Niche: A Look at Moleskine’s Marketing

Here’s a new business book that uses Moleskine as a case study: Niche: Why the Market No Longer Favours the Mainstream, by James Harkin.

From the New York Times website:

["Niche" is] a business book about how focusing on a smaller audience and gathering a greater percentage of its attention can be a stronger long-term business plan for a start-up than casting a wider net.

Harkin uses several examples to prove his thesis. Perhaps the most persuasive is his retelling of the history of the Moleskine notebook, as ubiquitous an item in and around The Times offices as eyeglasses and Diet Coke. Harkin discusses how in 1997, the company sold 3,000 notebooks; yet eight years later, worldwide sales were 4.5 million. He attributes that to the company’s focus on owning the high-end journal market, rather than trying to compete for the attention of the back-to-school set.

It’s certainly an amazing success story– but as Moleskine expands into selling reading glasses and pens and bags, will they start to lose that focus? Or find new ways to exploit more niches?

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4 Responses to “Niche: A Look at Moleskine’s Marketing”

  1. re Moleskine expands into selling reading glasses and pens and bags, will they start to lose that focus?

    Sadly by doing this type of expansion, they have already lost that focus. Moleskine made and sold notebooks, and by doing it well and exploiting the niche they established the brand. The brand is now more important than the product- the brand is the symbol of the product’s worth and quality BY ASSOCIATION. Porsche design pens- did Dr Ferdinand P design the mechanics? Did Erwin Komenda design the look? No. Ferrari jackets, same story. The durability and transferabiity of brands is unbelievable: up until the 50′s and 60′s Belstaff was company that manufactured ‘oilskin waterproofs’ for motorcyclists of a certain generation: men with sidecars, and a BSA. It is now one of the hippest brands in Italy.
    When I was a child Lucozade was something you could only buy in a chemist’s shop and would only consume when unwell- one of the only benefits of being poorly, after not having to go to school. Since the late 80′s it has been a high energy drink!

    Moleskine glasses, bags? they’ll be good products I’m sure: funky Italian design BUT at some point people will ask is, say, the large Japanese Sketchbook selling well enough to be worth keeping in the portfolio? How long until then…

  2. Brands come and go. Maybe this book examines successful, long-term survivors as well as performs post-mortem on long-forgotten also-rans. Just put the term into google for a good laugh. Here’s a link:

    http://www.walletpop.com/photos/top-25-biggest-product-flops-of-all-time/

  3. The reason it works this way is because people are inherently religious. They can’t help but find an idol, create a shrine to it (often on their person), and then proselyte the “gospel” of that idol like a mormon missionary.

    Marshall McLuhan, the great media theorist of the ’60s, pointed out that people often read advertisements for products they already own. They do this because they want to be reassured that they bought the right product. This is religious activity at its purest because there is always a “scriptural” text associated with every god (including every brand you have ever invested in), and saturation in that text leads to crystalization with the brand. People don’t just want to own Moleskine products.They want to somehow embody much of what they admire about the brand.

    Another way to approach this concept is to think about Moby Dick. Ahab wanted revenge, and he obsessed his way into a form of “atonement” with the whale. Whether it’s characterized as love or hate, the results are practically the same: a madman whose fate is tied, literally, to the object of his longing. Entrepreneurs who understand this concept can take any niche market, establish a high quality standard, and eventually transform that niche into an empire by branching out into related products. The quality standard of the first product is naturally projected onto the subsequent products, and the patrons do the bulk of the leg work.

  4. [...] few months ago, I posted a link to a book called Niche, by James Harkin. I’d noticed the book because it includes a chapter [...]

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