Campaign Asia-Pacific made a “warm call” to visit with Consuelo Romeo, Moleskine's Asia-Pacific brand and marketing manager, in the company's Hong Kong office (conveniently located a few floors above us), to learn more about her plans in Asia.
The brand inspires affinity and even evangelism among its fans without hard-sell advertising, preferring to grow its reputation organically. “We don’t do advertising," Romeo said. "Our strength is partnering with authors and cultural organizations, which is our worldwide marketing strategy, and we are adopting that in Asia.”
Romeo gave a sneak-peek of the brand's latest partnership with a cultural organisation: the 50th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. A notebook jacket for the event (below), which will debut on 8 November, features a subtle photo of international movie star Maggie Cheung Man yuk’s eyes, taken by well-known Hong Kong photographer Wing Shya.
Explaining that "Our diaries and writing and drawing accessories are for the universe of writing, travelling and reading", Romeo added that such collaborations have been a major part of the brand's marketing in the past two years. Partners have included the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, London Design Week, MoMA, Beijing Design Week and the Melbourne Writers’ Festival.
The brand also cultivates a cool attitude that stands in stark contrast to that of many luxury brands. Perhaps nothing underscores this better than a page on the brand's website that explains how to pronounce "Moleskine": Alongside a video featuring many different interpretations of the name, the brand explains, "There is no predetermined answer. Moleskine is a brand name with undefined national identity. And that's the way we like it...Everyone should feel free to pronounce it as he/she prefers."
Moleskine's Hong Kong office certainly matches this vibe. Romeo served espresso in a glass-walled meeting room filled with funky, bubble gum-coloured chairs (all made in Italy, she pointed out).
Romeo said that the brand, which listed on the Milan Stock Exchange in 2013, is a young one, as it was only registered as the brand in the 1990s. "But we have a long history with beautiful stories as the products have been around since the 1920s," she said. "It was known as the ‘little black notebook’", and was beloved by artists and writers like Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and more recently British travel writer Bruce Chatwin.
Moleskine made its first entry to Asia market with a retail store in Xintiandi in Shanghai in 2010. A Beijing store in Sanlitun opened this past August, and the brand plans more new stores in China next year.
One secret to the brand's success is B2B relationships. Daniele Ronchi, key account manager junior, joined the interview to point out that together with retail, wholesale and ecommerce, the company enjoys B2B sales to customers who want to convey a certain message by providing Moleskine notebooks to employees or clients.
Moleskine has worked with companies in the hotel, banking, fashion, and automotive sectors. “We prefer an organic growth but we don’t work with tobacco, military and religious organization, as our company philosophy is inclusivity rather than exclusivity,” Ronchi stated.
Brands that Moleskine has worked with in Asia include HSBC, Lane Crawford, Mandarin Oriental, Shanghai Tang, Sun Hong Kai Properties, Alfa Romeo, Land Rover and mobile app Evernote.
"Customers in each country have their own needs, be it for diaries for its membership programmes or gifting for customers in hotels,” he added.
For example, the book pictured above was a 2011 Christmas gift for Telecom Italia's more than 70,000 employees. Ahead of time, the employer had invited its employees to ask their children to submit drawings showing the future of telecommunications, and Moleskine incorporated these into the diary.
While some remain unconvicned about the brand's value ("So expensive—a small notepad costs you a fortune,” one senior 4A executive told Campaign Asia-Pacific), Moleskine successfully mixes commerce with art to elevate itself as a premium lifestyle brand—without spending on advertising.
Read up on Pret a Manger, another brand building success its own way without advertising.