Warby Parker: The Brand and the Business

This originally appeared in Sparksheet.

Jeff Swystun looks at how Warby Parker is disrupting the eyewear industry by blending online and in-store commerce, even while the company struggles to profit.

Brands can become verb-worthy. In my father’s day it was the Cadillac, a car synonymous with luxury and status. If you had a Caddy you’d arrived.

Today, brand-verbs have taken on extended meaning. Start-ups and businesses seek to emulate certain brands: companies aim start the UBERization of their industry. We also hear that whole industries are being “Warby Parkered.” This is funny given Warby Parker was once called “the Warby-Parker-Eyewear-LogoNetflix of Eyewear” in GQ.

The affordable, hipster-chic eyewear company has risen fast but is yet to make much money. In an April 30th article in The Wall Street Journal, Warby Parker admitted it was not profitable. Dave Gilboa, co-founder and co-chief executive, did not share revenue performance but claimed annual sales were picking up.

The Category

Warby Parker founders set their sights on an industry with bloated costs and one dominated by just a few sleepy players. The business model cut out the middleman to work directly with manufacturing. The designer eyewear was then sold online to cut retail costs.

All of this was wrapped in a strong brand predicated on being hip and fresh that delivered superior quality and customer service. Warby Parker felt that by greatly improving the buying experience they would make traditional competitors irrelevant. This approach has rocked the complacent category.

Read more

Storytelling is Problem-Solving

“Storytelling is not what I do for a living – it is how I do all that I do while I am living.”

Donald Davis, Storyteller and Author

Life throws at us a never-ending stream of challenges and opportunities. Much of our success and happiness depends on how we greet them. This is illustrated in a quote from Ashleigh Bright, “I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.” Or this one from Howard Norberg, “Life is a cement trampoline.” Both are clever but as Voltaire once said, “A witty saying proves nothing.” There is also the fact that how we view and address life matters most.

Our lives are incredibly complex and require life-long, daily problem-solving. Stories help us because they document prior experience and future potential. By reading or hearing the stories of others, we find the strength and insight to help address our own problems and pursue new opportunities. This has never been home-in-line-image-3more true than in our times. Maarten Schäfer noted the reason why, “In this time of ‘information overload’, people do not need more information. They want a story they can relate to.”

Great stories are unquestionably most valuable when they lead us to real decisions. Stories help us make sense of who we are and the world in which we live. They propel and aid us through life. They do so much for us.

Stories help us find a mate, become craftsmen, spurn adventure, convince us of a point-of-view, and challenge us to connect through empathy. They are a basic, yet rich, building block of human interaction and societal construction. And they are incredible problem-solvers.

Read more

The Value of a Ski Lift Ticket

Ski areas and resorts claim a broad range of differentiators. Competition in the industry is fierce and leisure dollars more elusive so it requires creativity and innovation to fill chairlifts. Most ski resort executives will tell you it is all about snow,as_ski_ticketprices576 snow and hopefully, more snow. This assessment is not inaccurate but it is the equivalent of saying everything in real estate concerns location. Much, much more goes into ski resort marketing.

A visit to any ski area website will reveal effusive superlatives detailing the variety of terrain; the speed, comfort, and number of lifts; competing boasts of groomed corduroy and natural bumps; a plethora of ski school programs; après fun; and children’s activities. This gets more complicated as ski areas can either cater to day-trippers or be longer stay vacation destinations. The latter emphasizes accommodations and related infrastructure to get heads-in-beds and skis-on-slopes. Read more

Lessons from the Lemonade Stand

The dependable lemonade stand is not only an enduring summer icon but also a slice piece of trade rich with business lessons. This past summer I made a point of stopping at those I spotted. I learned that the exchange of flavored water for a few coins may appear simple but represents aspects critical to business. If you look closely the humble stand provides a mini-MBA covering funding, strategy, production, marketing, customer service and reinvestment. It all starts with thinking about the lemonade stand “industry” which is:

Fiercely competitive with low barriers to entry

Both seasonal and weather dependent

Reliant on a commodity, easily substituted product

Seemingly undifferentiated overall

Unattractive from a revenue and profit perspective

For each of these conditions, one has to tailor the business to succeed. As daunting an industry as it is this has not stopped thousands of young people from starting them up each and every summer. Here are five lessons for your children and your own enterprises.

Delight with a Superior Product

Of course, we will all part with our loose change to help out a tiny entrepreneur. But if the lemonade is tart, weak, overly sweet or thimble size we will force a smile, wish them luck and complain about the product back in our car or as lemonade-stand_5we cycle away. This reaction is no different from any other disappointing purchase. I have gone back to a stand twice if the lemonade is legitimately pleasing in taste.

A superior product differentiates, communicates care and quality, provides value in the exchange, engenders loyalty and prompts word-of-mouth.

Pick a Smart Spot

Location has always been critical to business. As a child, I ran a stand at my home in Winnipeg, Canada situated on a quiet street and later that day while dumping the warm, unsold liquid treat down the drain vowed to learn from the experience. The next time I loaded up my wagon, trundled half a mile, and set up outside the gates of The Tuxedo Golf Club. With that experience I learned another lesson – have adequate stock. My location was so good that the would-be Tiger Woods cleaned me out fast.

Read more

The Evolution of the TV Tray Table

Remember those gaudily decorated, cheap metal fold-out trays? With the advent of a television in every home in the 1950’s, families soon needed a way to hold food and beverage items while watching one of the three available channels. The TV tray table quickly became a must-have. Their IMG_2165design and ubiquity make them an undeniable pop culture icon.

So what came first the TV tray table or the TV dinner? National advertising for TV tray tables first appeared in 1952. Two years later, C.A. Swanson & Sons introduced the frozen TV dinner, marketing it as an easy-to-prepare, fun-to-eat meal, with a disposable tray that reduced clean-up time. The TV dinner tapped into excitement over television and the tray table was there to literally lend support. By 1960, nearly 90% of American homes had a television and a similar percentage had a TV tray table set.

Read more

David’s Tea: The Brand and Business

This originally appeared in Sparksheet.

Tea is gaining grounds in North America’s coffee culture and David’s Tea is looking to expand and modernize the millennia-old industry. Jeff Swystun examines the standing power of this bold brand as it steps onto the stock exchange and transitions from niche to mass market.

The bold sign, in cheerful teal and green, draws your attention. Curious, you peak inside and are greeted by a clean, bright environment and pleasing aromas. The aisles and displays resemble a cosmetic store. The goods are presented as precious keepsakes; the packaging suggests there is an item among them uniquely for you. A fresh-faced staffer attentively waits to answer any questions.

Welcome to the new world of tea.

dt-feature-e1438099818882

David’s Tea was founded in 2008. A newcomer to the centuries old tea business, but one confident that it could make the product relevant to the modern consumer. The opportunity is great, but the company also faces significant challenges. It must convert coffee drinkers, have smart distribution, and battle a competitor with deep pockets while keeping investors happy.

The Category

Tea has been a beverage of choice for centuries, since its origins as a medicinal elixir in Shang Dynasty China. The British famously popularized tea production for the western drinker and through trade took it global. The East Indian Tea Company was so successful it became a synonym for “monopoly”.

Tom Standage, author of The World in a Glass: Six Drinks That Changed History, writes, “Englishmen around the world could drink tea, whether they were a colonial administrator in India or a London businessman. The sun never set on the British Empire—which meant that it was always teatime somewhere.”

Read more

The Ideal Brand Professional

Years ago I consulted to an extremely successful specialty printer. I was engaged to assist in international expansion. In a lighter moment, over some libations, the CEO shared a personal observation and irritation. “Why does everyone want to go into marketing?” he brusquely asked. Before I could answer he continued on stating there were great careers to be had in production, distribution and new product development.

My response was marketing appears to many as ‘sexy’. It has the reputation as the fun aspect of business. It encompasses advertising with its alluring mystique and Don Draper cool factor. Marketing gets the high profile assignments. At least this is what people tend to think and it is what I subscribed to for a time.

I soon learned that marketing has very unsexy aspects. I personally loathe tradeshows. They do not get you much but you get punished if you do not show up. I Architects Working on a Projectcontinue to question the value of traditional public relations. Who reads press releases except other P.R. professionals and old school media? Maintaining databases seems very uncool but it is critical. Writing and defending copy is a daily event. The company holiday card takes six months to complete and is completely frustrating. Not all marketing is sexy, at least at face value.

Read more

Changing a Brand Name

This bit of prose does not retread the familiar ground in brand naming. A plethora of articles, papers, blogs and books already exist to inform you about the elements of an excellent brand name. A few of them will even share the methodologies that uncover names like Pinterest, iPad, or SoyJoy (too few because most naming consultants consult a thesaurus and then write up an invoice). All of these jottings suggest the name is the linchpin of one’s entire brand strategy.

What is covered here is an aspect of naming not discussed by brand owners and agencies. That is, making the decision to change the name and the emotions and trepidations felt by the decision-makers. When I encountered hesitation or fit-brainstorming-sessionopposition to changing a corporate or product name from clients in my earlier days, I became frustrated. Having witnessed this psychology through the years, I understand the reluctance and now have proper guidance to frame and address these concerns. These I happily share here.

Historically, I have dealt with clients who have made the firm decision to change their brand name. There was no discussion or debate on that accord. Any discussion and debate was held until naming options were presented. Now, clients have recently engaged my services with the intent to rename but with no firm commitment to follow-through. This has been fascinating.

Read more

What’s the Story?

Telling Tales: Using Narrative Psychology in Branding

Let me tell you a story. It’s a bit about our past. A bit about our future but more importantly, it concerns what is happening right now. It is also a story that nears 2,500 words because our complex world cannot be dumbed downed, reduced to a vague tagline, summed in a 140 character tweet, or captured in an oversimplified to-do list. True learning and understanding requires time and effort so heat the kettle or uncork a bottle and enjoy. Lastly, it was a dark and stormy night…

With that compelling lead-in, we hope you will read our entire paper on the evolution of storytelling in branding and marketing. Get it here SC_Storytelling.

Story

Ad Agencies Make Their Own Products

I recall the 1999 attention-getting idea by Vancouver agency Rethink. The three leaders of the agency had just left Palmer Jarvis DDB to go out on their own. In order to create buzz for their startup they branded and distributed Rethink Beer. The product helped put Rethink on the map and remained on shelves until 2003.

This is one example in a longstanding series of agency experiments with product development. A new book by Leif Abraham, with an amazingly long title, suggests how Madison Avenue needs to change. His effort is called, Madison Valley: Building Digital Products. Getting the Most out of Talent. And How Madison Avenue Can Be More like Silicon Valley, which is a fine preview of the book’s content. The overriding premise is creative businesses should not restrict themselves to communications but should leverage their talents for real product innovation.

Having worked at, and for, a number of agencies, I know these businesses would love to reap the profits of an iPod or Nike FuelBand as additional revenue or to stave off the long anticipated lower margins resulting from an old business model. Yet, Abraham points out the reality, “Every agency wants to build a lab and make products. Every award show adds product innovation categories. But we haven’t yet seen a successful product coming out of an ad agency. My book gives an analysis on how product innovation is treated in agencies today, what needs to change and why it’s about more than just the product.”

Read more