Reconciling Craft And Automation

Blog Post By:Rob Hawse

Just because an object includes manufactured parts doesn’t mean it can’t reflect the touch of an individual creator’s hand: the subtly uneven knit, the finger-marked clay, and all the other happy unmechanical surprises of human quirkiness.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber

Etsy’s Industrial Revolution

Barber nails it in this New York Times editorial that followed Etsy’s new policy announcement in October. Etsy states “new policies that would allow sellers to apply to peddle items they produced with manufacturing partners, as well as to hire staff and use outside companies to ship their goods — all provided that the sellers demonstrated the “authorship, responsibility and transparency” intrinsic to handmade items.”

Barber’s piece explains that scaling up the making of handmade goods is actually an age old problemand that Etsy’s move is in line with the history of handmade goods. She notes: “Making things by hand is slow. Really slow.”

The fact is that every craftsperson worth their salt will be at some point faced with decisions about how to handle increasing demand for their products.

The Universal challenge, as we see it, is in adhering to Crafted Manifesto statement No. 19: “Embrace automation but resist homogenization.” This is true for brands that start as completely handcrafted (apparel, furnishings, instruments, etc.) who fear losing cache because of the stigma of mass production. But it’s also true for highly automated manufacturing environments in which handcrafting is still a key part of the process but is kept out of sight of plant visitors for fear of being perceived as “low tech” or provincial.

In fact, manufacturers of goods whose value is not traditionally determined by hand crafting processes are most likely to dismiss or downplay them as a market differentiator.

The result is that instead of inspiring customers and prospects with what is absolutely unique about them — and why that matters to the buying decision — companies remain invisible to customers because all they are effectively doing is increasing the decibel level of marketing “white noise.” (And there is nothing more vanilla than white noise.)

I use the example of white noise because white noise “contains many frequencies with equalintensities.” Companies that cut through the noise have identified the single frequency that is specific to them and celebrate it.

We invite you to take a walk around the plant floor today and see if you can identify the sound of the true value of your company. It could take the form of a special process or it might be your care filled customer service. Whatever it is, our bet is it’s one of a kind.

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