Dear CMO:

I just spent a few days working with a client on brand positioning. This was the first such discussion for this multi-million dollar global brand. Apparently, they’ve done just fine by selling a terrific product to a devoted customer base with design smarts and fashionable sensibilities. But, as the company evolves, the brand needs to keep pace, and transcending the original product line is in order, thus the workshop.

I’ve found that people are naturally better art critics than artists. When faced with a blank sheet, many simply blank out. But once we’re given something to start with, the flood gates open. This is how I got us rolling this week, and everyone arrived with a short list of ‘brands we all wanted to be when we grew up.’ The subplot was to bring brands to the table that didn’t have a bookshelf full of punditry already devoted to them. Sure, we still talked about Apple and Starbucks, but the real nuggets were the ones that came out of left field – the brands that you just don’t know about yet.

So ‘inspiration from elsewhere’ really did come from elsewhere.

I’ve got a long list of brands that I either never heard of before or I came across in this research that can inspire any marketer. I won’t necessarily make this into a long winded series, but a few examples sprinkled across a few posts might make good sense. So, with this in mind, let me introduce you to a brand that you’ve never heard of, unless you live in Japan and have a newborn. Do you know Miki House?

Miki House is Baby Gap / Gap Kids plus Rodale Press with an overlay of Rolex’s outbound marketing. This is a brand that sprung from a father-entrepreneur’s desire to produce quality clothing for his newborn and has evolved into a global enterprise that includes manufacturing, retailing, publishing, education, and sports sponsorship. The company is dedicated to “bringing smiles to the lives of children and their families.”

A clothing manufacturer that vertically integrates into retailing, merchandising not just clothing but baby’s first solid food, furniture, and maternity wear; then expands into education on child rearing, pre-school and even English language; then continues into children’s book publishing, expanding their market to include the whole family’s involvement with the child; and continues into sports sponsorships that promote physical activity and fun.

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Key Takeaways:

. Do you sell a product or do you serve an ecosystem? Miki House has taken a holistic view of the entire world of their market, offering solutions that enhance the lives of their customers and stakeholders. They go beyond the obvious.

. Is it easier for a manufacturer to become a publisher or a publisher to become a manufacturer? Or does it matter? By establishing a brand based on quality in a highly trusted environment (infants and children), is it a difficult leap to provide picture books? What about offering classes? There’s a simple logic to this expansion plan that follows a path of lower barriers to entry once the branding has been established. Is it hard to create a publishing arm once you’ve won hearts and minds?

. Owning an ecosystem means you’ve got a wider net to attract customers. Did you first find me because you saw one of my stores, or did you see my clothes, or did you read my books, or did you see me at a sporting event, or maybe talked to someone who attended one of my classes? If you saw me at any of these, would you be interested in any of my other offerings? Is one database valuable to all? I’d think so.

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Miki House gives us something to think about — how we can view our possibilities from the perspective of our market as opposed to our product roadmap, how we can expand our focal length to see a bigger opportunity than how a more traditional approach might allow, and how doing so wouldn’t take you so far away from your core capabilities that you’d lose focus.

How you choose to apply this is up to you, of course; but looking at your brand through your newly acquired “Miki Lense” might give you a perspective that you hadn’t seen before.

Good luck!