Don’t judge a bottle by its label.

Don’t judge a bottle by its label.

In previous brand stories I’ve told, there have been a few where brothers who started working together fell out and ended up going their own ways.

The most famous of these was the one about the Dassler brothers, Adolf and Rudolf, who founded the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers’ Shoe Factory).

They fell out and went on to form two separate and competitive brands – Adidas and Puma.

This story, however, tells of an incident over which the two brothers could easily have fallen out but instead together they made the most of their mistake which has in the end turned out to be part of their success.

The story starts in 1824, with their father, Dr. Johann Siegert who was Surgeon General for the Venezuelan military leader Simón Bolívar. Using a blend of herbs and spices, he created a medicinal tonic designed to be a cure for upset stomachs for the soldiers. Originally called Dr. Siegert’s Aromatic Bitters, it would later be renamed after the Venezuelan city of Angostura.

The bitters were first exported to the UK in 1830, and then in 1862 one of Siegert’s sons exhibited the bitters in England where they were mixed with gin – and the Pink Gin was born.

When Dr. Johann died in 1870, his two sons took over the business. They decided that to help them expand the business they should try and build greater awareness and so started competing in the many ‘drinks’ competitions throughout the world. Their aim was to showcase their product’s quality. 

However, when getting their samples ready for one of these competitions, there was a mix-up, the sort of thing that could have ended their partnership. Due to limited time available, the brothers agreed a division of labour; one brother was assigned the task of sourcing the bottles, while the other would oversee the designing and printing of the labels.

Both set to work, but when they came to get everything ready, there was a problem; the labels were too big for the bottles or looking at it the other way the bottles were too small for their labels.

With the competition rapidly approaching there wasn’t sufficient time to alter anything and the brothers had to go with what they had and luckily both were big enough not to just blame the other.

Angostura in its new ‘packaging’ unfortunately didn’t win the competition but all was not lost.

A friendly judge suggested the brothers keep the over-sized label (under-sized bottle) and make a feature out of it. He pointed out that it made the packaging distinctive and memorable.

The brothers agreed and kept the new look, and it has proved to be a powerful communication equity that has served the brand well over the years.

The brothers, I’m glad to say kept on running the business together but did try and make sure they aligned on things a bit better going forward.

And the moral is packaging is your ‘silent salesman’ and making it interesting, distinctive and memorable helps the silent salesman shout out from the shelf. Have you got a distinctive feature in your brand identity (and if not, why not?) 

I can show you how a company thinks.

I can show you how a company thinks.

Oliviero Toscani followed in his father’s footsteps and become a photographer. He obtained a diploma at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zürich> he went onto work with several high-profile fashion magazines, including Elle, Vogue, L’Uomo Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

In 1982 he became an Art Director for the Benetton Group and a year later, under his guidance, they launched a series of ads that were designed to be explicit celebrations of diversity and inclusivity. The “All the Colors of the World” campaign, promoted global harmony and featured young people of different nationalities and cultures dressed in bright colourful Benneton clothing.

However, in the early 1990s things would change for the campaign, for the brand and for Toscani.

In the first ad that signalled the changes that were coming, the line-up of teenagers was replaced by a line-up of test tubes… all filled with blood. Each vial was labelled with a different first name. The global inclusivity theme remained, as the names were ethnically diverse – Fidel, Kaifu, Helmut, Jiang, George, and Mikhail.

Future ads would continue to promote inclusivity, the imagery took a dramatic turn. Ads would feature a new-born baby still attached to an umbilical cord, a priest and a nun kissing, a man with AIDS lying on his deathbed, surrounded by his family, three raw hearts, with the words “white”, “black” and “yellow” written on each and a white woman, black woman and Asian baby wrapped up together in a blanket.

Explaining the move, Toscani would tell the New York Times: “I have found out that advertising is the richest and most powerful medium existing today, so I feel responsible to do more than to say, ‘Our sweater is pretty.’

The new style was divisive, people either loved it or hated it but few could ignore it. It made Benetton top-of-mind, but some questioned the tactics Toscani used; “was a fashion billboard the right place to present this type of controversial image?”

His reply: “Why would you want to see clothes in an advert? If you want to see the clothes, you can see them in our shops. On a billboard, I can show you how the company thinks, what it believes, what it represents. Advertising is primitive and powerful – it is more than art. People can look up and see it. And if they don’t like it, they don’t have to look at it.”

While sparking almost constant controversary in some country around the world, the company stood behind their principles, and their man. That was until the company faced a huge backlash in the USA following on from a campaign known as ‘We on Death Row’.

At first the company said the photographs “aim at giving back a human face to the prisoners on death row” but as more and more US states condemned the campaign and retail chains Sears and Roebuck & Co refused to sell Benetton products following protests from victims’ rights groups, something had to be done. Under the threat of boycotts and with sales falling, they parted company with Toscani.

