Brand Genetics … Alessi to Enterprise, Jet Blue and Jones Soda

March 24, 2005

Marketing Genius champions brands that have the vision and power to shape their markets in their own destiny rather than others, to maintain their focus and principles over time, and to combine intelligence and creativity in order to drive success competitively and financially. These are some examples.

1.       Alessi.

The Italian designers combine design and technology to create objects of household utility and desire. In 1921, Giovanna Alessi first struck his lathe in the Alpine village of Crusinallo, with the belief that no man should be forced to dine from a boring plate. From Anna G, the corkscrew, to radios called Poe, the design family enjoy and celebrate the simplicity of everyday objects, whilst constantly pushing the boundaries of both function and form. They are guided by the creativity of designers such as Philippe Starck and Also Rossi rather than following the whims of the market, and the possibilities of materials, more recently embracing colourful plastics to complement their classic medium of stainless steel. 65% of products are now exported to over 60 countries, helping them to build an intensely loyal customer base, who typically build up their collections over a lifetime.

Brand Genetics : design and technology, boldness and imagination.

2.       Enterprise

Enterprise has quietly grown to become the largest car rental company in North America by rejecting the conventional wisdom of focusing on holiday and airport locations. Instead Enterprise and its 57,000 staff, who all share in the business success, have grown up in the inner cities, focusing on short-term and replacement rentals. Their people share an incredible entrepreneurial spirit more associated with a small company, working customer by customer, car by car, to be the best rather than the biggest. Their service culture and market focus enables them to charge a market premium, and to rapidly enter new markets which to the conventional eye, would appear saturated. The company now generates over $7billion from its 600,000 cars and has made many millionaires out of its people on the way. Previous leaders Hertz and Avis now need to try even harder.

Brand Genetics : focus and differentiation, culture and service

3.       Google

“Googol” is the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros. In 1995 Larry Page and Sergey Brin created in their Stanford University bedroom what within 5 years would be dealing with 100 million internet searches every day, and make them multi-billionaires in less than a decade. Indeed last year’s Nasdaq floatation was not without controversy, when Google claimed they should not be treated like a “normal” company. With over 80 million users, searching through 8 billion webpages, Google is now the world’s leading search engine. They are known entirely through word of mouth, and their revenues are driven by enabling advertisers to target online users in highly sophisticated and efficient ways. They stay true to their “10 things” philosophy, ranging from “focus on the user and all else will follow” and “fast is better than slow”, to “you can be serious without a suit” and “great just isn’t good enough”.

Brand Genetics : technology and vision, simplicity and leadership

4.       Ikea

Ingvar Kamprad set out from his Elmtaryd farm in the village of Aggunnaryd  – hence the letters forming IKEA – with a mission to “create a better everyday life for the many people”. Since 1943 the company has focused on democratising design by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as may people as possible will be able to afford them. Their flat-pack approach gives them supply-chain efficiency and speed, even if it infuriates some consumers. Their 200 stores are typically in urban, isolated areas targeting young homeowners, and creating a distinctive experience (not least through their restaurants at the heart of their stores). With global roll-out, and strong loyalty, their success is likely to continue as long as they can convince people to discard the old, and refurnish their lives.

Brand Genetics : product and cost, design and experience.

5.       Jet Blue

The revolutionary airline brought style to a price-discounting market, offering spacious leather seats each equipped with 36 channels of live satellite television, whilst most of its competitors crumbled around it. Launched by David Neeleman, Jet Blue now serves 30 carefully-selected US and Caribbean destinations with a fleet of 68 new, environmentally-friendly Airbus A320 aircraft. The airline succeeds competitively and financially by combining innovative, high-quality service with low fares to build a loyal following. Neeleman followed his previous successes with Morris Air, which he sold to Southwest, and Open Skies, a simple yet powerful reservation system sold to Hewlett Packard.  In 1999 he secured £130 million capital funding, rejected the thinking that no-fills was the only future, and judged that the time was right to bring “humanity back to air travel”.

Brand Genetics : innovation and timing, pricing and automation.

6.       Jones Soda

“Run with the little guy, create some change” urged Peter van Stolk as he launched his Canadian drinks company back in 1996. His drinks were irreverent – turkey and gravy soda was a top seller – and his distribution channels were different – placing his flame-designed coolers in skate shops, tattoo parlours and music stores. Jones enhanced its cool credentials with the endorsement of leading BMX and MTV personalities, and passion to do things different. The company also embraced technology, enabling consumers to mix their own drinks, and most innovatively, to upload their personal photos at which then became the labels on the bottles. A nationwide craze ensued as folks searched through stores for the bottle with their picture on it. Jones Soda has created a cult following with consumers, staff and shareholders – a cult that soon intends to hit the UK.

Brand Genetics : alternative and irreverent, personal and personality.

7.       Panera Bread

Panera is the bread shop from St Louis that has driven an American obsession for speciality breads, and now has 700 bakery cafes in 25 US states, with the highest level of retail brand loyalty in America. “We are bakers of bread. We are a simple pleasure. We are a life story at dinner. We are a weekly morning ritual. We are the kindest gesture of neighbours”. The bakeries specialise in all natural ingredients to bake the finest breads, show-casing the artisans and craft of bread-making, and becoming the centre of the local community. The story began in 1981 with the Au Bon Pain Co. which acquired a St Louis chain of 20 bakeries in 1993. Since changing its name to Panera in 1999 the shareprice has grown 13-fold, created over $1 billion of shareholder value, and one of Business Week’s “Hot Growth Companies”.

Brand Genetics : quality and range, network and community.

8.       Sky

Sky has changed our viewing habits, and our social behaviours too. With more than 17 million viewers in 7 million UK households, Sky now offers an unprecedented choice of movies, news, entertainment and sport. Not only that, but it has also been smart in signing up the content that is most in demand – not least Premiership football – in order to entice terrestrial viewers, and charge a premium for it. Now that it reaches 30% of homes, the focus has moved from land-grab to profitable delivery. Sky+ has brought personal choice and recording in a way that Tivo failed, whilst the licensing of its own channels – such as Sky News and Sky Sports – to cable and digital networks has extended its reach. James Murdoch now has the challenge of sustaining the relentless growth demanded by his father.

 Brand Genetics : vision and innovation, content and pricing.

9.       Sony

 “Sony” is derived from sonus meaning sound and sonny boy by which the Japanese mean a young person with a free spirit. Sony is therefore “a group of young people who have the energy and passion toward unlimited creation”. This could define Sony, and its target customers. Indeed there are few companies that have achieved such success through steady, organic growth with a devotion to technological innovation, and a Zen-like ability to shrug off defeats. Whilst there have been many successes, from the Walkman to the PlayStation, there has been failure too, losing the battle for video and DVD format supremacy. However the focus on sleek, attractive design that wins over customers, often at a 20 to 30% price premium, has served Sony well.  As technologies converge, the focus is also about creating solutions rather than products – the Sony experience – and in staying one step ahead of the consumer.Brand Genetics : innovation and design, leadership and passion.

 10.   Zara

In 1963, Amancio Ortega started out as a small lingerie business, producing low-priced imitations of upmarket fashion. However Ortega thought consumers could regard clothes as a perishable commodity, like food and drinks, rather than something to be stored over years. Ortega pursued his vision of “ready-baked” clothes, to create a global fashion phenomenon, translating the latest ideas from the catwalk, and trends on the street into new ranges faster than anyone else. Zara’s “sense and respond” approach, enables them to occupy the leading edge of the fashion cycle, when demand and prices are highest, and coupled with their highly efficient supply chain, margins are greatest. With over 600 stores in 50 countries, Zara positions its brand differently by market – in Spain it is at the cheaper end of the market, whilst in US and Mexico it competes with luxury stores.

Brand Genetics : insight and design, speed and efficiency.

Marketing Genius © Peter Fisk 2005

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