Boutiquefication. I like it. And I called it. What am I laying claim to exactly? The tipping point for an interesting consumer trend happening right now simultaneously in key categories including food, footwear, apparel, dining, skin care, healthcare remedies, software, to name a few. Where consumers are more enamored with small upstart brands that are made better or smarter or cooler or designed differently enough where they get snatched up. (Or perhaps they are just shiny and still secret enough of a commodity to win favor.) Sanuk shoes, Shake Shack, iTranslatevoice, Scanner Pro, hundreds of products at Whole Foods including goodpops!  Even if some are growing, they have all contributed to the boutiquefication of business.

Outside of industries that have an advantage due to a huge investment up front or require massive distribution, boutiquefication will become more of a norm in more industries, mainly because that’s what people want.  And if people want it, retailers will want it – drug stores are looking for proprietary goods to stand out. Whole Foods loves having the local new organic flavor.  Amazon makes the barrier to entry very low for new products to hit the market.  Where baby boomers and Gen X grew up accepting and trusting Ragu as their spaghetti sauce and Kraft for their mac and cheese, now mass produced is becoming a harder sell. Are you old enough to remember when people would celebrate the latest fast food franchise to make it to their town? Now, outside of Starbucks or Chipotle, the reaction is more grounded in disdain. Even if the same person will be hitting the drive-thru at 2am.

The food industry in particular is witnessing a shift from the older, bigger brands to newer niche brands, often associated with specific locales (though with global appeal). According to the Wall Street Journal, boutique food brands are capitalizing on “shifts in tastes among consumers distrustful of established food giants’ products and ingredients.” Forbes further notes that these trends are generational, with Millenials increasingly likely to opt for niche brands over big ones:

“The millennial generation is differentiating itself by using brands that are differentiated by authenticity, and they are creating their own scale by way of technology. This next tier of brands has the agility and the ability to go global without massive ad budgets and without mass production.”

The proliferation of information online has made it easier to understand product benefits.  Sites like Good Guide rate brands highlighting a company’s assets and detractions in seconds.  Factor in the social media badge status of owning or trying something unique or grassroots and it’s a powerful formula for the little brand that could. Fact is, the mindset of consumers is more open than it’s ever been before—they expect to see new, boutique choices they can sample.  It used to be really hard to bring a new product to market. Sure, ask any entrepreneur today and they’ll tell you it is still a lot of hard work, but it used to be unimaginable for someone outside the industry.  Twenty or thirty years ago, it was just something big companies did. Now people expect the guy or gal next door to cure their own organic turkey jerky.  Or concoct the next great smoked ribs eatery. Perhaps invent even a special rejuvenating skin cream.

What does this mean for our business?  It will slowly flip the model upside down. Big agencies that are propped up by a handful of major accounts are not equipped to support a host of smaller brands. The boutiquefication of the product landscape will align better with nimble marketers that are well equipped to help small to mid-size brands fight for their own share of voice.  Having worked in both agency infrastructures I can tell you it’s as culturally and structurally different as Langer Juice and Pepsi’s Tropicana.  Granted, once a smaller brand succeeds at a certain level many of them will sell to a larger company, but moving forward there will be greater opportunities for the next big little thing with which consumers are all too willing to fall in love.  The Goliath’s will need to retrench and fight to maintain consumer loyalty. The David’s will have an opportunity to compete with a new fan base. Either way, it’s fun as hell to slug it out in a marketplace that has reverted back to a modern day street bazaar.

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