Subsequently, the state of Missouri filed a lawsuit against Benetton over the campaign, alleging that Benetton had made false claims to state officials in gaining access to the prison and misrepresented the purpose of the interview. The case was settled out of court with Benetton, a formal apology from Benetton, an undertaking to send letters of apology to the families of the murder victims and commitment to a substantial charitable donation.

Many say he was sacked as a consequence, but Toscani denies this, standing by the brand. He says, “I left because Tina Brown asked me to work with her on Talk magazine, but the press wanted another reason because no one could believe that I wanted to leave Benetton at the height of my career. I have no regrets about those pictures – they were fantastic.”

And his loyalty and the success he had had, eventually led to his return in 2017. The first campaign on his second era featured his previous trademark of a diverse cast of models.  It was more upbeat, and more product led. It showed them smiling and holding bunches of flowers, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with phrases like “gender-free zone” and “colours don’t have gender”. Toscani described the images as being “about integration, humanity and the end of discrimination.” Still reflecting the brand’s core belief in inclusivity.

It wasn’t long though, before he returned to ‘shock-vertising’, repurposing two photographs from 2018 migrant rescue operations by the Franco-German charity SOS Méditerranée for an advertising campaign.

However, his second stint was to be shorter and less successful.

He was sacked over comments he made about the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy, that killed 43 people.  During a radio interview, he said, “Who cares that a bridge collapsed?” and “This story doesn’t interest me.”

Two days later, an unusually contrite Toscani apologised on Twitter saying that his comments “had been taken out of context” and in an interview on another radio programme he said that he was “destroyed and truly sorry.”

It was too much for Benetton, who fired him. They released a statement in which they said that Benetton “completely disassociates itself from Mr. Toscani’s remarks,” and were “renewing their sincere closeness to the families of the victims and to all those who have been involved in this terrible tragedy.” They went onto acknowledge “the impossibility of continuing the professional relationship with its creative director.”

It is a sad end for someone who inspired and still inspired many with his view that “Creativity is not based on security. Once you’re secure, you’re doing something that’s already been done.”

And the moral is, if a brand has a purpose it should be willing to stand up and champion it even if it can be divisive. What should and would your brand campaign for?

FOOTNOTE: In no way, condoning Toscani’s shameful comments about the bridge disaster, it is perhaps still interesting to consider that, at a time when brands are increasingly wanting to stand for something and to have a purpose beyond just making profit, that Toscani, and the Benetton campaign he created, remain a benchmark about how a brand can adopt unconventional and controversial approaches to advertising as a way that not only  connects with a younger generation but brings awareness to societal and environmental issues.

Four weddings and a business idea – the story and lessons of Zola

Four weddings and a business idea – the story and lessons of Zola

2013 seemed to be the year that all of Shan-Lyn Ma’s friends decided to get married. She went to a lot of weddings (actually more than four!) and bought a lot of gifts most from the different registries her friends had chosen. However, unlike many other guests her interest in those registries didn’t end with a purchase. She was amazed that it was one of the most painful ecommerce experiences she had ever had and working for Gilt Groupe she had the experience and expertise to know what she was talking about.

She mentioned it to Nobu Nakaguchi, her friend and colleague at Gilt. Having got married in 2005, Nobu had seen it from the couples’ point of view and said for him and his now wife it had been “painful”.

They decided to take a closer look at the different offers. They both agreed it was far from ideal. Nobu felt there had been little progress since he got married; while there was mobile app, their design and UX… (user experience) looked like they had not progressed very much at all.

Together they agreed that here was an opportunity for them: both had wanted to start their own business and here was the chance to address the problems that the existing registries just seemed to be ignoring.

They immediately recognized that many of the current engaged couples were different from previous generations. The majority lived together before marriage; these couples were getting married at an older age than previous generations, and that they managed their lives through their mobile devices.

They wanted to address the needs of these modern couples and re-imagine the registry from the ground-up; to be more flexible, convenient and fully personalized.

They talked to friends and family and friends of friends who were engaged or who had recently got married and discovered that most couples chose 2-3-4 different registries to cover all they wanted, making the process more complicated, so…

“We’re the only registry that lets couples register directly for products (like a Vitamix), experiences (wine tastings) and cash funds (for that honeymoon), all in one beautifully designed, easy to use registry” says Shan-Lyn.

Nobu who would become Zola’s Chief Design Officer recognized the need for a different experience. He instinctively understood that making a list of things you want your friends to buy for you was “a little weird” and the apps that were around at the time were basically functional check-out carts. Nobu and Shan-Lyn decided they wanted to change the conversation and make it more personal and wanted the experience to be like what people wanted their wedding to be – “beautiful.”

They also developed a business model based on ‘drop-shipping’ which was to prove to be a win-win.

