Seth Godin has been saying for years that scaling and mass-production are things of the past, for the simple reason that we have gotten so good at it. We can take any methodology or process and make it more and more efficient. What matters today, according to Godin, is art, honest expressions of individuality and creativity, shared with others for the sheer joy of it. Put another way, what has become essential is craft.
Think about the success of craft-brewed beer. Budweiser and Miller beers once thoroughly dominated the market. Yes, their competitors included now-monster brands such as Coors, Heineken and Corona, but I think their downfall was really precipitated by Dave Koch’s Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams, which was, and still is to some degree, a small, “craft” brewer. Today thousands of craft brewers make small batches and distribute through local channels. Brew pubs offer great, fresh-made unique beers made right on site.
Now craft distilleries are getting on the act. Recently featured in the Harvard Business Review Podcast, Portland Oregon’s Aviation Gin is a new product on the market. When it’s creators were developing the product they faced some hurdles:
- Most people are not aware that there is more to gin than the traditional London Dry version, created to enhance the flavor of quinine, necessary to ward off malaria in some of Great Britain’s sweltering Asian and African outposts between the 17th and 19th centuries.
- Two, most cocktails ordered today are fruit-based and taste dreadful with juniper-heavy London Dry gins.
So what did the good people at Aviation Gin do? They pulled back on the juniper and emphasized the other aromatics found in gin, focusing on creating a gin that goes well with fruit.
Aviation makes small batches, but their costs are low and they can be profitable even at a modest scale. They don’t need to be big – they are already creating wealth for the owners and employees. Bigger is good, but not necessary.
The potential for artisanal and hand-crafted goods and services is unlimited. If fact, the larger and more imposing the business or industry, the more vulnerable it may be to small businesses offering high quality and customization.
So the bottom line is this (and I repeat): avoid commoditization at all costs. Be fresh, be different, be creative and be honest. Offer a new way, a new angle, perhaps even a wildly different approach.
The problem: creating is hard. Which is exactly why it is valuable.