at the intersection of brands, media and culture

Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

Moleskine, an unMarketer that I love

In Brands on December 21, 2007 at 7:54 am


Over the last 5 years or so I’ve seen the reemergence of the Moleskine brand, all of it done without intrusive brand noise. At its heart Molekine is a simple brand, notebooks that transcend paper and pen to become repositories for thoughts, memories, dreams and lists. I’ve carried some version of a Moleskine notebook through at least 7 different countries and numerous research projects to capture stories and ideas and have colleagues who do the same.

But I’m struck by what really sets Moleskine apart from other notebooks (of which there are many): they’ve done an incredible job of capturing the living history of the brand and in doing so, have created a humble but impressive brand culture around their products. There is a good consumer generated history here that builds on the product lore by associating it with many of the great thinkers and artists of the last hundred years.

What’s striking is that over the years there hasn’t really been a discernible change in the product. An unruled notebook here, a watercolor version there, a city styled guide, some size variations to make it comfortable to carry in a shirt pocket for easy access. Brand building and marketing have been relatively quiet with the greatest change coming in the form of distribution which seems to have exploded, leading to increased availability and awareness. It’s a great case study in how you can generate momentum without radical change or ‘innovative’ new line extensions. Sometimes the product and brand don’t need to be meddled with—here, all the brand really needed was to adjust its sales strategy.

Here is the brand story from the Moleskine site:


This trusty, pocket-size travel companion held sketches,
notes, stories and ideas before they were turned into
famous images or pages of beloved books.

Originally produced by small French bookbinders who
supplied the Parisian stationery shops frequented by the
international avant-garde, by the end of the twentieth
century the Moleskine notebook was no longer available.
In 1986, the last manufacturer of Moleskine, a family
operation in Tours, closed its shutters forever.

“Le vrai Moleskine n’est plus” were the lapidary words
of the owner of the stationery shop in Rue de l’Ancienne
Comédie where Chatwin stocked up on the notebooks.
The English writer had ordered a hundred of them before
leaving for Australia: he bought up all the Moleskine
that he could find, but they were not enough.

In 1998, a small Milanese publisher brought Moleskine
back again. As the self-effacing keeper of an extraordinary
tradition, Moleskine once again began to travel the globe.
To capture reality on the move, pin down details, impress
upon paper unique aspects of experience: Moleskine
is a reservoir of ideas and feelings, a battery that stores
discoveries and perceptions, and whose energy can be
tapped over time.

The legendary black notebook is once again being passed
from one pocket to the next; with its various different page
styles it accompanies the creative professions and the
imagination of our time. The adventure of Moleskine
continues, and its still-blank pages will tell the rest.

What’s wrong with market research, Part I

In advertising, agency, Brands, communications, Consumers, market research, marketing, strategy, UnMarketers on December 3, 2007 at 5:30 am

An old colleague of mine, Chris Perkins, now at Arnold, always liked to respond to clients who test positionings by saying, “Well, should we throw love in the mix too, just to see what people think?” And I think that this sums up much of what’s wrong with how folks seem to use qualitative research.

“If we go out and ask them (the market), they’ll tell us what to do,” seems to be the popular thinking. This, of course, discounts strategic thought or client intuition. It also assumes that the market knows what they want, can articulate it, and are comfortable telling other people the truth. I don’t know what I want for lunch today. In fact, I’m feeling kind of ambivalent about food in general. I know I like food, and I know I’m hungry, I just don’t know what I feel like eating today. I’d go through a similar decision-making process trying to decide what to eat for lunch as I would if someone asked me what type of relationship I wanted with a brand. “Well, give me some options… sure, a ham sandwich sounds good. I think I’ll get that.” The more bland the positioning/meal, the more likely I/the market will find it agreeable. Ham sandwiches sound good to people.

The rub is that there are a million and one delis that sell ham sandwiches. There are very few places that sell Jamaican Japanese fusion, and you know what? I could really get hooked on that. It’s different, it’s spicy, it’s healthy and it’s good.

Some of my recent research is playing more like Jamaican Japanese fusion. I’ve spent the last year traveling for a variety of clients to places like Twins Festivals, Burning Man and now I’m getting ready to leave on a trip to Ivory Coast. This type of research requires a bit more strategy on the backend and a healthy helping of intuition to turn findings into something usable. It can be scary, one can fail miserably. But when you do succeed, you do so by creating something amazing, interesting and differentiating. Something that comes from a deep-seated truth that is just off the cerebral radar and waiting to be brought to life.

I imagine my next trip will be something like this…