Drop-shipping for Zola means that when they accept a customer’s order, they don’t actually fulfill it. Instead they transfer the order and the shipment details to the manufacturer or the relevant brand which then ships the goods directly to the couple. It is a form of supply chain management and, importantly, it means that Zola does not have to keep goods in stock. This eliminates the cost of maintaining a warehouse, storing inventory, and employing the necessary staff to fulfill the orders. Zola now has relationships with over 700 brands covering some 7000 products and is continuing to expand these

The second ‘win’ that Zola discovered, was that enabling couples to pick when they wanted their gifts delivered was also a real benefit. Many didn’t want their gifts immediately, as they were off on honeymoon or moving to a new space.

Zola launched late in 2103, initially as an online wedding registry. It was a success. As Shan-Lyn described it for every couple they acquired, they got free publicity to the 100 people or so who were guests at the wedding, and that helped spread the word.

Shan-Lyn and Nobu had, from the beginning, seen the registry as only one aspect of the whole wedding journey where they could help, and make things better. They wanted to be an integral part of the whole eco-system and describe their mission as:
‘to help couples from the day they get engaged through the whole wedding planning journey and into their first year of marriage.’

So, in 2017, they expanded, introducing wedding planning services. The free service includes wedding websites, guest lists, RSVP tracking, and customizable checklists.

Then in 2018 they introduced customized wedding invitations and save the dates.

Recognizing that for some of the products – like bedsheets for example –  the opportunity to see them and feel them, was important… so they trialed their first brick-and-mortar location; a pop-up shop in the Flatiron District of New York City.

As of February 2019, the company has a valuation of $600 million and looks set to become another unicorn (This is despite not having actually made a profit yet).

And the moral is, well morals…

identify an established industry where the (user) experience doesn’t live up to what the category deserves

understand and meet the needs of customers better than what has gone before

look to build a whole eco-system

Footnote: the name was suggested by Kevin Ryan’s son who was doing an internship at the business and was charged with finding all the possible words that could be linked to the business. Amongst his list was Zola – a Zulu word meaning love and happiness

To boldly go where no contact lens retailer had gone before – the story and lessons of the launch of Hubble

To boldly go where no contact lens retailer had gone before – the story and lessons of the launch of Hubble

The genealogy of Hubble is connected with Warby Parker one of the original next generation of start-up brands. Its co-founder Ben Cogan worked at Harry’s; the internet based shaving company which in turn was founded by one of the co-founders of Warby Parker.

It was a great learning experience for Cogan and when in 2015 he was confronted with a sudden rise in the price of his contact lens, he got to thinking whether there might be an opportunity for someone to undercut the current market and go straight to the consumer. In many ways it was a direct parallel to Harry’s where people had been starting to think they were being “ripped off” when buying Gillette razors.

With a little research, Cogan discovered that there are four big players in the contact lens market – J&J’s Acuvue, Valeant’s Bausch & Lomb, Cooper Vision and Novartis’s Alcon and that between them they had dominated the market for a long time. As he suspected their margins were very high. There were a few online retailers, but they re-sold the  existing brands and while they offered some discounts their mark-ups were still high so savings were great.

He decided it was time to get more serious.

Cogan had met Jesse Horwitz at a summer internship at hedge fund Bridgewater, and they had stayed friends and it was to him he turned when he started to plan the venture more thoroughly. Horwitz is a contact lens wearer too and recognized the issue and immediately saw the potential.

Together they decided to focus on the daily disposable market as it was the fastest growing sector and in the US prices were 25-50% higher than the rest of the world, which suggested to them that they should be able to undercut the current players if they could find the right supplier.

“Finding the right supplier was one of the most important things, because we felt it would give us a competitive advantage that would be difficult to match” said Cogan.

It didn’t prove to be that easy though. Firstly, they had to go through all the databases of FDA approved companies, a pre-requisite for the US market. They found several dozen but not sure who to focus on, the pair sent emails to them all, and got …not a single reply.

It dawned on them perhaps this wasn’t so surprising. As Horwitz later told author Lawrence Ingrassia that “they [the suppliers] had no idea who we were. It was a cold-call e-mail, and they didn’t get back to us”

They realized that they needed expert help which they found in Bret Andre who was a consultant who helped steer foreign countries through the process of getting FDA approval. Another was Brian Levy, a former chief medical officer at one of the industry big players Bausch & Lomb. 

Now able to drop Andre and Levy names in a new round of approaches, Cogan and Horwitz started getting a good response. With a shortlist emerging, they asked for samples to allow them to judge quality and comfort and in the classic start-up approach they got friends and family to act as their research sample.

The big question was however going to be price as their business model depended on securing an attractive wholesale cost. The best prices were available on lenses made with hydrogel and not the newer, slightly higher quality and higher priced silicone hydrogel. Both have similar properties when it comes to important features like pliability and porosity, though silicone hydrogel does allow some more oxygen through.

