A Look Back, A Look Forward

Niche is a magazine for independent retailers, started in 1988 by publisher Wendy Rosen. While focused on presenting exquisite work from artists and craftspeople around the country, the publication also comments on trends, market observations and sometimes predictions.

A look back at the Winter issue of Niche in the year 2000 reveals some interesting comments on social and buying trends that still resonate today. Trends can be slow-moving, digging in for the long run as part of our lives when they offer lasting and meaningful benefits.

Some observations made in 2000 and included in the article Out of Your Box and into the Future by Bill Lawrence:

  •  Americans are reaching back to their spiritual roots and looking for personal anchors, such as exploring genealogy.
  •  Workers, questioning personal and career satisfaction, seek fulfillment and more time with their families
  • Skeptical consumers distrust big everything, from government to big business.
  • Most of us trust the recommendations of friends over experts and celebrities.
  • Environmental and social concerns are on the rise.
  • Home is a refuge and an entertainment center.
  • In a depersonalized society, we crave recognition as individuals.

Sound familiar? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Personal goals and career fulfillment are blended with family time, as the employees increasingly work remotely and on flex-time.

Targeted and personalized marketing are the standard today, as print-on-demand and variable data printing technologies use a highly focused approach to address prospects by name and tailor communications to their interests.

Networking and personal referrals are the new wave of doing business. Websites such as Angie’s List testify to the importance of personal recommendations. Word-of-mouth travels globally in an instant.

Our homes have become our cocoons, especially in a slow economy that dictates less travel and fewer nights out. Environmental trends are huge – the words sustainable, recycled, upcycled, and repurposed are familiar, and desirable when describing art, fine craft and other products.

And do we trust big government and big business? No, we don’t. Take a look at the unrest in the streets of our biggest cities to see this message expressed loudly and clearly.

Looking forward, we see an informed, cutting-edge consumer, who is also caring and craving of recognition and purpose:

Crowd Solutions – Commonly known as crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, these public and interactive efforts increase the difference that one person can make in the world. Small individual contributions add up to fund new ideas and projects. Supporting third-world entrepreneurs is satisfying and life-altering. Ideas and solutions cultivate from “crowd wisdom” often surpass that of experts.

Rebuilding the manufacturing baseEver at the forefront, artists will be a crucial element to bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. Kitchen-table businesses and micro-startups are the seeds of this. Funding and education drive this movement towards entrepreneurship.

More for less – “Save Money” screams from billboards everywhere. TV ads declare, “But wait – there’s more!” Your consumer has begun to expect a lot for their money (a trend called the Expectation Economy). Added value becomes supremely important for the artist or craftsperson looking to grow their sales volume. Discounting isn’t encouraged. Including desirable characteristics such as green or recycled materials, partnering with a cause, and creative ways to add value should be considered.

The Human Touch – Although we love technology, we crave the personal, the human, and the sacred in our lives. The mark of a fingerprint, the story of a handcrafted vessel, the imperfections indicating natural and handmade are ways to reach those consumers.

Every businessperson is challenged to find their place in a society with its constant and changing demands. You must know your audience, and speak their language. Understand clearly and communicate your own unique selling proposition. How does your artwork fit into and appeal to your market? How do you offer greater value than just selling an object? How do you interact with your customer base that brands your work as “greater than?”

Creatives are more equipped than others to take on the challenge of finding our way as individuals and as a society. At The Arts Business Institute, we find it  a pleasure to work with artists and others who will shape the world and make the difference that we can write about in another ten years.

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