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Form over Function – Is Being Fashionable Really Enough to Innovate a Brand?

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.

Filofax press mention
Working the media… enough to reposition the brand?

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.

Winchester and Malden
Kindly provided by Steve Morton from Philofaxy, throughout the decades Filofax has excelled as a brand of quality and function

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.
An old system based on functionality

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.
Scotsman article about the filofax brand on sale again
Up for grabs – will the French know how to take the brand in the 21st Century?

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.

brand loyalty, brand management, Brand Managment, brand message, Brand Strategy, Brand Vision

Comments (0)

  • Hi Regine, and thank you so much for summing this up so well – it’s good to hear this coming from a branding professional (and a non-Filofax user as well), and many of us ‘out there’ do still continue to hope that someone, somewhere in the Filofax ‘universe’ is listening. We are not ‘the enemy’ of the brand – far from it – we want to be it’s biggest cheerleaders. All we need is for someone to listen.
    Someone once said, I believe, that the secret of success in business was simply o find out what people want and give it to them. If only Filofax were doing that, they wouldn’t need to be insulting and alienating their long term core brand supporters.
    Salutary – thanks again.

    • Thank you for your kind comments! The subject is really fascinating and it’s interesting to follow the brand purely as an uninvolved outsider – though I wished they had an opening in their brand consultancy team, I’d gladly chip in! 🙂
      Thanks again and I do hope they will do something positive in response to your open letter. You’d all deserve it.

  • Regine thank you for this, it summarizes very well what we’ve been trying to get through to Filofax for years now. Glad to see someone in the marketing industry is thinking the same way as those of us who are, or were until recently, Filofax’s core users.

    • Thank you for reading this and for your thoughts! I’ve myself been on a bit of a journey with Filofax but even though I am not a user, I just love the strong brand loyalty and community feel of sites such as Philofaxy and am therefore rather astonished why this is not recognised and nurtured by the brand owners…
      Good luck for the future!
      And thanks again…

  • Regine, I wholeheartedly thank you for this article. As a Filofax fan and avid user of the brand, as well as a supporter of Philofaxy, I am astonished by the form over function pathway which the company are following. Both are equally important…. style and function.

    • Thanks, Jane, and I hope someone somewhere has an open ear for the concerns of the brand stakeholders and will find a better way to combine repositioning and keeping valued clients happy!

  • Regine, thank you for a very interesting article from a marketing perspective. Fascinating to read your take on this subject which is a very hot topic to people who love their Filofax, yet who dislike the corporate strategy being followed by Filofax HQ, poorly advised as they are by Slam PR.
    I just wrote a piece on the 1928 catalogue for Lefax, which Filofax absorbed with the intention of making it their flagship “luxury” product. Then they let it quietly die, like
    An unwanted child. Interesting to see the comparison with today’s marketing strategy. A Temperly “Affair” (could it have been ably more inappropriately named?) costing just south of £400, with numerous stories of owners sending them back due to badly aligned rings and other problems. Compare this to my 1984 Lefax Chelsea, made of the smoothest leather you could ask for, and still going strong, almost 30 years later.
    The saddest thing is that when Filofax goes under, as I am sure it will, there will be a sizeable group of core users who warned them of the reasons for the impending demise, and who will feel very saddened to see this brand go to the wall.

  • I’m the owner of several filofaxes, all in use on an almost daily basis. However, whereas up until recently I hadn’t given the matter a thought, I’m now very aware that filofaxes are being heavily marketed as a fashion accessory for women. In fact, rightly or wrongly, I’m so self consious about it that, as a male, I now use an A4 ARC notebook (with it’s superb, and very cheap, 100gsm paper) when I’m in business meetings.
    With the male population being virtually abandoned, with many enthusiasts only buying vintage binders, and with the rest of us finding ways of refilling our filofaxes using paper from alternative sources, I do find it surprising that no-one at Filofax appears willing to take advantage of the free (and potentially business saving) feedback being offered to them by some very knowledgable individuals.
    Filofax are missing a trick or two here. They should embrace “print on demand” to avoid the December peak, offer quality “fountain pen friendly” paper and market the cheaper paper as the “lightweight option for travellers”, make all their vintage templates available through an online “print and deliver” service and stop trying to market binders that will never lay flat in a month of Sundays as a premium product!. Far better to have a “work” range at sensible prices with a “custom fill”, and a “life” range of designer binders, using premium leathers from around the globe, made to order, here in the UK, again with a “custom fill” and easily selling for at least the price of a plastic Temperley.

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