What Levy was able to tell the two co-founders was that whilst most studies showed some preference for the newer material it wasn’t a huge or fundamental difference and indeed sometimes it just came down to personal preference. Levy also knew that the older hydrogel lenses were still commonly used and were perfectly safe. In the end as with other next generation start-up brands like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s that compete heavily on price, it wasn’t about having the best and latest technology but having a good enough product at a very attractive price.

This helped further narrow the list down and the four went to Taiwan to visit the short-list of four companies who were all based there. Three fell by the wayside leaving just one but just as Cogan and Horwitz were getting close to finalizing a deal and a price with the last candidate, Levy and Andre came to them with a problem. They had found evidence that FDA had concerns about the company’s testing procedures. As Cogan would later say “We dodged a bullet”

There was a real danger that the trip would end without a deal, so they decided to visit one last and additional potential supplier in Taiwan who hadn’t even been on the original short-list.

Luckily for them they did and even more luckily the company St. Shine was actively looking for a way into the US market. A deal was struck, and they had managed to secure not only the lenses they needed at a good price but they agreed an exclusivity clause so St. Shine would only deal with them in the U.S.

Things moved quickly from there. With a deal in place Cogan and Horwitz secured more backing to the tune of $3.5million allowing them to quit their jobs and focus on getting the company off the ground.

Recognizing that how they came across to what they expected to be a young and fashion-conscious audience, they now focused on developing the brand look and feel and the choosing of a name.

With regard to the look and feel, the brief they set themselves was would the user be happy to take the packaging out of the medicine cabinet and put it on their coffee table, which led to them choosing a stylish baby blue pack.

“Having a nicer box makes a difference. We designed them with this firm in Brooklyn called Athletics. There’s nothing magical about it. But if you look at the other resellers, they haven’t been redesigned in 20 years”, says Cogan.

As for the name, Cogan’s dad deserves the credit according to his son. Cogan (Ben) told “Ventures Unplugged” that his dad was inspired by Ben’s girlfriend, who went to Princeton and is an astrophysicist. She worked with the Hubble space telescope and he thought that it would make a great brand name. The team really liked it because it was modern, aspirational and was related to vision. Much to everyone’s surprise when they checked it hadn’t been trademarked so they quickly registered it for themselves.

The brand launched in November 2016 and whilst not without some challenges the brand has been growing fast ever since.

And the moral is, well the morals are…

Solve a personal problem…one that affects you and is something you care about

Find a partner, a co-conspirator who you like and trust to help and don’t be afraid to find expert help.

Find the right producer, not necessarily the one with the latest technology

Add a coolness factor in a staid product field.

Zwift – an archetype for a new age

Zwift – an archetype for a new age

Zwift is an archetypal new generation brand.

It was founded by a serial entrepreneur, someone who had previously set up other technology-based brands, in this case Sakonnet Technology. There are parallels here with Uber, Chewy and GoPro, to mention just three others founded by serial entrepreneurs.

It’s a brand that has allowed Eric Min and his co-founders to turn their passion into profits. Chewy set up by its dog-loving founders is another classic example.

It solved a problem the founder had personally, in this case the monotony of indoor cycling. For the founders of Warby Parker it was the high price of new glasses.

 It’s a technology-based brand rather than a brand that sees itself in a market to disrupt. Uber sees itself as a technology platform brand, as does AirBnB. Zwift too sees itself as a platform, though sometimes it describes itself as an entertainment company.

It has cleverly combined different elements and made 1+1=3.

It has an aspirational vision “to create the most engaged and socially active fitness platform.” Maybe not as worthy as some, like Google, but clear and directional, allowing scope for expansion.

It has and tells its own story…and this is my take on that story based mainly on interviews Eric Min and Jon Mayfield have given and shared on the Zwift website.

It begins with a seven-year-old Eric learning to cycle, a good start but as in many stories then came a setback. Just as he was getting proficient his family relocated to NYC, not somewhere conducive to young children cycling. It would be another seven years before Eric was able to rediscover cycling. One of his friends, Travis Millman, introduced him to what he now calls “proper cycling” showing off his Kotobuki touring bike, Bell helmet, and leather gloves. Eric remembers being hooked instantly and he joined a local racing club. While still enamoured with riding and the gear that went with it, he remembers that “it was the sense of community, camaraderie and competitiveness that led me to fall in love with cycling.” He found he loved the friendly competition during training or social rides even more than racing.

Eric Min

Despite it being “a mind-numbing experience” he started riding indoors when he was 15 years old, as it allowed him to maintain his fitness over the cold, wet and snowy winters or leading up to an important event. However, h really missed the social aspect of training.

He continued to cycle over the years while he was working at JP Morgan and then in 1998 he set up Sakonnet Technology with Alarik Myrin. They sold it in 2012/3 and decided to look for the next venture. Eric’s older brother Ji told him to stick to what he knew best which fitted with Alarik’s suggestion that he should take a look at cycling.

So reflecting on his current cycling routine, he realised that because of work and family commitments he rarely got outside on his bike and he was doing most of his riding indoors, which just wasn’t as enjoyable.

