05/30/2017 02:01 EDT | Updated 05/30/2017 02:01 EDT

We Are Living In The Craft Brand Renaissance

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In my last article (link) I argued that we have entered a Renaissance Period for brands wherein the old world of retail is giving way to a new, and where the sky's the limit for punchy craft brands that not long ago seemed relegated to local communities and word-of-mouth promotion.

Well, that Renaissance is picking up steam.

We are seeing a new and powerful wave of craft brand growth in every corner of the square. We recently saw the first billion-dollar exit of a craft brand when Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club, and the lessons learned from that success are still rippling out across the retail waters. People, and big brands, have taken notice -- not just of Dollar Shave Club, but of the robust craft brands of its kind gaining ever more ground.

The question is, why now? What's the impetus for this trend?

Like the European Renaissance, fueled by bursts of progress in areas like invention, literature, and art, there is now a perfect storm of mingling factors influencing these outcomes.

The New Retail Landscape

Retail is in flux. Transactions no longer need to occur in-store because they can happen pretty much anywhere, at any time. The still-growing trend of decentralized commerce has forced brands into an entirely new digital arena, and each is desperately searching for ways to differentiate.

The power once held by the strong supply chain has shifted to the marketers, to the people who tell the stories. Traditional retailers are losing their influence.

Craft brands are emerging at a mounting clip and nipping at the heels of big brands and retailers from every direction. They're leaner, faster, more flexible, and they come with interesting and intimate new buying experiences.

The New Consumer

Utility. That was once the pinnacle of purchase. Does it work and do I need it? Toilet paper was just toilet paper until the likes of Mr. Whipple came along and began breathing personality into seemingly humdrum products. And consumers responded.

Today, we care about product personality much more than we ever did. As consumers we increasingly consider brands' social statements, its values, even the ethics of the company that produces it. Who today hasn't chosen one product over another based on emotion?

We started caring more around 2008, when the next Great Depression was promised to make landfall and spare no one. It was about this time that we began to see a shift in the consumer mindset: it wasn't so much about buying something simply because it was cheaper, it was about buying something because it offered greater value, (and perceived value counts here).

Consumers began shouting with their wallets that we would pay for quality if we believed in the product. And to believe in the product - we wanted to know everything last there was to know about it.

Craft brands began catering to this need for knowledge and story and emotional connection and conceived their businesses with those very things as backbone. The big, lumbering brands simply could not, and cannot, offer the same.

Led by the explosion of Millennials into a major buying power, and armed with smartphones able to access information in real time, the new, ultra-informed consumer was born.

The New Breed of Brands

More power has shifted to brands themselves. With direct access to the consumer, craft brands no longer live or die by in-store merchandisers and prime shelf placement. Craft brands are cultivating relationships with their consumers in a way once limited to musicians and artists. They are developing loyal followings and fostering armies of brand ambassadors.

What's more, it's easier now than ever to start a craft brand. What once cost $5 million today costs $5,000. With co-manufacturing, on-demand production, drop shipping, content marketing - and the list goes on - a single person on a laptop can start a viable craft brand, and quickly.

With more and more craft brands popping up, more of the gaps remaining in niche markets are being rapidly occupied. Today, consumers need not bend an inch; if there isn't a product perfect for our needs, one is on the way, and we won't have to look very far to find it.

With that kind of power, craft brands are becoming synonymous with consumer connection, and with convenience, and those are difficult bonds to break.

Like the Renaissance, the craft brand movement is offering a newer, more contemporary way of doing things. The Renaissance was shaped in large part by the birth of the printing press, and by the proliferating spread of information the likes of which we would likely never see again - and then the Internet happened.

The Renaissance changed drastically the way we did things, but the true revolution came by the way it changed how we think about things. We are now experiencing a fundamental shift of mindset in the world of consumer brands and shopper behaviour, and there are no signs of that slowing down anytime soon.

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