Translation of an article published in the brand eins business magazine, January 2014
Paint manufacturer Alpina set out to spruce up its brand – and ended up structuring the entire company. Because two advertising specialists took their job seriously.
A hot day in Moscow. Agency founders Thekla Heineke and Stefan Mannes are in an enormous DIY store, watching a fashionably dressed woman perusing a shelf display packed with tins of paint by various brands. They notice how she starts to study the paints more carefully, even reading the small print on the tins; at one point she takes a notebook out of her handbag and starts writing things down. Then, after a good hour, she rushes away without buying anything. This was in August 2011. “In that moment we knew what we had to do,” recalls Thekla Heineke – although at the time, she didn’t know whether they would ever get the chance to.
They had merely invited to take part in a pitch, a contest whereby several agencies compete for a contract. This particular pitch involved the relaunch of traditional German brand Alpina in several European countries, this sounds like a fresh campaign and a modification of the packaging design. The task, however, would highlight the fact that advertising is about more than superficial cosmetics – and that in many instances, changing the brand means transforming the whole company.
Alpina, a member of the Deutsche Amphibolin-Werke (DAW) group, was founded in Ober-Ramstadt in the state of Hesse in 1895. In 2012, the company generated turnover of €1.3 billion; according to its own information, it is the number three of exterior paint manufacturers in Europe.
Marketing boss Heiko Trimpel stands by window in the conference room and points at the tower soaring 50 metres into the sky on the company premises. “That’s one of the most modern paint production facilities in Europe. In that building alone, nearly 100 types of paint are mixed.” The company is owned by the fifth generation of the Murjahn family, all of whom have been chemists – and keen inventors. The first pigment powder, which could be mixed in cold as well as hot water, was developed in Ober-Ramstadt; so was the first emulsion paint.
It was 2007 when Trimpel moved to Ober-Ramstadt from the Coca-Cola subsidiary in Berlin, having been headhunted from the company which stands for brand expertise more than any other. His new task was to oversee the positioning of Alpina, the most well-known of the eight DAW brands, along with Caparol it is also the only one that targets DIY customers rather than professional tradespeople.
Alpina is an institution in Germany, and has dominated the market for a long time. The company has also been raising its sales figures abroad for many years, benefiting in particular from the expansion of markets in Eastern Europe. According to Trimpel, those days are now over as conditions have become much tougher; yet foreign markets remain critical to Alpina, as they still allow for significant growth. For Heiko Trimpel, this meant only one thing: “We needed to make our positioning clearer.” Some ambitious targets were duly defined in connection with the relaunch: sales figures were to increase sharply everywhere and even double within two years in one of the key markets, Russia. His partner in this undertaking is a small agency with no expertise in the industry. The agencies name is kakoii and they are situated in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.
Agency bosses Thekla Heineke and Stefan Mannes welcomed the new client on a green leather couch surrounded by pots of Alpina paint; on a TV screen, an open fire was burning. “We realised you can’t develop a concept for an international brand relaunch whilst sitting at a desk,” says Heineke. Attempting to do so without having a true feel for the markets, understanding the needs of the client and speaking to the dealers would surely have been “highly irresponsible”. The two advertising specialists therefore made plans to visit the countries in which the brand would be relaunched, and informed those responsible at Alpina accordingly.
The duo had already caused something of a sensation in Berlin on several occasions. “The Holocaust never happened” was the slogan behind a fundraising campaign introduced by kakoii in 2001 – the year the company was founded – for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe foundation. With Caritas, Volksbühne and Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe also on the list, many of the agency’s campaigns have had a social or cultural dimension. “We only take on jobs we can identify with,” Mannes states – and that clearly includes an honest, medium-sized business like Alpina.
Whistlestop tour of Europe
When kakoii advertising campaigns attracted the attention of the paint producer’s Berlin branch, they were invited to pitch – with the result that they embarked on a tour for the first time. Before the contract for the relaunch was even decided, the duo set off on a research trip around Europe with a couple of Alpina people. Back in Ober-Ramstadt, the bosses were impressed: the competitors were dismissed and Kakoii clinched the deal. Wolfgang Frick, long-serving expert and the author of a book on malpractice in marketing, regards such dedication to the brand as not just uncommon, but essential. All too often, he believes, advertising agencies focus on devising original campaigns without considering whether their big ideas correspond to sales realities at the PoS; and nothing is more damaging than failing to meet the expectations of customers in the place where a brand has its strongest presence.
In fact, that’s precisely what the Kakoii bosses wanted to avoid. On their travels they realised that in Eastern Europe it tend to be women who purchase paint with a semi-professional painter in tow. They also noticed that the range on offer in bazaars and DIY stores was overwhelmingly large, yet little advice was available. Moreover in many places, people would paint their apartments more often than in Germany – and not in white, but fashionable colours. The marketing specialists noted that in Paris, paint is increasingly sold through interior design boutiques, while in Manchester the packaging for some expensive varieties is every bit as refined as that for speciality Darjeeling tea. Mistakes being made by their own client were also apparent in some locations. In Zurich, for instance, they found an Alpina wall paint called Home Respect that was retailing at a much higher price than other varieties – yet the fact that it was an environmentally friendly product was not made clear.
