The power of in­gre­di­ent brand­ing

An In­gre­di­ent Brand is ex­actly what the name im­plies: an in­gre­di­ent or com­po­nent of a prod­uct that has its own brand iden­tity. In the light of the suc­cess sto­ries of In­tel, Gore­tex, Te­flon, Dolby and Te­tra­pak one can an­tic­i­pate that com­po­nent sup­pli­ers wi

Shoes & Accessories - - Contents - – By Ab­hi­manyu Mathur, Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent, Lowe Lin­tas

This ar­ti­cle is like a se­quel to a su­per hero movie. Sec­ond in se­ries on brand­ing and so is con­nected to the ar­ti­cle which was car­ried in the July is­sue - ‘Brand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Footwear In­dus­try’. Just like it is good but not nec­es­sary to have seen the first movie to un­der­stand the sec­ond; it would be good but, not nec­es­sary, to have read the first ar­ti­cle in or­der to un­der­stand this one.

As a mar­keter, my per­spec­tive of­ten turns to how we can use these new tech­nolo­gies and trends to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate and con­nect with our au­di­ences. I ex­plored some op­por­tu­ni­ties like wa­ter proof but breath­able up­pers, in-soles and laces to build brands in In­dia which are all highly rel­e­vant needs in In­dia. Given the mon­soon we have, wa­ter-proof, but breath­able, up­pers are quite a need. Cur­rently, In-soles which are es­sen­tially med­i­cally pre­scribed, ad­dress a huge prob­lem as many peo­ple ei­ther suf­fer from flat feet, high arches or where high heels, all of which cause se­vere pain in the feet and hence in-soles can make a big dif­fer­ence. And lastly, in­no­va­tive stretch­able laces that give you the free­dom from ty­ing your shoe laces, will be wel­comed in any coun­try and not just for kids be­low the age of seven. All this is now pos­si­ble, given that dig­i­tal can play a big­ger role in driv­ing aware­ness, and it can al­low a brand to en­ter and grow, in­creas­ing dis­tri­bu­tion slowly.

All three op­por­tu­ni­ties men­tioned are com­po­nents of shoes. And it is about time that com­po­nents took the lead in In­dia.

Now to the se­quel

Footwear brands are ex­tremely in­no­va­tive when it comes to their mar­ket­ing plans. They need to be in news, need to be rel­e­vant, are al­ways in­no­vat­ing and part­ner­ing to that end.they are con­tin­u­ously cre­atinga buzz and then com­mu­ni­cat­ing it.

In to­day’s com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place these are big moves that all brands are mak­ing all over the world in­clud­ing In­dia. It is what is keep­ing them rel­e­vant. But be­cause every­one is do­ing it, there is also sea of same­ness.this ar­ti­cle ex­plores a fresh ap­proach to brand­ing in In­dia, but be­fore we do that let’s look at what those big bold moves are.

Tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments in prod­uct Brands are al­ways mak­ing tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments or tweaks to their prod­ucts and talk­ing about it through their cam­paigns. New sole tech­nolo­gies that are ul­tra-flex­i­ble or ex­tra sup­port are needed in the arch of the foot or up­pers that feel like socks. And all these in­no­va­tions have been com­mu­ni­cated through daz­zling cam­paigns, world­wide in­clud­ing In­dia. Com­fort

Com­fort has been a big play for footwear and ac­ces­sories. Peo­ple are choos­ing com­fort, but with­out com­pro­mis­ing on fash­ion and style and the brands have rec­og­nized and catered to this need. Peo­ple don’t want to com­pro­mise on com­fort, even when they are wear­ing boots or for­mal shoes. This trend can also be seen in women’s shoes, through sneak­ers, com­bat boots and mules. Folks over 25 carry back­packs to work, travel or just about any time. In­dia is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this move to­wards com­fort as well, and brands are oblig­ing with rapid launches and com­mu­ni­cat­ing strongly too.


