Monday, February 21, 2011

New brand opportunities in the DIY culture

Do you subscribe to Lifehacker?

I do. I love that site. That's how I got to the truly idiotic video above (don't even start it until 1:20), which provides a short how-to guide on taking a 10 cent coffee cup and crafting it into a holder for a $400 smartphone.

Whatever! It's so stupid. But I love the thinking behind it. I love DIY culture. There are so many different ways to get through life easier, cheaper, and happier overall. As the New York Times reports, recent research suggests that ordinary individual people - not companies - are more and more innovative, companies less and less so. According to research at MIT:

"The traditional division of labor between innovators and customers is breaking down.....the amount of money individual consumers spent making and improving products was more than twice as large as the amount spent by all British firms combined on product research and development over a three-year period."

Lifehacker often has tips by such ordinary folks. So many that I can't even pick out one or two to share. And on so many different topics, too.

One time they had a post on do-it-yourself knifeholders. Another one, more recently, explained how to set up a free VPN so that you could browse the web in Starbucks (or wherever) hacker-free.

Fueled by a tough economy and the rise of self-reliant Generation X, do-it-yourself culture is becoming dominant everywhere as individuals:

1. Make their own news through blogging and popularize news through voting for others' news - e.g. Digg

2. Make their own entertainment - e.g. YouTube

3. Make their own political establishments - e.g. revolt in the Middle East; the grassroots creation of the Tea Party

4. Make their own medical care - the growing popularity of alternative medicine and natural remedies

5. Make their own support of every kind - from technical help to psychotherapy - through support groups, discussion forums, message boards, etc.

6. Make their own clothing - either literally or repurposing consignment, second-hand, or vintage clothes

7. Make their own food - from growing it to cooking it from scratch

8. Make their own education for the children - through homeschooling

9. Make their own technology - building their own computers and even "jailbreaking" machines to work the way that best suits them

10. Make their own forms of religion - not accepting the institutions of the past, but trailblazing new kinds of faith groups and forms of spiritual self-expression that break old and musty molds

In a DIY culture, brands have an opportunity to win customers over. But not in the old way - not by brainwashing them or providing a false sense of superiority or tribalism for buying a certain product over and over again. Rather, the new model is about being a trusted guide and facilitator of value.

The number-one company in the DIY world, from my perspective, is Amazon truly understands that its value proposition has to do with obtaining the customers' trust. So it will put up offers that compete with its own. It will allow consumers to rate merchandise badly. It will even suggest outside merchants. And of course everything is backed with the A-to-Z guarantee.

It is a tougher environment than in the past, to be sure. But it's not impossible to compete. The organizational cultures that are best poised to succeed are those that respect the customer and treat them as an equal. As ad guru David Ogilvy once said, "The consumer isn't a moron. She is your wife." (Today: or husband, or partner, or friend, or parent.)

New brand successes won't trick the customer out of their money. They'll create situations where the customer is only too happy to pay in, in exchange for offering a way to make life simpler, happier, and more carefree.

Good luck!