SDA Professor of Strategic and Entrepreneurial Management
Moleskine notebooks, today famous all over the world, were born for the second time in Milan, Italy in 1997. In the first 9 months of 2015 Moleskine Srl revenues exceeded 86 mln Euro (annual revenues in 2014 were 98 mln Euro). With Mr.Arrigo Berni, CEO of the company, we discuss how Moleskine brand is dealing with opportunities and challenges of adaptation to local cultural settings around the globe.
In SDA Bocconi classrooms while discussing the Moleskine case study (link) with Italian or international participants I kept on noticing that Moleskine’s brand awareness had been increasing from year to year.
How international is Moleskine business?
Moleskine notebooks, agendas, travel goods are used by millions of passionate consumers across the globe. In 2014 only 10% of Moleskine sales came from the Italian market, 42% of our revenues were originated in EMEA region, 35% in the USA and Canada, 12% in Asia and Far East. We recently opened directly operated retail shops in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, USA, UK, France and Germany. Our global headquarters are in Milan (Italy) while regional subsidiaries are in Cologne (Germany), New York (USA), Hong Kong, Shanghai (China).
How can the Moleskine brand, with its heritage strongly linked to the European and American culture of XXth century, be appealing to consumers around the world?
We have to distinguish the brand values from the constructed codes signalling the brand values to consumers: brand story, its symbols, products aesthetics. Moleskine’s values – creativity, talent, exploration, travel, self-expression – are global and in the past 30-40 years had been progressively increasing their importance in both Western and Eastern hemispheres, in particularly in the East Asia. So the universality of Moleskine’s brand values explains its international success. Moleskine products are successfully meeting the needs and the desires of our target consumers around the globe, independently of national culture or region: illustrators, designers and architects, but also more broadly defined Moleskine target clients, people with higher education and intellectual professions living in urban areas. These are people living on the move and Moleskine’s notebooks, writing, travelling and reading accessories are faithfully assisting them in their quotidian routines and, as cultural symbols, are also helping them to convey their identity. So while Moleskine brand values are global we find creative inspiration in continuous research on the brand’s stories and symbols.
Shall we say that the communication of Moleskine brand evolved with the company’s internationalization?
The Moleskine brand was introduced to the public together with a legendary notebook diligently reconstructed to remain faithful to the original moleskines used by Picasso, Chatwin, Hemingway. But Moleskine heritage was only the beginning of the brand’s global journey and at the initial stages of the company development was perfectly coherent with our internationalization path that started from Europe (Germany, France, UK, Spain) and from the United States. After the launch phase we started giving less emphasis on Moleskine’s heritage story as the brand identity could be successfully transmitted via an extremely rich variety of symbols, stories, designs. As we expanded in Asia the brand codification was enriched with local cultural symbols and icons even if the core of the brand communication remained global.
Is it difficult to search for new “brand codes” for Moleskine?
At our disposal is the whole world of modern design, fashion, art, pop-art, architecture, photography and other means of self-expression. Take, for instance, pop-art. Modern pop-art, mostly American pop-art, symbols are global and are well-received in many cultural settings. But in the pop-art we are working with real cultural icons. Our limited edition notebooks, for instance, celebrate 100 years of Coca-Cola’s bottle design. Our other limited editions were dedicated to Batman, Star Wars, Le Petit Prince. These symbols represent Western society but are well received and understood in many national settings, in particularly in East Asia.
Would you make some examples of “local” Asian cultural symbols or icons employed in the communication of Moleskine brand values?
We successfully use the local icons of pop culture. We created limited edition notebooks using images of Doraemon, a cartoon born in Japan that is gaining popularity in Korea, China and the rest of Asia. Another successful launch was Hello Kitty! and Line Friends notebooks. Line is a very popular and interesting business case in Korea, I bet very few SDA Bocconi students heard about it! Line was developed as an app in the Japanese subsidiary of Korean Naver corporation, to respond to the communication failures after 2011 earthquake. Line Offline, a cartoon series on employees of Line Corporation, became hugely popular in Korea and in other Asian cultures, turning into a real pop culture phenomenon with its fans, merchandising, even coffee shops.
Moleskine Line Friends: The colours used in these “local” notebooks are completely different from our “heritage” sober black cover. But the values underlying Doraemon’s bright blue or traditional black cover are the same: thinking, creativity, escape from the frameworks and daily routines. As other examples, we may quote Shanghai Tang limited series notebooks for the Chinese market and Starbucks Asia limited series notebooks, following the tradition of Asian coffee shops to offer quality merchandising.
Now Moleskine is much more than a notebook: your company sells all kind of travelling, reading and writing products and accessories. Do cultural differences impact somehow the choice of products for different markets?
Our core products –notebooks, travelling, reading, writing accessories – are global. The story of Moleskine on the paper band that is partly wrapping the notebook’s cover is in English and French – two international languages. The cross-cultural differences do impact Moleskine diaries: different languages, different festivities, different ways to transcript days of the week. So the adaptation decisions are taken as in any multinational corporation – through the careful analysis of costs and benefits.
Your company operates globally only through four regional headquarters. How do you manage to uncover the relevant local cultural icons, symbols, codes – to employ them in the brand communication?
Let us say that our company is fortunate enough to be able to attract “right” people. Our brand is attractive not only for customers, but also for potential employees. Many people, many of our product fans, are attracted by the idea to work for Moleskine. So while evaluating potential employees, we are looking not only at their “hard” skills, such as university diploma and previous experiences, but we also are asking questions and carefully evaluating answers about the person’s free time, hobbies, travelling and reading preferences. Having opened overseas subsidiaries also helped in the adaptation efforts: for instance, Doraemon and Line Friends limited editions have been suggested by our colleagues working in Asia.
Would you say that Moleskine’s example can be useful for other companies searching for a “right” balance between global and local content.
I do not think there is one recipe for all. The balance between global and local content depend strongly on the product type, and it will certainly be different for different consumer goods. Secondly, companies have to carefully evaluate the global potential and the eventual need for the local adaptation of the brand values, particularly important for the lifestyle products. In case of Moleskine we are fortunate enough to work with the universal values speaking the language that is comprehensive across cultures.
*The interview with Mr.Arrigo Berni, CEO of Moleskine Srl, took place in Moleskine headoffice in Milan on January 14, 2016.