This trend of com­fort has led to an­other space called Ath­leisure that has grown in the last two years. Fun fact: this trend started off largely be­cause peo­ple started post­ing on so­cial me­dia dur­ing or af­ter their work­out and that led to peo­ple wear­ing those clothes be­yond the gym as well.

Adi­das has been the big­gest gainer of this trend. And so have many other brands.they have tied up with de­sign­ers and artists to provide interesting cloth­ing to cater to this need. Ath­leisure has caught on in our west-ob­serv­ing metro folk. Brands are in­no­vat­ing at a fu­ri­ous pace and com­mu­ni­cat­ing new styles.


By now, ev­ery com­pany in the world has re­al­ized the awe­some power of Retro de­signs. Retro’s a big trend around the world and this is some­thing not re­stricted to footwear alone, but can be seen with the comeback of Fu­ji­film and Po­laroid In­stant cam­eras, the Nin­tendo Game­boy and oth­ers. But for the pur­poses of this ar­ti­cle, let’s look at the footwear cat­e­gory, be­cause this trend is huge and has been go­ing on for a few years.

Nike Jor­dan, Fila, Nike Cortez, Adi­das Orig­i­nals are all ex­am­ples of brands bring­ing their old shoes back. Bring­ing back the shoes is not so easy since tech­nolo­gies and ma­te­ri­als have im­proved and so have ex­pec­ta­tions. They have reengi­neered the shoes us­ing new tech­nolo­gies and ma­te­ri­als but mak­ing them true to the orig­i­nal con­cept and look.

Brands like Con­verse and Vans that in­her­ently have a retro style have also made a comeback. So this has been a huge space for in­no­va­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion for the in­dus­try.

Some hid­den moves that have po­ten­tial for In­dia

Now that we are done with the big moves that are hap­pen­ing across brands and the globe, let’s look at a few interesting moves that are a fresh ap­proach for In­dia.

These moves al­low brands in In­dia to cre­ate a distinct brand story for it­self. And they all use com­po­nents of shoes. Not the whole shoe it­self, but a key part that can be called out and be used as an in­gre­di­ent in your big­ger brand story. Be­fore I delve into my ex­am­ples, thought I would quickly ex­plain what an in­gre­di­ent brand is.

In­gre­di­ent Brand and its ben­e­fits

It is the brand­ing of a com­po­nent or an el­e­ment that goes into mak­ing the fin­ished prod­uct. The fin­ished prod­uct then uses this in­gre­di­ent brand to sell the fin­ished prod­uct. In­gre­di­ent brand­ing does one of the most im­por­tant things any man­u­fac­turer de­sires; it gets them a pre­mium. And that is pos­si­ble, be­cause the ‘in­gre­di­ent’ has in­vested be­hind build­ing a brand. It talks to the end-user within the earshot of their cus­tomers. This cre­ates ‘PULL’ for fin­ished prod­ucts that use the in­gre­di­ent brand and hence al­lows the fin­ished prod­uct to charge a pre­mium too, even­tu­ally lead­ing to an over­all im­prove­ment of qual­ity of prod­uct all around, and thus ben­e­fit­ing the en­tire in­dus­try.


One stand­out brand that is 81 years old and still rel­e­vant is Vi­bram. They are ex­pert shoe sole mak­ers. And while they have come out with their own shoes over the years, they provide outer and mid-sole so­lu­tions to other brands.

To un­der­stand this brand a bit you have to go back to its ori­gin. It is a fas­ci­nat­ing story. So fas­ci­nat­ing that a movie could be made out of it.

In 1935, Vi­tale Bra­mani was on a moun­taineer­ing ex­pe­di­tion in the Ital­ian Alps. Six of his friends lost their lives in an ac­ci­dent. Vi­tale was con­vinced that the rea­son was poor leather shoes that they were us­ing. They did not have the trac­tion needed and were just too slip­pery. So Vi­tale cre­ated and patented the first rub­ber sole shoes called Car­rar­mato, used from the same tech­nol­ogy of Pirelli tyres. He thought that if tyres can have trac­tion in ad­verse con­di­tions, why not take this tech­nol­ogy to shoes. And so in 1937, Vi­bram was born.

