11.04.2017

The Concept Economy – Part 1 of 2

“Among the many shows and conventions that come to Toronto, last weekend I had the pleasure of attending one of the most interesting: The One of a Kind Show. “

Hundreds of different purveyors and entrepreneurs from across North America gathered at the Exhibition Centre to sell their wares. Smoked salmon from B.C. on one end, beeswax candles on the other, and everything else that you could eat, wear, rub on your skin or festoon about your house in between.

My friend David is an aficionado of all things organic and godly, so we had a lot to explore—especially if it had anything to do with bees and honey (which are apparently cool right now, go figure). So as we made our way through the stalls and displays like honeybees in an orchard, we would occasionally stop at a vendor who ‘had something going on’—something we could sense as being special—and ask about the brand.

My favourite vendor was Amanda from Winnipeg who owns Coal and Canary, a line of candles that are free from “phthalates” (don’t worry, I couldn’t spell or pronounce it either) and therefore emit cleaner smoke from the wick—keeping the air in your home clean for breathing. Hence, the “canary in a coal mine” reference. Her merchandise found its way into the swag bag at the Oscars a few years ago, and Cameron Diaz has since become a fan, frequently Instagramming her Coal and Canary candles, whose memorable packaging looks like it came from a Parisian macaroon shop like La Durée.

Beyond the nice branding and packaging, what Amanda has built into her brand are a handful of things that matter when it comes to creating a successful brand in her category—or perhaps any category:

  1. A strong point of view
    Amanda feels strongly that carcinogenic substances like phthalates, which are commonly found in a lot of commercial fragrances—let alone candles—are unnecessary and harmful. As well, she favours high quality soy wax that is well above what is traditionally found in the candles we generally use.
  2. An origin story
    I don’t know their whole story, but I did manage to hear that Amanda and her business partner, Tom (graphic designer and visual artist, respectively) were bored with their day jobs and missed working with their hands instead of a computer mouse. So they started making candles in Amanda’s basement, and the company grew from there. Everyone likes an underdog artist story.
  3. A memorable product feature
    Coal and Canary candles do not have a traditional wick; instead, they sport one made of cedar that is conspicuously not the norm. This evidently ties back to the point of view of removing ingredients that pollute the air. I didn’t catch the science but I remember very clearly how unique the product looked.
  4. People whose energy embodies the brand
    Everything about both Amanda and the brand is high energy, vivid and, to use a classic mid-century word, vivacious. Amanda is the embodiment of not only the brand’s values, but its core energy as well. Whether this is delivered by the owner or by employees (as with baristas at Starbucks), the energy of a brand’s intentions and the energy of its people must match. They need to sound like the same piece of music.

Put another way, what all the most interesting and alluring brands at the show had in common was that they were concepts, not just products. Sounds obvious, but I am continually surprised by how few companies, large or small, offer a true concept to the market. Products come and go, but concepts stick.

In the next post, we’ll explore the why and how of creating a conceptual brand, and how this is the basis of our economy’s growth for the foreseeable future.

Interesting side note: the candle industry is worth $3.2 billion annually in the U.S. alone, and 7 out of 10 U.S. citizens actively purchase and use candles. That’s a big ball of wax, and Amanda is no fool for having quit her day job to start her candle company.

-W.