This led to what Eric calls his “moment of eureka”. He thought “What if we could take something that was historically mind numbing and turn it into entertainment? What if we could take advantage of video game technology, social networks, and friendly competition, and package that experience for the indoor cyclist?”

He started to sound other cycling friends out about the idea and they were all encouraging. He decided to explore the possibility more thoroughly and convinced an old friend and fellow cyclist to join him. They travelled across the US and Europe speaking to enthusiasts and industry professionals seeing if they were interested and also checking no-one else was working on something similar already. Getting a positive response and hearing no-one else had the same vision they decided to ramp up the project.

It was about this time that Min saw an online post by a programmer called Jon Mayfield in which he described a “3D trainer program” he was developing as a hobby project. Min promptly contacted Jon and arranged to meet.

Jon Mayfield

Jon was a cycling ‘addict’ too and rather like Eric the realities of being a responsible adult and father got in the way of his riding. So, he too had taken up riding indoors and like others found it “awfully boring”.  With few other options and having made video games for a dozen years he decided to see if he could do something for himself. Starting in the Christmas vacation in 2010 he began writing the first lines of code in his spare bedroom. Over the next 2-3 years he would do another couple of hours here and there when he could, creating both the code and art.

Jon’s hobby project

Occasionally, he’d post about his software on various Internet forums and it was one of these that Eric saw. Jon too remembers the first meeting. “Hands were shook, partnerships formed, and at the end of January 2014, I quit my job. The future of indoor cycling was underway.”

Looking back on that first meeting Eric recalls how impressed he was with what Mayfield had already done: “It helped us to visualize the experience we wanted to create. It didn’t take long to convince Jon to join us as a founding member of Zwift. The rest is history.”

So early in 2014, Jon Mayfield, Eric Min, Scott Barger and Alarik Myrin co-founded Zwift Inc. Zwift was chosen as the name as the team felt it combined motion and fun, two of the key elements of the brand.

The first ‘world’ the team created was “Jarvis Island” and it was released as an invite-only beta product on September 30, 2014. They had 1,000 places to fill but were surprised and delighted when they got 13,000 applications.

The launch reflected the global ambitions of the brand and its ability to link people across continents, it took place simultaneously in Rapha Clubhouses in London, New York City and San Francisco.

By May 2015 Zwift had moved into open beta and a virtual version of the Richmond (Virginia) 2015 UCI Road World Championships Course was introduced on September 3, 2015.

On October 30, 2015, Zwift launched as a fully-fledged product with a $10 monthly subscription fee. Since then it has accelerated away and today sees itself as an entertainment company catering to the cyclist and the runner but looking for further future potential.

And the moral is … some stories have lots of morals, lots of lessons

Eat more beef you bastards, and drink another bloody water

Eat more beef you bastards, and drink another bloody water

In my first book of brand stories, The Prisoner & The Penguin, I told the tale of how the cattle farmers in Queensland, Australia came up with their (in)famous, straight-talking advertising campaign to encourage Aussies to buy and consume more of their product.

Now to join “Eat more beef you bastards” is another equally blunt brand “Another Bloody Water”.

It is, as the name suggests, another natural spring water. Luckily it isn’t actually ‘bloody’ but clean and pure coming as it does from an Aquifer 70 meters below the surface of the Kiewa Valley of Victoria’s Alpine High Country. It has one of the lowest sodium contents of any major brand in Australia and has approval from the Biological Farmers Association, Australia’s largest representative organic body.

Co-founded by Didi Lo and Jay Dillon and Michael Derepas. They have poured their life savings and their sense of humour into producing the bottled water brand.

“Our strategy has very much been to be seen in the right places such as small organic food stores, cool cafés and the smaller independent supermarkets in the right suburbs. We don’t want to stocked everywhere. We want the people who do find us to be able to enjoy us privately or tell a friend of their discovery,” said Derepas.

They target savvy and cynical consumers with what they say is great water and some real attitude. As their home page exemplifies

‘Lets get to the business of why you’re here shall we?

  • You feel a certain kinship with our straight up, no mucking around philosophy of pristine drinking water and would like to display it proudly in your shop/café/corner store/dining experience.
  • You are a media-type person who would like to be a little more informed about what makes us and our refreshingly clean and tasty water tick.
  • You are a competitor who is probably waving your fist at your computer screen right now muttering ‘Smartarses!’
  • You think the word ‘bloody’ is crass and is responsible for the decay of society and therefore wish to lodge a complaint. Alternatively you’re from the British Advertising Clearance Centre and you STILL can’t take a joke.”
  • You’re at work and killing time on the web. That’s ok too, corporate time-waster. Your boss ain’t watching.’

“Our company isn’t backed by a large player. We are a small and passionate enterprise. We’ve scrimped and saved to develop the brand which is now competing alongside brands with much bigger marketing budgets,” Derepas says.

