Makers Summit Takeaways: 3 Big Lessons for Little Brands

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend my second “Makers Summit,” an incredible event put on by Greenville’s Indie Craft Parade. This year, I (along with a couple of my Brains on Fire colleagues) was honored to spend the day consulting with makers and entrepreneurs striving to grow their brands. From child-sized teepees to letterpresses, anchor makers to textile artisans, to say it was a whirlwind of a day would be putting it mildly (think speed dating for small business) — but I am starting the week feeling mentally, spiritually and creatively energized in a big way. And while I could write pages and pages about the amazing, passionate people I met, words can’t begin to put a dent in it. You just had to be there. So rather than rambling on, I thought I’d share a few of the top takeaways that bubbled up during eight hours of one-on-one sessions…

The Challenge
I met with several people who shared variations on, “I have an account on Twitter and Facebook, but I don’t have time for them/don’t really use them/use them but find I’m not getting traction.”

The Solution
Not all social is created equal. Not every channel makes sense for every brand. I would much rather see brands choose one or two channels to do really well versus trying to spread their limited time and energy resources across five channels to no avail or lukewarm results. With all due respect to cinematic wisdom, “If you build it, they will come” was bad advice. Unless you’ve got time to wait and the patience of a saint, it often makes way more sense to go to where the party is already happening. If you have a visual product and process, you should be looking at social networks and tools that make it easy to share that with your audience. Don’t get hung up on what you think you should be doing; step back and ask what makes sense for your brand. Look at where your target customers are already congregating, then create a social plan that carries you from here to there.

The Challenge
It’s hard for little brands to turn into bigger brands without a dose of PR to help them along. Even if you have the most amazing product in the world, it’s difficult to grow when nobody knows who you are. Throughout the day, I heard many people self-profess to be their worst enemy when it comes to self-promotion. Humble by nature, they recognize that they need to be doing PR, but  feel awkward about it or don’t know how or where to begin.

The Solution
Okay, people. I am officially giving you all permission to stop feeling weird about PR. Somewhere along the way it seems marketers have managed to paint PR in an icky spotlight, but the reality is that most small brands don’t have the time or resources to wait years and years for things to seed at a fully organic pace. Whether or not they show it on the surface, most successful brands have pedaled their way uphill on a bicycle built for two: one part solid marketing strategy working in tandem with one part sound PR/awareness strategy.

So let’s go back to the Field of Dreams reference. You can build the most amazing brand in the universe, but until you’ve got eyeballs on it…you’re going to spend a lot of time standing around on the field alone. Start looking for potential partnerships today. If you’re in the business of creating custom wedding invitations, start engaging with bloggers in that space now, not just when you’re reaching out to ask them for something. Seeding relationships takes time, but if done properly, it lays the foundation for really good things to come. Don’t just shoot a blanket pitch off in an email. Do your homework and get creative. Customize a video pitch. Invite them to guest source a wedding pinboard on your brand’s Pinterest page. Spotlight them in your e-newsletter. Show them you’re tuned into their world before you start a conversation about how you (and your brand) can fit into it. 

The Challenge
Every person I consulted with on Saturday has an amazing backstory behind their brand. Very few are leading with it.

The Solution
When I sat down with Will Shurtz of Vagabond Barista last December, he said something about the art of craft that has stuck with me in a very big way: “When people get past the rush they’re in, they really appreciate when someone is taking care in making them something. It’s a gift. A real gift. It’s a gift to me that they’re patient and take time to listen. That forms a relationship between us; the fact that I take time to make them something and they take time to receive it. I want people to be able to take time to rest and enjoy nice things; to enjoy something that is crafted and quality – because it makes a big difference in your life. I don’t think people enjoy something nice enough. I want to help them do that.” 

Your story is your signature. It’s your WHY and your declaration. It’s the injustice you fight and the things you stand for. It’s the passion that gets you out of bed every morning to do what you do. Your process, not just your product, is a story worth sharing. When you love and care about what you do, your customers love and care about what you do, too. Your story makes people want to be a part of the love transaction you’re selling.

(Here’s a great example from Jeni’s Ice Creams. I dare you to not want a scoop for lunch by the end of the video. And here’s another. Marshmallows and sweet potatoes are awesome and all, but 12k views is about more than ingredients. It’s about the passion behind the product. And it all starts with story.)


So, Makers Summit attendees, let’s hear it. What were your major takeaways from the weekend? 

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