
Our digital world has made the Web the lynchpin in many of our activities. With few exceptions, you can digitize nearly everything you need to do in a given day.
And yet, we’ve had an explosion of people learning how to knit, can, make furniture, sew, run hobby farms, and more, even though we don’t need to. We live in a world where Tim Ferriss, author and tech investor, makes his own naturally fermented Sauerkraut.
Makers, (anyone who makes anything by hand) are not so much bound by what they make, but by the common philosophy of making things in the real world with passion. They’re not a universal group. They’re multifaceted, splintered, and in some cases, fiercely insular, but they could open a whole new, passionate fan base for your company if you understand their motivations and enable them to create.
What Motivates Makers
Makers are united by insatiable curiosity and a desire to teach themselves new things. Mastery meets creativity is the common lever that excites these types.
Makers can be intensely technical (building amazing things out of Roombas, Arduinos, and 3-D printers,) all the way to extremely low-tech (knitters, breadmakers, wood carvers) but the thing they crave the most is exchange and improvement of knowledge, and experimentation toward mastery.
Makers are responsible for sites like Instructables, eHow, and to a large degree, Pinterest (one of the top categories for sharing on Pinterest is instructions for how to build, create, or cook things.)
Makers love open systems, and the free exchange of ideas and information. They use open-source software. They crack proprietary recipes, they open machines to show how they work.
How You Can Leverage Makers
The simplest thing you can do to open your product up to makers is to give them instructions to master your product. You can do this easily by posting in-depth schematics of your product, user guides, and suggested uses to your company website, and cross-posting them to sites like eHow and Instructables. By doing this, you will open up your brand to makers who are already fans, or you might inspire makers to purchase your brand over the competition just because your brand is more open.
Post internally generated ideas for leveraging your product on Pinterest, with links back to the instructions on your website or blog. This will get the wheels turning for active maker minds.
You can open your brand up further by actively reaching out to maker communities who might use your product. You can find these communities by looking up similar products on Pinterest, or by locating makers on sites like Meetup, or through Facebook. When you find communities who are receptive, send them custom kits of your products to tinker with. In your kit, include a place where these fans can upload photos of the process. Send dedicated tags and hashtags for blogging makers to use on their own social media channels so you can track what they’ve built.
If you want to take opening your brand even further, you can sponsor maker activities. You can find out about many of these by visiting Maker magazine, or searching local newspapers for upcoming maker fairs. Your sponsorship could come in the form of seminars, demonstrations, or “hacker spaces:” places for makers to visit, play with your products, and make on-the-fly. You can document all of these activities, and empower participating makers to Tweet, Vine, Facebook, and blog about their experiences, further extending your visibility online.
You might consider partnering with specific makers in a partnership whereby they create and extend your product on a regular basis during a launch period (3-6 months.)
You could also host a contest whereby you can truly “open source” your brand. You could make materials (such as logos), maker kits (including parts and extra accessories) and other proprietary materials to your fans and ask them to go wild with your brand. Collect these entries on Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter, and post all of them in an archive on your company blog. The winner could see their creation ACTUALLY come to life as a limited run product. This is a pure PR play that could pay huge dividends to your brand, and make your internal team think differently about your own product.
If your product is consumable, consider having recipe contests, or food competitions. You could even make this a travelling event, having different zones competing against each other. Imagine a battle for the best Pop Tarts baker, who comes up with a bizarre new flavour or recipe involving the brand. Imagine Montreal Mint competing against Vancouver Vanilla Swirl for the glory of being the Great Canadian Pop Tart. You can make these types of promotions as big as your imagination (and budget).
Makers can also be leveraged for existing events. Imagine inviting makers to a product launch and each person who checks in gets a customized piece of swag (whether it’s a hand-painted shirt, a 3-D printed keychain with the individual’s name, a Shrinky Dink necklace with a photo taken on-site – the possibilities are endless. You can really spread your brand’s values with some help from makers.
One of the best ways to leverage this movement (if your product is safe enough) is to encourage children to extend your product. If it’s consumable, have a “mash up” day where kids can build custom creations. If your product is tech-focused, invite tech makers to give seminars or demonstrations to children, and have them participate by proxy (building paper models, building models of parts using child-friendly circuit board sets, etc.). Enchant the children, and the parents will follow.
When it comes to marketing a product, the average consumer is spoilt for choice. Getting your brand (and its values) across sometimes can be difficult if you only focus on mass appeal. Tastemakers, artisans, and tinkerers can spark the imagination of the average consumer when they see the amazing ways your brand is interacting with the community, fostering innovation, and inspiring a trust and interest in your brand a $100,000 PR campaign can’t buy.