From Mundane to Sublime: Turning Ordinary Items Into Must-Haves
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Branding mundane, everyday products can be challenging. How do you make unsexy household items hip and trendy? It isn’t easy! It's a lot harder to brand boring commodities than innovative, new gadgets.
Yet coherent branding can add life to an otherwise ordinary item.
One company doing this is Vertty, a startup based in Lisbon, Portugal. The founder, Diogo Cruz, 24, came up with the idea for his beach towel company while traveling in Australia. He realized that when someone plans a beach outing, the three compulsory items to bring along are flip-flops, a bathing suit and a beach towel. "With flip-flops, you already have a big and international Brazilian 'love' brand," he says, referring to Havaianas. For board shorts and bikinis, Roxy, Salinas, Osklen are the well-known brands. "But in beach towels," he says, "you have nothing.”
So Cruz made it his mission reinvent the beach towel into a trendy fashion accessory.
After hearing about Vertty, I set out to gain some insight into how one can turn an everyday item into a designer must-have. Here are a few things I learned:
1. Design is everything. A key to reinvention is mixing up the design and changing how people think about a product.
In Vertty’s case, the designers wanted people to recognize that a beach towel could be chic and fashionable. First they conquered the shape, deciding to forgo the traditional rectangle. Instead, Vertty designers pieced together geometric triangles to give the towels an interesting form. They opted for a new material called ketten, a blend of 90 percent cotton and 10 percent polyester that they claim is lighter than regular cotton. Also, Vertty towels are sized 10 percent bigger than the typical beach towel.
For Leeana Provan, founder of LoveLee Soaps in Daytona Beach, Fla., the design challenge came in a bar of soap. "I wanted to show that soap could be more than unassuming rectangles of nothingness," she says. “When most people think of soap, they automatically imagine white or perhaps pale mint green bars," she says. "Instead, I created soaps that evoke the salty-caramel aromas of a beach boardwalk on a summer day, the snap of a pickle or the comfort of a hot bowl of mac and cheese.”
2. Find inspiration everywhere. In reworking a basic commodity used on a daily basis, an entrepreneur trying to change things up might find inspiration in unusual places. Nicole Porter in New York City created an eponymous line of hand-painted artisanal housewares; her plates, bowels and serving trays are works of art.
"Ninety-nine percent of my line is inspired by fashion," she says. "I'm always really interested in what the new and hot colors are for Fashion Week in New York City as much as street fashion. I try to bring a lot of those elements in to classic, everyday pieces.”
3. Give customers an experience. When a company sells something as ordinary as beach towels, soaps or plates, providing shoppers an unusual experience can make the product feel that much more special.
Provan at LoveLee Soaps takes great care to do just this. No one expects soap to come in the shape of cheese and crackers as her products do, she says; she figures she's providing customers something fun to talk about. When customers come across "something unique that they don't see in everyday life," she says, "it draws their attention and creates a deeper connection to the product.”
4. Pay attention to details. “We looked at lots of 'love' brands," Cruz says, naming Apple, Swatch, Lego and Coca-cola. "And we identified the key success indicators of those brands" lay in the attention details, he says. "It was all about the concept -- not being all over the place but sticking" to the imagery of the brand.
“When you buy a Vertty, the box has a sand-polish finishing all around the outside to give you an instantly beach feeling for the first time you touch the product," he says. "When you open the box, you will read, 'Now our story begins.'"
These little details are important because they set the stage for customers to feel comfortable paying a higher price than what's charged for the typical beach towel, he says.