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When craft companies capitalize on design and digital to attract new consumers

A sector still based on traditional know-how and aesthetics

Although many craft companies have industrialized their processes, few have truly integrated a design approach. Often cautious in this area, the managers of these industrial SMEs are still too often anchored in traditional know-how and aesthetics. Even though lifestyles and consumer expectations are changing, products and ranges from one competitor to another, within the same sector of activity, are not very different and struggle to renew themselves year after year. So, in a difficult economic context, how do you combine know-how and traditional aesthetics with the notion of innovation, which is essential to stand out from competitors, expand your market, build consumer loyalty and sell at a higher price?

Design: a global approach, beyond form and technology

Design is a good way to start thinking about products and how customers use them in their daily environment. It does not just give an innovative form to the product as it is generally thought. Another characteristic, although it encompasses it, is that it goes far beyond technological innovation. In fact, design is a real methodology that applies to all stages of product development. It is a global approach in which the company rethinks its ability to respond to new consumer needs, makes advances in quality and innovates in every sense of the word. Beyond the traditional approach where innovation is driven by technology, the design approach seeks to open new avenues by combining what is desirable from the consumer’s point of view with what is technically feasible and economically viable.

Improving the customer experience

If design is still not widespread in craft companies, it is because it is perceived as an external intervention, that of a designer, on the aesthetics of products. This expert, who is supposed to be more creative, is perceived as not speaking the same language as the manager. The latter, on the other hand, legitimately thinks that he is the best placed to know and develop his products. The design approach therefore appears to be imposed from the outside and costly, without any visibility on the relevance or the return on investment being accessible. Contrary to other countries such as Germany, French craftsmen are poorly trained in the design approach, while French designers are reputed to have little awareness of materials and manufacturing processes. Fortunately, the situation is changing. In conjunction with the Chambers of Commerce and local authorities, more and more companies with the EPV label (Entreprises du Patrimoine Vivant), whether in industry, gastronomy, or the arts, are becoming involved in the design of their products.In collaboration with the Chambers of Commerce and local authorities, more and more companies with the EPV label (Entreprises du Patrimoine Vivant), whether in industry, gastronomy, footwear or furniture, are starting to collaborate with designers to transform their way of producing and to connect with their customers in a different way.

Raising awareness throughout the company to change its culture

To be fully transforming within a craft company, mainly regional SMEs, design awareness must be everyone’s business. By raising the awareness of all stakeholders, it is possible to foster a culture of change centered around the customer and to take a more demanding look at product quality. Overall, the customer experience is taken into account. This involves reviewing all the points of interaction between the company and the customer, from the purchase to the unpacking of the product, including transportation. Irritating points are studied and improved. Additional services can even be developed to facilitate and increase sales, whether it is to set up a product configurator on the website, to shorten delivery times or to facilitate unloading, delivery and installation, especially for professional customers. For an offer in line with customers’ expectations, in a co-creation approach, the latter are even invited to test the product and react before they are finalized. By adopting a design approach, craft companies are in turn familiarizing themselves with a concept that is now essential in the digital age: the customer journey.

Design and customer journey: two complementary concepts

The way customers access the product is becoming as important as the product itself. It is therefore not surprising that, just like the large groups, craft companies are appropriating the arsenal of marketing tools. Field surveys, qualitative and quantitative studies, focus groups and in-depth monitoring help to better target their expectations. Concerning their perception of products, the analysis of data collected by the company, its partners, its dealers or via the website and social networks allows us to answer key questions: what are the most purchased products, their price and what are the most favourable sales periods? The competition is also closely scrutinized. This approach makes it possible to refine marketing messages according to targets – whether they are professionals, individuals or local authorities – and to create more effective sales tools. In addition to trade shows such as Maison et Objets, which have become virtual due to the health crisis, inspiration for new products is based on the trends highlighted by Internet users. Indeed, for the greatest benefit of the company, consumers now post their favorites on social networks. They post their interiors, their favorite products and their DIYs on Pinterest or Instagram.

Design encompasses the whole activity of the company and positively impacts its culture. It focuses on rethinking the product in all its dimensions, from conception to sale. The product is put into perspective with the new expectations of consumers, for example by integrating their concerns about sustainable development. Combined with the new possibilities offered by digital technology, design is a real opportunity for artisanal companies to enter the 21st century and increase their sales, while remaining true to their values and DNA.

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