Three Things Brands can Learn from Maker Faire

Candace and Helen took a trip to Maker Faire UK to mingle with the hackers, crafters, coders and smart brands like Intel. Billed as "the greatest show (and tell) on Earth" this festival of DIY ingenuity is pure joy. There are some clear lessons for brands of all kinds from the Maker Movement. My top tip: Innovation starts with Experimentation

The other weekend, Helen and I made a pilgrimage to friendly Newcastle upon Tyne for Maker Faire UK 2014, held at the Centre for Life. Billed as The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth, Maker Faire is the exuberant festival of the Maker Movement. The Newcastle event was a two day celebration of hackers, crafters, coders, DIYers and garden shed inventors.

my very own Maker Faire badge

I have been a fan girl forever — or ever since I saw the Life Size Mousetrap video — but this was my first time attending in person. Intel (an H+K client) has long been a sponsor of Maker Faire, so this will be old news for them, but I couldn't help thinking about how much brands can benefit from Maker Culture. Here are my top three take-aways:

1. Innovation starts with Experimentation

This is a truism that is made manifest by everything you see at Maker Faire. Basically, every booth is an experiment of some kind.

in this age of the entrepreneur, we all want to be seen as innovative. Companies big and small have 'Innovation' as an attribute in their brand pyramids. But I have yet to see a brand say they stand for Experimentation.

Of course, a corporation's research and development department is all about experimentation. What about the marketing and communication department? Cannes Lions, itself a celebration of makers, is a great place to see brands who embrace experimentation rewarded. The brilliant Driving Dogs sponsored by Mini, the Spies Solar Project and The Gnome Experiment by Ogilvy for Kern are all examples of a meaningful stunt that proved (rather than just promised) a brand benefit.

2. Show-off the Wires

The Steampunk aesthetic is everywhere at Maker Faire. I don't think all makers are Mad Max fans, it is just that physical hackers like to show the wires. The fire breathing horse isn't covered by a glossy skin, but proudly reveals the gas tanks and gears. (Oh yeah, btw, fire is a common material here. What is Burning Man after all, but a giant maker fair.)

How might a brand 'show the wires'? In a way, the simple act of listing all the ingredients on a food product fits in here. But it can (and will) go further.

One big area which is becoming almost mandatory, is corporate transparency about supply chain management. The public wants to know not just what ingredients a company uses, but where they come from. How many brands are brave enough to do this? It is a complex question, but can be a huge point of differentiation in marketing. Chipotle is an award winning example of this. Patagonia uses digital to reveal the path of their different materials.

3. Get Stuck In

As befits a celebration of DIY, most of the Maker Faire booths had hands-on activities for kids of all ages. Helen and I had so much fun constructing our own Maker Faire badge. We learned to solder the battery holder and other bits, without setting our hair on fire. The Intel booth had lines all day of people wanting to fly the Pigeon Sim. There was a constant din of activity and laughter as people tried new things.

In my day job helping clients with their digital strategies, my most repeated advice is for marketing executives at all levels to get stuck in. Understanding digital media and how your target audience uses social is so much easier if you are an active user of the platforms. There is no substitute for hands-on experience.

In a recent Reddit AMA, Tim O'Reilly, the founder of O'Reilly Media, reminds us that the web was built by makers. MAKE Magazine was launched by O'Reilly Media in 2005, and is now published by Maker Media. Dale Dougherty, the founder of Maker Media, says, "All of us are makers. We're born makers. We have this ability to make things, to grasp things with our hands. We use words like 'grasp' metaphorically to also think about understanding things."

This is a wonderful way to think about what you do. I believe every marketing and communication department should treat themselves to an away day at the nearest Maker Faire. The pure joy of  human ingenuity you'll encounter there is bound to inspire your team as it did ours. Have fun and watch out for the fire breathing creations.


Candace Kuss

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search