Kakoii realised the need to everything: not just the product names, packaging and presentation at the point of sale but also the product range and even corporate culture. The two advertising experts noted down every aspect during their travels, but the key moment came in a Moscow DIY store. Why, they asked themselves, would the well-dressed woman they encountered there have chosen Alpina specifically?
Countless pots of paint had been on display, all of which had prefixes like Mega, Super, Extra and Ultra in the product name. Alpina products with names like Megamax 7, Mattlatex or Ultraweiss were submerged; there was nothing to suggest what was different about them, nor explain why many were twice as expensive as competitor paints. A customer survey was carried out, and confirmed this impression. Through the poll, Alpina wanted to find out what the name of its highest priced product – Megamax 7 – stood for in Northern Europe. “You can paint over it after seven hours,” was one response. “Maybe the 7 refers to seven litres or seven colours?,” speculated another. The sobering conclusion was that hardly anybody knew what really set the product apart (the 7 actually stands for the gloss level of the paint).
The Kakoii bosses subsequently started to work on a new brand strategy – one that would aim to turn the chemical product into a consumer item. Beforehand, explains Heineke, Alpina had relied on emphasising the high coverage from a single tin. However, people were ultimately most concerned about something else – namely a beautiful home. This was especially the case in Southern and Eastern Europe, where they were happy to choose paints themselves but tended to have the work done by undocumented workers or semi-professionals.
The objective, then, was to associate Alpina with a homely feeling for customers, the core message being ‘Alpina turns a house into your home’. “Of course, we also had to mention that the paint is premium quality and environmentally sound in our brand communication.” But that in itself would not be enough. Before the Berlin-based advertisers started developing an actual campaign, they tackled the product range and its presentation. As Stefan Mannes admits, “Interior paint is not a product people enjoy buying.” Shoppers arrive unprepared at the DIY store, and just want to get out as soon as possible. “Our job is to guide them through the confusion.”
Less complexity, more focus
As their first task, the Kakoii chiefs set out to introduce a classification system to the product range: in future, wall paints would be assigned to three clearly distinguishable quality classes. The cheapest would be declared as the practical choice for indoors, the former bestseller would be reclassified as the tried and trusted option for indoors and the most expensive variety would soon become the superior paint for indoors. The latter would be packaged in a black tin with gold lettering – an unusual choice of packaging for white wall paint, but as Mannes explains, “The critical point is that customers intuitively recognise a premium product when they see it”.
Calculating that each new product in the range translates to a higher profile in store, the advertisers worked towards introducing special new product lines, including an ecological line called Natura that comprises various types of varnish and glaze alongside the wall paint. Lines that incorporate different product groups of a certain kind generally occupy their own DIY store niche that the manufacturer can influence, but above all they make it easier for shoppers to choose.
The Kakoii team also aimed to achieve this for tinting paint: rather than simply presenting hundreds of colour cards, they constructed a sales booth where customers can obtain the information they need in brochures or via touchscreen. “Alpina needs to inspire people,” says Mannes. With this in mind, customers will be able to use a recently developed app to create a virtual room on screen: after colouring in the carpet and sofa to reproduce those in their own home, the database chooses matching colours for the walls.
Work on the product range has been finalised in the meantime, and the first signs of success are already showing: in Italy and Poland, for example, major trading partners have been signed up. A TV advert is also being produced. In keeping with the brand message, rather than play on the technical qualities of the paint, this will imaginatively link the key stages in a person’s life with the wall colours in their flat.
Whether or not the campaign works will depend in part on how effectively Kakoii handles the toughest part of the relaunch, namely changing the company’s culture. After all, as the author Wolfgang Frick contends, the success of a brand greatly depends on whether the company acts in line with its brand identity in everything it does. “Brands thrive on their own particular model for success, the image they project. This cannot be created by marketing alone, and it must come across at every customer touchpoint.” This is precisely what was missing at Alpina. Most of the sales managers responsible for marketing in the various countries are chemists with extensive experience in product development; people who talk about coverage, wet scrub resistance and high proportions of titanium dioxide when asked to describe the attributes of a quality paint. That has changed since then.
The Kakoii team worked closely with the sales managers on this project, visiting shopping centres together on their travels to gauge the profiles of global brands like Persil and Danone. Workshops were organised to discuss the substance of the brand, new product names and joint brand strategy. Thekla Heineke and Stefan Mannes still look back on the exchanges the new network generated with a sense of excitement. Sooner or later, they believe, the sales specialists will realise for themselves how marketing for consumer products works – and at that point, they will launch a super-premium line with its own sophisticated distribution plan and packaging which is every bit as exquisite as the Darjeeling-style paint in Manchester. “It’s still too early for that, though,” says Heineke, holding back her excitement and enthusiasm.
You’ll find the German Version of the Alpina paint brand story on the brand eins website.