Vi­bram’s legacy was con­ceived in moun­taineer­ing and that is where it re­mained. In 1954, it put its shoes to a tor­ture test. An Ital­ian team, wear­ing Vi­bram sole shoes, scaled K2, the sec­ond high­est moun­tain in the world. The best test of its tech­nol­ogy was on dis­play, but more than that, surely was highly sat­is­fy­ing for Vi­tale to have suc­cess­fully in­no­vated a safe moun­taineer­ing shoe.

Back to re­cent times, Vi­bram stays with its core strength – moun­taineer­ing re­lated sports and ac­tiv­i­ties, for which it in­no­vates on shoes and pro­motes and sup­ports ac­tiv­i­ties through spon­sor­ship.


When New Bal­ance wanted to make a trail run­ning shoe that could with­stand the rugged ter­rain, it turned to Vi­bram. Vi­bram’s tough durable sole was the per­fect choice for New Bal­ance. The sole has a plate in­serted be­tween the mid­sole and the out­sole that min­i­mizes pres­sure and dis­perses shock. This out­sole is called Vi­bram Me­ga­grip. It is not only tough but has trac­tion as well. So the shoe is sta­ble over un­even sur­faces and sticky when the path gets slick.

Re­cent part­ner­ship was with Giro, a bi­cy­cle equip­ment brand that makes hel­mets, shoes, gloves and ap­parel. When they wanted to make a moun­tain bik­ing shoe, they asked Vi­bram to de­velop and provide the sole for the shoe. Bi­cy­cle shoes need a stiff­ness. So that when pres­sure is ap­plied to move the cy­cle, all the pres­sure is trans­ferred to the pedal. But also the sole should not be slip­pery. It needs to be sticky so no en­ergy gets wasted.

Giro Rid­dance with Vi­bram Me­ga­grip soles

Scarpa, a brand that makes shoes for ski­ing, rock climb­ing and moun­taineer­ing turned to Vi­bram when it was mak­ing its rock climb­ing shoe The Mae­stro Mid Eco. This shoe soft, as it needs to, fits into cracks and wedges. But still needs to be tough enough to provide sup­port. Vi­bram pro­vides a 4 mm tough, but flex­i­ble sole.

Scarpa Furia S WITH Vi­bram XS Grip soles

Take­away: There are more such part­ner­ships. But as you can see, Vi­bram does not just sup­ply soles to brands. It part­ners with them to tai­lor-make tech­nolo­gies for them. And when things need im­prove­ments, then Vi­bram bet­ters and tweaks tech­nolo­gies to de­liver the right com­pound needed. The part­ner­ship is so deep that even when there is a prob­lem that needs fix­ing, the shoe com­pany does not turn to some­one else or sub­sti­tute Vi­bram, they ask Vi­bram to fix the prob­lem.

Also Vi­bram has been con­sis­tent in build­ing a brand over the years. The end-user knows the brand well; that Vi­bram makes spe­cial­ized soles or shoes for dif­fer­ent moun­tain ac­tiv­i­ties. Brand build­ing ef­forts have en­sured that Vi­bram does not get sub­sti­tuted. The shoe brand ben­e­fits by af­fix­ing the Vi­bram brand on ev­ery shoe.

Spon­sor­ship of MTB Events

A down­hill marathon Moun­tain Bike (MTB) race like the Me­gavalanche takes place in the French Alps ev­ery year. Vi­bramis an event spon­sor. It al­lows them to en­gage with en­thu­si­asts and for en­thu­si­asts to en­gage with is a good place to re­cruit peo­ple to test their prod­ucts. