Shop under the shop

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It happened unexpectedly, but it’s living proof that today’s commerce is not how it used to be. Repeating the fact is good, analyzing it is better. Last Friday, Uniqlo Montparnasse opened its 10th store in France… at the first lower level of the Fnac (think Best Buy for a US equivalent)… At this store, you are obligated to pass by cultural products to get to the cashmere sweaters and winter coats… Talk about unexpected. All the CDs formerly found there have been moved to the upper levels, allowing the 1040 m2 space to be consecrated for textiles. No question, a commercial endeavor of this kind is a first in France.

In Japan, Uniqlo has been testing out this principle since 2012, launched for the occasion under the name “Biqlo” (…), a brand devoted to electronic products and home appliances. Imagine if you stumbled upon an Alex and Ani boutique in the back of a Sephora or even a Disney pop-up store on the first level of a well-known supermarket. And why not even a Swatch pop-up store in a Paul’s bakery? Are these ideas so disruptive to cherished brands?

The point is that consumption is becoming more and more a matter of lifestyle and from this perspective, regrouping brands from different universes that correspond to the same life vision is not so absurd after all. It’s a safe bet that clients of the Fnac have a lot of points in common with those of Uniqlo.

Making clients pass by a retailer to make them aware of the larger store is a new way of envisaging the theory “shop-in-shop”. Except, the shop in question is not merely a miniature reproduction of the department store aimed at maintaining a certain shopping experience, but a real sales floor with a full range of unique goods. A true “shop-in-shop” which allows each brand in the arrangement to benefit from the other’s customer foot traffic. Not too shabby.

Such partnerships could open up the possibility for events and unprecedented promotional campaigns. Buy two DVDs and whadda ya know, a discount on a wool turtleneck sweater. It’s all about imagination. Once again, recognition of what surprises customers can serve as a driving force in marketing.

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Color me cultured

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After being closed for renovation for 3 years, the Rodin Museum has recently reopened its doors. Besides the permanent collection enriched with never before seen works from the sculptor, the interior decoration has garnered considerable attention. The new walls, repainted by British craftsmen Farrow & Ball, display a new shade specially made for this occasion: grayish-brown “Biron” Gray, inspired by the hotel where Rodin himself stayed in the early 1900s.

It didn’t go unnoticed by the keenest fans of culture, who remarked that certain museum walls are now accompanied by a reference to the paint manufacturer Farrow & Ball (at the European House of Photography in Paris or at the MuMa in the Havre, France, for example). A partnership as clever as unexpected. Clever because it gives a new dimension to colors that are normally only identified by codes or appellations whose nuances are not always easy to grasp (“sweetness of honey” “flamenco”, “mushroom”, “suede”, “floral hops”…).

It’s also a partnership that proves that the merging of worlds is key to today’s marketing strategy. It provides yet another way to surprise the consumer. A few years ago, a T-shirts manufacturer offered colors scientifically developed based on cultural references. They made it possible for consumers to buy T-shirts with colors like “Citroën 2CV green” or “Mona Lisa eyes”. Farrow & Ball’s strategy reveals the same logic: give their product a cultural importance.

The world of food could also take inspiration from this thinking. Nestlé’s La Laitière has played this card from the beginning, making Vermeer’s famous painting a hallmark of their brand packaging. Why has this initiative remained isolated? Had it arrived too early? Yet based on recent developments in the world of fine foods, where each product’s imagination is tested while creating new names and trying to establish the status of a cultural object, it seems inevitable that this thinking of consumer/culture fusion can be explored even more…

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Legacy branding

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A few weeks ago, Chanel announced its recent acquisition of the former villa of their founder, next to Cap Martin, where Coco had been known to host icons such as Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali… The storytelling has been set in motion, and we can already imagine that this place will welcome fashion shows and expositions dedicated to the brand. Even if they refute wanting to use it for marketing-related purpose… Lancel, a brand founded in 1876, is also in the midst of  reappropriating their identity. Their company has realized that their image is too confined to the world of handbags. They have begun to buy back objects coming from their historic collections, so they can explore their past and redefine their positioning.

The appeal of luxury brands lies in their ability to spark imaginations. Therefore, we understand what would motivate a luxury brand to want to reclaim, preserve and grow everything that links itself to the past. The construction of a strong identity is rooted in the past, because it allows a brand to assert its special qualities and affirm its values.

Barring a few exceptions that show a conscious effort to turn more towards the future (Saint Laurent, Prada), the majority of luxury actors are pursuing the same goal of reclaiming the past to the point of almost imagining a new occupation, “Brand Heritage Manager” situated at the intersection of artistic and marketing management, whose mission is to valorize the history of the company. As proof: the abundance of expositions dedicated to fashion and to their designers (Jean Paul Gaultier, Lanvin, Karl Lagerfeld to only name the three most recent) and the recent creation of a master public history of companies and institutions at the University of Paris-Est Créteil Val-de-Marne, in order to train these historians in a new domain.

Why should this approach just be limited to the luxury sector? Certain brands of consumer goods can just as well initiate this valorization of the past that accompanied the everyday life of several generations and also, more than just luxury brands, marked the psyche of millions of people.

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Team brands

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Diehard soccer fans know it all too well: with the support of a team’s fanbase alone, there is a tremendous market for team-specific apparel and goods. The soccer club Paris St. Germain is not an exception to the rule, with an impressive variety of team goods, including lamps, brushes, keychains, school bags, cosmetics for men (with Nivea), cups… Until now, except for chips and crackers, (the marketing of “circumstantial moments” at play) food products were not as present in the landscape. But now that is starting to change, as the club Paris St. Germain distributes its own team brand spring water, available in bottles for restaurants and PET bottles (50 and 100cl), destined for mass distribution. And let’s not count out the possibility of team-themed dairy products to appear, (milk and yogurt for example) like soccer club Olympique de Marseille already does. New partnership possibilities are everywhere…

Associating a brand to a sports team is a way to exceed the expectations of today’s consumers. “Healthy” products like water or milk are only the beginning. Why not sell team chocolate, cookies, or even prepared meals? There is a huge opportunity for brands to capitalize on the energy of a team’s fanbase. Every brand dreams of stirring up fan passion and making them feel like they belong to an inclusive group. A new economic model is taking form here, where it’s not the qualities of the product that motivate the purchase, but the “cause” that is associated with the product. 

The challenge therefore becomes for brands to successfully “extract” the enthusiasm of fans. It can be in soccer, but also from music or any other leisure activity situated in sports or cultural spheres. The objective here is not for brands to “dominate” their customers, but to try and create and maintain a passionate relationship with their fans. It’s about drawing upon fan energy, and figuring out how to make each consumer a fan of their brand.

A new era of “brand fans” believe what’s important is not so much the product, but to affirm their pride in belonging to a group. Next on-board: brand teams.

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Icon in the Making

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They are on everyone’s feet. On every teenager, (perhaps over-represented in this category), on every hipster, even though they’ve asked themselves if the shoes have become too mainstream for them, and let’s not forget the yuppies who wear them to complement their camel coats- all groups that embody a chic and young attitude. That’s Stan Smith for you, a real marketing sensation.

Someday we will look back on this pair of shoes knowing that would have certainly earned a spot in Roland Barthes’ 1972 classic Mythologies, if it had existed during this time period. An “extra” ordinary pair of sports shoes, with no façade, no displayed promises of performance, inspired by a man who is hardly a legend (who had previously heard of Mr. Stan Smith?), sold at an “acceptable” price and positioned as “a touch of cool modernity”, essential for all body silhouettes. It’s a brand that pleases all populations, all social classes, all ages, from individuals of various living situations, walks of life, and ambitions.

We’ve also learned that an American tannery, Horween Chicago Leather, has revisited the “mythical” Stan Smith shoe, by offering it in a new material: with high-quality, hand-crafted leather made through the process of vegetal tanning. The shoe has been available in Adidas stores since October 9. The leather is crafted from one large piece, and the logo is sewn with a gold thread on the tongue and heel. The conceptual details are precise and meticulous. The idea is audacious.

Why can’t manufacturing be inspired by other sectors? Imagine iconic products now mastered with industrial production, but reproduced by skilled local artisans, in a limited edition series. A hand-woven Lacoste polo, a Swatch assembled manually by Swiss watchmakers, but also, why not a Milano cookie, Toblerone chocolate or a “simple” Yoplait re-imagined by a chef and promoted on his menu. It’s a way for products to attract attention to the originality of their shapes and recipes, their brand history, their origin, and above all, their desirability.

The aim is not to imply that the industrial version is of lesser quality than the artisanal version (inevitably), but to highlight that the ‘craft’ version is the model, and therefore, a unique “work”. Therein lies its value.

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