Tag Archives: value proposition

Sausage + Sizzle (the Icebreaker way)

WARNING: LONG (BUT HOPEFULLY ENLIGHTENING) POST

Let’s start at the beginning…

The plan was simple: let’s be what the others weren’t. They were synthetic; we were natural. They were about sweaty men; we were gender inclusive… They were about hard adventure; we were about kinship with nature. They were about function only; we were about design and creativity. Exploring for us wasn’t the highest peak, but an exploration of something much bigger – nature itself.

These words from CEO, Jeremy Moon, brilliantly capture the essence of Icebreaker – the New Zealand outdoor clothing brand, whose nature-inspired, pure merino wool outdoor clothing system is another fabulous example of brand- and sustainability-driven business strategy.

My blossoming love affair with the brand only intensified last weekend as I popped into Snow+Rock to buy my four-year-old daughter a new set of thermals. For me, it was an encounter that added yet another layer (no pun intended) to their brilliance – a perfect combination of sausage and sizzle…

First the sausage…

Emotional ‘sizzle’ is for nought without product ‘sausage’, and product performance is where the Icebreaker system really scores, thanks to taking its cue from Mother Nature.

The merino wool fibre, it turns out, is a miraculous thing – not only providing outstanding insulation, but also incredible softness and breathability. And because of its natural antimicrobial properties, it doesn’t stink either, even after a sweaty run.

By all accounts there are folks who’ve been able to go for months without having to wash their Icebreaker, so brilliantly does it work (not something you can say about the synthetic competition); and, when you do eventually wash it, you can do so on a perfectly ordinary washing cycle (no need for special detergents to get the whiff out).

Feels better. Warms better. Breathes better. Smells better. That’s a clear victory for natural merino wool on product performance, and what was really great to see at the weekend was how the whole Icebreaker value proposition was reflected in the packaging of Lottie’s new gear as well…

Compact and 100% recyclable

Firstly, you’re immediately struck by just how compact it is, and the fact that the inner tray and outer sleeve are both made out of nothing but 100% recyclable cardboard. Look a bit closer, though, and you realise they’ve done something else really clever…

'The Pack with the Hole'

Notice the hole on the front of the outer sleeve (one that on other packages might have been covered by a bit of clear plastic)? That’s genius because it immediately allows you to touch the product inside. ‘Wow, that’s soft!’ you say, and all those messages about superior product performance encircling the cut-out are given an extra kinaesthetic kick.

…then the sizzle…

There’s no shortage of emotional sizzle either, with some wonderfully irreverent copywriting on the back of the box (a bit reminiscent of the kind of copy that appears on Innocent’s smoothie cartons):

The New Zealand merino sheep’s amazing all-weather coat lets him roam the rugged Southern Alps in snow, rain, sun and wind. Now you can wear the same outdoor clothing system – minus the horns, hooves and dags (that’s New Zealanders’ word for sheep poo!). Your Icebreaker doesn’t itch, feels light against your skin, looks great and locks in warmth – and it’s good for the environment. Your Icebreaker rocks!

Accompanied by mini-testimonials (including from 8-year-old, Alex, who says that, if his mum wants to wash his Icrebreaker, she basically has to steal it from his room under cover of darkness!), this helps to create sense of fun, playfulness and love for the brand that amplifies, still further, the contrast between the ‘soft’ Icebreaker and its ‘hard’ competitors.

There’s another lovely little touch, too, with the finger puppets stamped into the cardboard of the inner tray (hours of fun, no doubt, for the younger wearer.)

The piece-de-resistance here, though, is undoubtedly Icebreaker’s pun-tastic invention of the ‘Baacode’ – a unique number on the clothing label that, if you enter it on their website, actually traces the sheep stations from which the fibres that make up your garment were sourced. Complete with extensive bios of the farmers concerned, it’s a great way for Icebreaker to illustrate its commitment, not only to its suppliers, but also to full product transparency.

Tracing your garment

Where the fibres came from

Personal stories from the sheep stations

In conclusion…

Ultimately, I guess, this is all a rather long-winded and effusive way to express my admiration for a not inconsiderable amount of integrative thinking; also, though, to illustrate an important point from a previous post…

Actions taken in the name of sustainability are liable to be worthless – indeed can be positively harmful to a company’s brand and the bottom line – if the underlying principles aren’t demonstrably applied to day-to-day decision-making (i.e. sustainability ain’t about PR; it’s about culture!)… The authenticity of your commitment stems from the materiality of your actions – i.e. beyond the thin veneer of charitable giving, cause-related marketing etc., that commitment should be self-evident in the very products and services you provide.

In case you were wondering what that might look like in real life, I reckon the above offers a pretty decent example.

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Authenticity, fairness and customer loyalty

Sure, profits may be down 26% as it strives to maintain cost competitiveness, but John Lewis is still outperforming most of the high street. Profits were still a very respectable £279.6m in 2008, and sales were even up 3% on last year to £6.79bn.

Equally significant, though, is that it’s been able to pay its staff a 13% bonus, and there can’t be too many companies able to do that right now.

Of course, the main reason for that is the John Lewis partnership philosophy – all its employees (or ‘partners’) are co-owners of the business, with profits being shared among them.

Picking up on my previous post, what’s really interesting about this is how the internal culture of the organisation has so indelibly imprinted itself on the minds of consumers.

A more textbook example of an authentic brand you couldn’t hope to find – the employer brand (‘A different sort of job’) and the corporate/consumer brand (‘Never knowingly undersold’) evidently united by a core thought of ‘fairness’.

The absence of shareholders is undoubtedly a major proof-point behind this brand story – the principle that, without the need to play to their demands, John Lewis is free to focus all its attention on looking after its customers, its suppliers and its staff.

Again, that idea has clearly implanted itself in consumers’ consciousness. Indeed, watching reports on Newsnight the other night, it was remarkable that, even in this downturn, the thought of shopping anywhere else simply didn’t enter John Lewis customers’ minds.

They eschew trading down because they perceive shopping with the costermongers inevitably involves some sort of compromise – either on quality, on service or on ethics. For other retailers to cut prices, whilst maintaining profits and shareholder returns, someone else must be taking the hit – if not them, then someone else in the supply chain.

The essence of the value proposition? John Lewis may not be the cheapest, but ‘you get what you pay for’ and no-one gets screwed in the process. And judging by the results, it’s one that appeals to a lot of people.

So should John Lewis’ partnership model be seen as the prototype for a different, more responsible form of capitalism? I don’t know.

Regardless, what I do know is that many other businesses could learn a lot from them – about what it means to be authentic, to be responsible, and how both can make a huge difference to a company’s competitiveness.