Just finished – a new brand identity for natural food supplement business Hemp’s CBD Oils. This has been a great project to work on, not just because I know the client from other projects for a long time and this is an excitingly different market.
It coincides with another branding project which is also in the natural health area, but more scientific, so it’s been a nice challenge to find the right tone of voice for each of them.
It has taken me a few days to digest a press release I received relating to Filofax, a brand I have been following for a while now. Here is the bit that that is almost too bad to be true when relating it to those brand followers that have been loyal and dedicated to the brand throughout its turbulent history.
The Filofax personal organiser is an iconic product with a strong heritage but as a brand they’ve found it challenging to stay relevant in the current digital age. We were challenged to re-position the brand to make it culturally relevant again and re-capture the imagination of ‘lapsed users’ who once used a Filofax but now rely on their smartphones to keep their diaries.
Following a usage and attitudes study, we identified that lapsed users and current Filofax users share the same common ground – they like to write notes and are very interested in fashion / stylish accessories. With this in mind we needed to make Filofax fashionable again to recapture this audience’s attention, so we set up a fashion-focused press office targeting key fashion and style journalists in aspirational and mainstream media, as well as influential bloggers with style focused tactics to change their perception of the brand.
From creating monthly trend reports that tied Filofax designs into leading catwalk looks, celebrity seeding, to implementing a series of style led blogger challenges, over the course of six months Filofax was starting to become recognised as a style accessory. This was all supported with a design partnership with iconic British fashion designer Alice Temperley who created a limited edition collection designed to showcase Filofax’s design capabilities but ultimately raise their profile amongst a high fashion crowd.
Helena Bloomer, MD of SLAM PR
Especially the ‘usage and attitudes study’ must have felt like a slap in the face of those users who are more keen on what’s in it than who made its cover. Some vented their frustration and published an open letter addressing the issue.
Dave Popely wrote a lovely reply to the PRs strange conclusion based on focus groups or other research which, if anything besides missing the point of the brand and its followers, puts our industry in a bad light. It made me cringe reading the buzzword loaded marketing speech and I am going to try doubly hard not to jump to marketing conclusions that are short sighted and biased.
Even though I am not a Filofax user, having just had a few encounters with those passionate about the product on sites like Philofaxy (hello Steve), I believe the very core of the ongoing success of the brand lies in the provision of a tool helping people organise their lives. Those people don’t want to rely on fancy gadgets, they appreciate the versatility, flexibility and reliability of paper and Filofax’s different systems for keeping notes is at the heart of their social and business organisation – day in, day out. To be pigeonholed as “people who like to write notes and are very interested in fashion/stylish accessories” is not only patronising, but alienates exactly the core of brand followers that seem to be keeping the company alive amidst the mass of digital alternatives.
I had a read of a PDF published on Philofaxy in which Kevin Hall lists the chronology of the company since the 1920s and if anything it highlights once again the lack of understanding that the true magic of the personal organiser lies in its functionality rather than its form.
There are so many possibilities of rejuvenating a brand without attempting to use the glittery but fickle and shallow fashion direction. The best brand ambassadors are those who believe in the product and I just can’t understand why they are not being included in the development of the brand be it for a social campaign or at least for an in-depth forum or brainstorm. They meet up regularly as a group of enthusiasts sharing ideas, ways to file information, laughs no doubt. Why can the Filofax marketing department not see and capture some of that social magic and break through this strange notion that style will rescue them all.
Just like Apple used to create extra special hardware and software for the design community, there is an opportunity to develop an extra special functional paper organiser that looks good as well – and if, as it has been with Apple (excluding SIRI and Maps to date) the design is just as amazing as the product itself, people will happily pay a premium.
It remains to be seen what’s next on the cards – with a new edition of the Alice Temperley range announced for the 2013 London fashion week and all those “style led blogger challenges and celebrity seedings” – or perhaps with the possibility of a takeover by French firm Exacompta Clairefontaine. Possibly the future ‘Le Filofax’ will be naturally confident of their French style such that the focus of the brand managers will shift towards the deeper appeal of the product for those using it as an integral part of their life.
