What do you do when scaling your business to grow means fundamentally changing who you are?
Etsy, the global craft ecommerce site recently changed its selling policies to allow sellers to offer third-party manufactured products to be sold on the site.
This is goes against much of what has attracted its sellers in the first place; a space where selling vintage and handcrafted items could be distinguished from the mass market offerings on large sites like Amazon and eBay, and where individuality and creativeness could be valued.
Now Etsy, by allowing sellers to work with outside manufacturers, has opened the doors to mass brands in effect removing one of the most important facets of its value proposition. While they emphasize that the site remains committed to handmade items and promise future transparency for buyers, smaller sellers now facing the risk of increased pricing competition with those that are able to (or choose to) use more economical manufacturing methods.
It remains to be seen what the effect on Esty will be; Sydney based online retailer Zibbet claims to be an early winner, reportedly securing 2,000 new customers in the last month. But with more than 22 million members selling almost US$1 billion dollars of merchandise, Etsy is unlikely to feel the financial effects of this for some time yet - if they ever do. However the PR backlash has been more significant.
Scaling a business will always require a step change in policies, staff and internal processes. However this development and retooling must be done with a strong understanding of, and respect for, your brand which is your most valuable asset, and represents so much more than the name and logo.
Consider how the brand is expressed in aspects like customer relations, management and staff attitudes and logistics. Ensuring that a strong brand identity is reflected in the growing culture and in the policies which are put in place is important to ensure that your business grows into a bigger version of itself, and not into an entirely different company.
US ice cream maker Ben and Jerry's built its quirky counter-culture brand on the values of its two social entrepreneurs founders, only to attract public controversy when the business was sold to Unilever in 2000.
The new CEO was clear that he recognised the special culture that B&J was based on:
Backed by this ethos Ben & Jerry’s have continued to advocate for issues such as food quality, employee wages and oil drilling opposition.
Etsy has made an attempt to manage relations with their suppliers through a series of public townhall meetings to explain the changes. But when suppliers have chosen you because they perceive you occupy a space which aligns closely to their own values, it can be challenging to retain them when a value shift is apparent.
After all, it's what makes a brand distinctive that really drives brand growth, and it’s important not to lose sight of that during the process.