by Antonio Lilliu
MICAM Milan: the 7 sins of footwear companies.
Clothing manufacturers in Italy still like to refer to footwear’s ones as "sack" while these use to call fashion market "cenci", a term of ancient Tuscan fell in disuse in modern Italian, which means pretty much “rag”. The use of such unflattering terms reveals a persistent competition between manufacturers of clothing and footwear. The origin of this attitude is to be found in the struggles among the medieval guilds for political primacy in towns such as Florence, Genoa and Venice.
I personally find such antagonisms quite outdated, as in a global world the real problem is not that of particular idiosyncrasies but how to promote the community of interests by strengthening the lowest common denominator: the brand "MADE IN ITALY", the real USP of the Italian industry. Such a change is even more urgent considering the atavist weakness of Italian companies in terms of marketing. Most italian companies, in fact, still rely on the hazard of buyers passing in front of the bar, willing to sell their products in whatever emerging market. It’s sure, we make superb items but we evidently sin in promoting them "actively".
1st Sin: Product is important, BRAND IS EVERYTHING
One of the reason of market saturation is that customers stopped purchasing goods to fulfill needs. Benefits such as excellent craftsmanship, comfort, genuine leather, selected materials, etc, are inflated concepts, hardly perceptible by consumers less and less educated to quality. The only way to attract the attention seems to be “the brand”, that world of intangibles values constituting the brand's USP. At MICAM I saw a lot of mediocre manufacturers selling if it would be no tomorrow while others with exceptional items were just waiting for time passing fest.
2nd Sin: No middle.
The effort to please anyone often takes to the results of disappointing everyone. Brand building involves necessarily making a choice and taking risks. Most of the collections I saw were a bundling of all possible styles (14 cm heeled pumps, ballerinas, sandals, flip flops, riding boots, Gladiator boots, half boots, peep-toe bootie, chelsea, etc), all colors and a selection of leathers nothing short of packed to the rafters. Only brands with an established distribution can be (however, not necessarely) succeful following the main stream taste. For emerging ones there is no alternative to creating a unique and memorable style.
3rd SIN: Own Creativity.
Of course, if Brand is a promise product must be able to keep it anytime. Creativity supposes, first and foremost, to have an aesthetic vision, which justifies the existence of designers and brand-directors. Product managers are, at best, technicians and skilled sales analysts: if you expect Excel to make a shoe’ collection you cannot be surprised soon or later to be due to leave the market. If you download creative inspirations from Internet or buy them from the same research bureaus of your competitors, your product might be “in trend“ however will be never unique.
4th SIN: the luxury of the invisibility.
Visibility at trade exhibitions is a precondition of distribution development. Many manufactures at MICAM, were literally barricaded inside a three meters high-walled stand with no windows, nor show-cases or pictures, but with a guarded gate as a jail entrance. Hardly to think in establishing new business contacts while encouraging customers in this way.
5th SIN: Look inside of you & forget what others do!
Benchmarking is an instrument for the correct brand positioning. Brand success is, ultimately, the result of an interaction with other brands, interaction which besides competition may also play a complementary function. Paying an excessive attention to competitors might finally lead to confuse your vision, the claim and authenticity of your brand.
6th SIN: Market intelligence.
To consider market needs is a smart attitude, smarter is even awaking “desires”. Marketing literature often tells the paradox of selling shoes to African tribes ... who had never experienced such a need. The market asks for nothing, but it is always available to be inspired and be loyal to authentic values.
7th SIN: Pride & Prejudice Made-in-Italy!
Can ever virtue turn into a damn? Unfortunately, yes…especially when virtue becomes a cliché.
Is it really necessary to remember anytime the genius of Michelangelo and Leonardo, la Traviata, the Popes patrons of Arts, the pizza, Sophia Loren and "o’ sole mio" as if time stood still in the past? There is a terrible need today to renew such clichés, providing evidence that the italian legacy is not relegated to museums, but still able to project the country into the future. It will be then a country not only for tourists, but also for travelers, who seduced by its unsustainable vitality may also decide not going home again …full of memories, and perhaps some nice pair of Italian shoes.