Having written about niche brands and why they are a great way to dominate the market place, demand higher prices and have the ‘expert factor’, here are some thoughts on potential issues with being so specialised and targeted. Don’t Get Stuck in a Niche
I have a vast portfolio of work within the hotel and leisure industry as well as arts and culture. However, was I to concentrate on these sectors alone, a number of issues would occur, including the number of clients I can work with without causing problems with competition, the fear of clients that my work may be repetitive if I am not exposed to other markets, the danger of the industry being in trouble and marketing budgets being cut; not to forget my own personal longing for diverse problem solving within a multitude of industries and company sizes.I guess it is about finding the right balance between being a ‘Jack of all trades’ and a master of not a lot of industry.
Whatever your niche market, make sure your product and service are far reaching and adaptable to a larger playing field. Keep Your Eye on the Mainstream
Starting out as a niche, you may find yourself comfortable and secure – but it may be a good idea to strive for a larger market long-term. We all know the typical global ‘household brands’. Apple, for instance, used to be very focused on the designer’s market alone before breaking into the mainstream with their innovative iPod and iMac many years ago now.
Being a niche brand, you may never consider that step – but it’s a good one to aim for if you want to grow into a global brand with the relevant advantages of a much larger market and influence.That’s not to say mainstream is the ultimate solution for brands – BlackBerry are just abandoning the consumer market in favour of going back to their roots in targeting businesses, Dell is another example that struggled with trying to be everything to everyone.
Sometimes though, a niche (such as FairTrade for instance) becomes relevant and popular with a large part of society and is the next step for a brand.
So, if it suits your product, service and the demand on the markets, mainstream is a viable aim. On the upside, retailers are discovering more and more the power of niche brands and are offering smaller brands valuable shelf space. Innovation is Key (again…)
Even though you may be the expert in your field and have a great reputation, without innovation and pushing your brand and its boundaries, the competition will catch up and overtake you in the long run.Purchasing preferences even in specialised sectors change and evolve so be aware and step out of your comfort zone to explore new value-adding products and services – or markets.
Widely publicised in recent years, one of the most popular choices for entrepreneurs is niche marketing. Whilst I would be careful with the trend of ‘finding a niche and building a website around it’, I think if a business has established a differentiating factor that sets it apart, the targeted approach of a niche brand may be the next step in securing brand loyalty and higher profit margins.
What is a niche brand?
In simple terms, a niche brand is a brand that addresses the need for a product or service that mainstream brands don’t provide for. It is a very specific brand appealing to a subset of the market.
Niche brands often withstand market forces better because they have increased brand loyalty and a prime position within their market segment.
A niche could be a luxury brand, such as Rolex or Hermes who only target the richest consumers – or it could be a shop selling household products for people with dermatitis, e.g. catering for a very specific need.
Some niche brands on or off the high street
The following are just a few samples I would consider niche brands – though some have made the break-through into the mass market.
How can you find a niche?
Start with market research. If you don’t have a specific product yet, you can use a variety of online search tools to find out what consumers are interested in and if there is a range of products or services that can cater for their demand. You can use free tools, such as the Google keyword tool, to find out how many people search for a specific keyword and to find related terms to give you more ideas. Find something that has a good balance of demand and supply, so you can easily become the market leader and have sufficient interest in your product.
If you already have a product or service, consider the following: Which market are you in? Who are your customers? Think about to whom your product mostly speaks. What problem does your brand solve? Is there a recurring customer profile that works for your business?
Without trying to please everyone, you can become a market leader in a specific sub group and compete through your expert knowledge of your customer’s requirements.
Why should you find a niche?
In terms of branding, a niche means you automatically target a very specific segment of your target market, and thus you will be presented with some great opportunities of engaging with a willing crowd of enthusiasts. I just remember my interview with Steve from phILOFAXY, which gave me great insight into the nature of those Filofax fans – you could not wish for better brand ambassadors!
Niche brands have the appeal of being expert and serving the individual, so you can benefit from better margins if your brand is right and from stronger loyalty if you fulfill your brand promise.
That also means that niche brands are often more resilient in a more difficult financial climate. And if your business is built on being profitable without needing mass sales, a drop in purchasing is not going to affect you as severely as mass product brands that suffer when the general public tightens their purse strings.
Building a niche brand also means that you have more opportunities within a chosen sector to become the expert, the market leader, the one to beat – and benefit from interest where big brands won’t bother because it is not worth their time and investment.
Any help out there?
There are a number of pod casts all around niche branding which are very interesting to listen to and who discuss a wide array of subjects relating to finding and marketing a niche brand. Of course you can always talk to me, too… 🙂 ViperChill Internet Business Mastery
A lot of niche websites rely on internet marketing which both these pod casts address nicely. Any more gems out there, please let me know!