“Besides PR, events sponsorship and attendance at trade shows, most of our promotional efforts are simply related to what’s in the packaging and what’s on the label. You know you are doing something right when you have people emailing you just to thank you for entertaining them and promising they will buy it wherever they can find it.”

So it quite clear that you should eat more beef you bastard and wash it down with another bloody water (and not a pint of Victoria Bitter!)

And the moral is often differentiation isn’t about what you do but the way you do and the way you talk about it. Do you have a distinctive tone of voice?

Brotherly Love?

Brotherly Love?

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As an AFOL (Adult fan of Lego) a number of colleagues, friends and clients have sent me information about the Addas Lego partnership and the new trainers. I may or may not succumb – though possibly not as I think there isn’t enough building, construction/deconstruction element. However thinking about Adidas  reminded me of the story of its origins of Adidas… and how it is linked to the launch of Puma whose trainers are my trainers of choice.

I thought it would be timely to share it

Brotherly love?

Christoph Dassler worked in a shoe factory. He had two sons, Adolf and Rudolf.

Returning from World War I, the brothers went different ways. Adolf – known as Adi – kept the family’s interest in shoes going and began producing his own sports shoes in his mother’s wash kitchens. Meanwhile Rudolf, or ‘Rudi’, took up a management position at a porcelain factory, later joining a leather wholesale business.

Rudi returned to their hometown of Herzogenaurach in July 1924 and joined his younger brother’s business. It was renamed the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) and began to prosper.

Black American sprinter and athlete Jesse (James Cleveland) Owens (1913 - 1980), who won 4 gold medals for running and field events in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany pending, Adi spotted an opportunity. He travelled to the Olympic village with a suitcase full of their shoe spikes, and there persuaded U.S. sprinter Jesse Owens to use them. It was the first commercial sponsorship of an African American.

When Owens won four gold medals, the reputation of Dassler shoes rose. Letters from around the world landed on the brothers’ desks, as sportsmen and coaches of other national teams became interested in their shoes.

Business boomed, and by the late 1930s the Dasslers were selling some 200,000 pairs of shoes a year.

brothers

Like most brothers, Adi and Rudi had many arguments, but it was during the course of the Second World War that they were to fall out. Though both brothers joined the Nazi party, relationships were strained, and reached breaking point during a bomb attack in 1943.

Rudi and his family were sitting in a bomb shelter when Adi and his wife arrived. Rudi heard his brother say:  “The dirty bastards are back again”.

Thinking that Adi was referring to him, and not to the Allied war planes, Rudi was furious.

It didn’t help that their wives didn’t like it other.

The situation continued to worsen but when in the aftermath of the war Rudi was picked up by American soldiers and accused of being a member of the Waffen SS, it reached boiling pint. Rudi was convinced that his brother had turned him in.

The brothers split in 1947.

Rudi formed a new firm that he initially called Ruda – a worger (word merger) of Rudolf Dassler – later rebranded Puma, while Adi formed  Adidas AG. While it is sometimes claimed that the name is an acronym for ‘All Day I Dream About Sport’, the name is actually another worger of ‘Adi’ and ‘Das(sler)’.

Dassler brothers

The rivalry between the two businesses was fierce and bitter. Herzogenaurach was equally split and acquired a new nickname: “the town of bent necks”, referring to the townspeople’s habit of forever looking down to check which brand of shoes strangers were wearing. However, both brands prospered.

 

And the moral is, competition can often be good for both parties. How can you use your competition to your advantage?

The brand that broke the first rule of economics – Warby Parker

The brand that broke the first rule of economics – Warby Parker

I studied economics at University and was taught that the first rule was ‘When price increases, demand decreases, all other things being equal”. However as with every rule, there was an exception and in economics it is called a ‘Giffen good’. For a Giffen good demand actually increases when the price increases, however we were told that it doesn’t happen very often, if ever

The early days of Warby Parker and the price of their first spectacles show this can and did happen.

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Warby Parker traces its origins back to 2008 and a discussion between four graduate students attending business school at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

David Gilboa had lost his glasses on a backpacking trip and the cost of replacing them was so high that instead of buying them he spent the first semester of grad school without them, squinting and complaining. Another of the four, Jeffrey Raider, had broken his glasses and had to pay $500 to replace them. It dawned on them and the other two, Neil Blumenthal and Andrew Hunt, just how hard it was to find a pair of great frames that didn’t leave your wallets severely depleted.

Blumenthal had previously been involved with a not-for-profit organization called Vision Spring that provided eye tests and low-cost prescription glasses for developing (countries?). He had been to the factories and seen companies “producing glasses for people living on less than four dollars a day, and literally ten feet away on that same production line were some of the biggest names in fashion that you would find on Fifth Avenue”. He knew producing glasses was dominated by a few firms who clearly were earning significant mark-ups.

