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.
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.