For the past 15-20 years, a new generation of designers, artists, creators, hackers, and entrepreneurs are all part of the rise of the DIY culture sweeping across the country — the Maker Movement. From a 2013 USA Today article: "Today in the U.S., approximately 135 million adults are makers – people who employ their creative skills in craft activities, such as making clothing, jewelry, baked goods or works of craft or art. That's 57% of the American population age 18 and up. It's a segment that is expanding rapidly in size and economic heft. Makers pump some $29 billion into the economy each year, and these figures will surely grow.” If your brand isn't yet trying to connect to these creative and passionate audiences, it might be time to consider it. Need more evidence? Check out this article from AdWeek about the brands that are courting the Maker Movement and why.
At ATA, we’ve been fortunate to work with a number of different brands in various industries throughout our 30 years — but our sweet spot has really been helping those brands who’ve sought to reach and market their products to makers & DIYers. We realized early on that in order to help our clients reach and connect with these audiences, we had to learn about the talented and passionate people in those audiences. And that’s what we’ve done and continue to do every day through 1-on-1 interviews, focus groups, secondary research, and more. We’ve not only loved this part of our work, but it’s helped us get really good at helping our clients create authentic connections with these audiences — we know who they are, what they're looking for, their language, how to reach them, how they access information, and what matters most to them when buying the products that fuel their passions.
So here’s a crash course on what we’ve learned about today’s makers and DIYers (so far) and some insights to help your brand appeal to these powerful and influential audiences.
Today’s makers aren’t really part of one homogeneous group — the term "maker" encompasses an incredibly diverse and evolving group of people with a wide range of talents, crafts, and preferred mediums. With the help of abundant access to information, tools, and resources today, anyone can be a maker — so that stereotypical image of a scrapbooking mom isn't an accurate depiction of all makers. As you narrow down their interest and craft, you'll probably find some demographic trends among certain makers, just like we have in our work with Dupli-Color (whose target makers are mostly, but not all, male, automotive DIYers) and Jo-Ann Fabrics (who market mainly to women of all ages). Even then, the demographic is usually large and difficult to generalize.
However, we've identified a few key traits that almost all makers share. First of all, makers take on their creative projects by choice. Makers decide to tackle their projects because they're passionate people, because they are interested in a personalized experience, and because they enjoy spending their free time making/creating something with their own hands.
While makers want something to show for their efforts and a finished product they can take pride in, that's typically not the main reason they devote their free time to their craft. What they actually enjoy most is the process of making something.
Makers are problem solvers, experimenters, and avid learners. Makers enjoy what they do because it allows them to unwind from the everyday by doing something creative, and this creative activity also turns on parts of their brains that are hungry for a challenge. Makers like to figure things out themselves. They're used to overcoming challenges; problems, difficulties, and obstacles don't discourage them. Oftentimes, if it's too easy, they might not get the satisfaction they're looking for.
What we've heard from makers is that they work hard to refine their processes and make the best product they can, so their purchasing decisions are quality driven above all else. The product they use has to do what it says it's going to do, or they won't buy it again. Makers will try different products until they find the product that works for their specific application — and once they find a product or brand that meets their desired level of performance, makers will trust and seek out that brand for future purchases. Of course, their constant quest to hone their craft and improve their finished product means they'll truly never stop looking for better alternatives.
The makers we've worked with tell us that one of the more rewarding aspects of what they do is seeing something they've created or brought back to life help or delight someone else — whether it be their friends and families or someone they don't even know. As fulfilling as that can be, however, if they didn't love the work that goes into the things they make, they wouldn't spend their time doing it. When there are mass-produced versions or do-it-for-me options for just about any project a maker could take on, they choose create their own solutions because they're passionate about doing things their way. They want something that isn't available on the market, so instead of waiting around, they bring it to life themselves.
As we've discussed, makers are all about the process. The result? The makers are always looking for ways to make their process better, easier, and more rewarding. We also mentioned above that makers are experimenters. Sometimes, they have to test out different brands and materials in their projects until they figure out what to use and how best to use it. It's a trial and error life for makers, and though they stand behind the brands they trust, they're not strangers to trying new things.
However, trying new things doesn't end at new products. Makers are prone to using those products in ways that, let's just say, are not exactly what the manufacturer intended. Through trial and error, makers often find tricks and shortcuts that improve their process through unconventional use of a certain product. They might think to draw designs on their project with crayons melted in a hot glue gun or use high temperature automotive paint to coat their barbecue grills. That's not what either product is actually for, but if it works for the maker, that method becomes a part of the process. In many cases, this creativity can present an opportunity for a brand to adapt the way that product is marketed.
The passion that makers exhibit towards their craft extends far beyond their workshop or when they're actually creating something. In many ways, their passion is all-consuming. When they're not honing their craft, makers do an incredible amount of research on their own. The amount and quality of content a brand creates and the various way it gets that content in front of its maker audience is critical to effectively connecting with makers and building the brand.
Video content — long form and short form — is extremely popular among makers because it's the best way to learn how to incorporate a product into their process or solve a problem. Watching "how-to" videos feeds a maker's penchant for experimentation, and they love to pick up tips and tricks from their peers or knowledgeable sources. Video has the opportunity not only to inform but also to inspire innovative use of a product or to truly cement the value that a particular product can deliver.
Speaking of their peers, makers are also huge fans of social proof, which means they trust the opinions of the community of people who make the same kinds of things they do. They learn and teach each other, often creating their own content, and by using a product, they're inherently promoting it (as well as the specific ways they use it in their process) to their network. Makers are as active on social media as anyone else, but beyond sharing pictures of their nephews or engaging on the latest political discussion, they use various social platforms to find and share inspiration. They show off their finished projects, for sure, but most makers want to help others find increased success and passion. They're not into keeping trade secrets—they're into sharing them.
We've been helping our clients reach makers for years, and it's been a fun and rewarding challenge. While there are nuances to each type of maker, our work with them has allowed us to distill our definition down to a few key traits: they're passionate about what they do, they enjoy the process of making, they experiment and innovate, and they do their research. Check out the maker interviews on our website, you'll find that we continue to work with makers every day and learn more about them in the process. We think makers are some of the most ambitious people we know because they choose to turn dedicated work into something they truly love. It's time for your brand to become a "maker brand".