They decided there was something in the idea and started doing more research and agreed that they would each put $25,000 into the venture. They also enrolled in a class where the requirement was to develop a business plan. Doing this allowed them to get a credit towards their degrees but also have access to the teaching staff to get their opinions and advice.

They took an early draft of their plan to one professor but when he saw their planned price, he baulked. “He looked at us and slid our PowerPoint back at us and said ‘That’s not going to work. Listen guys, one-tenth the price is just outside the realms of believability’” recalled Blumenthal.

They decided they needed to check this out and arranged an on-line survey looking at how willing people would be to buy glasses on-line at a range of prices starting at $50 and ending at $500. The results showed that at least in part their offer was that exception to the first law of economics. Demand went up as prices rose from $50 it was only after $100 that the ‘normal’ results came into play and demand started to drop off as prices rose.

They decided that they would pitch their glasses at $95 a pair. “If we had priced at $45, first nobody would have believed the quality would be good. And [as they learnt] we would have had no gross margin to run the business and market to people” explains Blumenthal. In all the interviews and reports I have seen there is no mention as to whether they knew they had a Giffen good.

That extra margin became vital pretty quickly, as the team did more research. People said they liked the idea but were not sure they would actually buy them unless they could see them in advance. The team’s first solution was a virtual try on feature on the website. The idea was that people could upload a photo of themselves and virtually try-on the different frames. However, what sounded like a good idea didn’t work, the technology at the time wasn’t sophisticated enough, scaling was difficult, and the glasses often looked distorted.

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It was only then that they struck upon the idea of a free home try-on service, whereby the customer would get five pairs to try on at home. They could order or not at that point and return/mail-back the rejected frames once they had decided.

The whole home try-on service cut into the profit margins and every gram counted; as the lighter the packages were, the less they costed to ship. The team had what they call their “Apollo Thirteen moment”. A reference to the famous situation where the team trying to save the astronauts in the malfunctioning spacecraft had to identify every piece of non-essential ‘weight’ so it could be dumped. They used lighter cardboard, cut out metal straps and used lighter weight packing materials.

By mid-February 2010 they were ready to launch, under the brand name “Warby Parker” a name which had been agreed only after a long process: “It is a combination of the names of two characters  that appear in a journal by author Jack Kerouac. They liked Kerouac, most famous for writing, ‘On the Road’ as they associated with his rebellious spirit, his aim to break free from the shackles of social pressure and embark on an adventure.

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With limited funds, they couldn’t afford advertising, but they hired a PR agency who managed to get them coverage in GQ and Vogue. The launch was a success and they quickly sold out of their limited inventory.

From there, via additional funding and lots of hard-work the brand took-off and one example of the brand’s success is that investors’ nowadays regularly see pitches where budding entrepreneurs pitch their idea as “The Warby Parker of…”

Morals

I normally like to draw a moral from the brand stories I write but there are lots in the Warby Parker tale:

  • If you can identify an industry which is dominated by a few players and consumers are paying higher than necessary prices, it is a new business opportunity (Just ask Richard Branson who built his Virgin brand on the premise)
  • Most brands aren’t built on a single good idea and will probably need a number to overcome challenges along the way
  • There is such a thing as a Giffen good, sometimes an extremely low price means people will assume what’s on offer is low quality, whether that’s true or not

 

Actions speak louder than words

Actions speak louder than words

Dr-Martens-History-6

I read the story about Doc Martens repaying the money that the UK Government had given it for furloughing some of its employees, something that it was under no obligation to do and thought again how it is actions rather than words that demonstrate whether a brand has real principles.

However it was only when a friend re-posted the story on Facebook (thanks Kate), that I remembered that I had written the story of the birth of the brand in my latest book “Inspiring Innovation”. I decided my little action could be to share it publicize the boots and the brand.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/aug/12/dr-martens-repays-uk-furlough-cash-after-strong-lockdown-sales?fbclid=IwAR1n813RYjtIeL9wVezZH40jTTe7ihmjJfYEqSTDyHO04sFR3CEToFjnrWA

Enjoy:

Accidents will happen but then so can innovations

One measure of success for a brand is for it to acquire a nickname.

Dr. Martens doesn’t have one. It has at least four – Doc martens, Docs, DMs and Bovver boots and even the soles which are trademarked as Airwair are known colloquially as Bouncing Soles.

It is a British brand but the original inspiration came from a German orthopaedic surgeon.

Klaus Märtens was a doctor in the German army during World War II.  While on leave in 1945, he went skiing in the Alps but unfortunately had an accident in which he injured his ankle. It caused a lot of pain and he found that his standard-issue army boots and even ordinary shoes were just too uncomfortable.

He had to find a solution and so started work on ways to improve the comfort provided by his boots. Inspiration came from seeing some tyres and he landed on the idea of air-padded soles.

After the war he started making and selling the boots but without much success. Luckily for him about this time he met up with an old university friend, Herbert Funck who had become an engineer.

Funck was intrigued by the new shoe design, and the two decided to go into business together. In 1947, in Seeshaupt, Germany, they started producing a revised and improved boot, using discarded rubber from old Luftwaffe planes and airfields.

The comfortable soles were a big hit with German housewives, and about 80% of sales in the first decade were to women over the age of 40.

In 1952 they opened a factory in Munich and by the end of the 50s the pair were looking for new sources of growth and started exploring opportunities to market the footwear internationally.

British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs Group Ltd. were immediately interested and quickly agreed to buy patent rights to manufacture the shoes in the United Kingdom.

Griggs decided to anglicise the name to Dr. Martens. They slightly re-shaped the heel to make them fit better and showing their flair for branding added what would be the trademark yellow stitching. They took out the British trademark on the soles as AirWair.

martens griggs

Launched on April Fool’s day 1960 the first Dr. Martens boots in the UK were the 1460s, a style which is still in production today. It was an eight-eyelet, oxblood-coloured, smooth leather design.

Sales quickly proved that it hadn’t been a foolish decision to buy the patent rights. The immediate appeal was amongst people who were on their feet a lot and wanted the extra comfort – people like postmen, policemen and factory workers.

However as time passed the brand started to appeal to other groups of people. In the 1960s, skinheads started to wear what they called “dms”. In the late 1970s, they became popular amongst punks, new wave musicians and a number of other youth subcultures.

In 2006, Griggs’ 1960 Dr. Martens AirWair boot was named in the list of British design icons which included Concorde, Mini, Jaguar E-Type, Aston Martin DB5, Supermarine Spitfire, Tube map, World Wide Web and the AEC Routemaster bus

SPARKPOINT: Surprisingly personal misfortune can be a source of inspiration.

A story about a story-telling brand

A story about a story-telling brand

They say that branding is about differentiation but if you think about luxury watches and you’re thinking of Rolex, Breitling, IWC, Zenith, Tag Heuer or Longines, you are thinking about a brand based in Switzerland and which was established over 100 years ago. Not so very different from one another then.

There is however a smaller but highly respected brand. It is based in England but named after a French Farmer. It was founded less than 20 years ago, in 2002.

What differentiates it, is not that their watches are more accurate and reliable, though they are both accurate and reliable. No, what differentiates them, is their story and the stories behind their watches.

In homage to that, this is my take of the story of the birth of the brand and the roles two former pilots played in its creation…

Euan English

Euan English was an ex-RAF pilot with a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering. He had a passion for restoring and flying old aircraft and a love of mechanical timepieces. He would often buy old clocks at auctions and try and get them going again.

He had two sons, Nick and Giles, and as they grew up, they spent much of their childhood helping him make and restore things in his workshop.

The three of them even built an aircraft that the Nick and Giles still fly.

english brothers

Then, in March 1995 tragedy struck. Nick and Euan were practicing for an air display in a 1942 WWII Harvard aircraft. it was involved in a dreadful accident; Euan was killed, and Nick was seriously injured. He had broken over 30 bones and the doctors were worried that he might die too.

Giles had been waiting to take off for the next sortie when was told about the accident and the death of his father.

Six months later, things looking were looking a bit better. Nick was recovering and back in the air, being flown by Giles.

Together they agreed that life was too short to waste and they should find something they could do together and which they both loved. They decided they wanted a life dedicated to crafting beautifully engineered mechanical devices.

A few years later Nick & Giles were flying again, this time across France in their 1930’s biplane. However, on this day, another fateful series of events was conspiring to come together; with the weather closing in and a rough-running engine, they decided they would have to make an emergency landing.

They landed in a field and were met by a friendly farmer. It turned out that the farmer, like their father, had also flown aircraft during the war and was a gifted engineer. The brothers stayed in his home and their aircraft was wheeled into a barn.

The boys soon noticed another similarity with their father, as, along with numerous engine parts there were half-restored clocks on the walls and tables all around the farm. The farmer wore his father’s old wristwatch.

The brothers couldn’t believe their luck and enjoyed his warm hospitality. When they left, they promised him that he wouldn’t be forgotten.

His name? Antoine Bremont

True to their word, when the brothers launched their own brand of luxury pilot’s watches, there was never any doubt that the brand would be called Bremont.

bremont watches

The brand has carved a successful niche amongst those much older and mostly Swiss brands by making what their website describes as “beautifully crafted pilot’s watches of exceptional quality”… that are all “tested beyond the normal call of duty”.

All their watches are hand built in limited numbers only and of course they come complete with a story.

Stealth pilot

There is a range inspired by a B-2 Stealth bomber pilot who wanted a completely black watch to match his completely black aircraft.

They tell a story about how they are the only company to test their watches for supersonic ejector seat deployment from a fighter plane. They will also fit your watch with a special red bezel if you are a pilot who has successfully ejected from a plane, though they hope they don’t have to fit too many of those!

And the moral is we all love a good story and telling one can help lift and differentiate your brand. What’s your story?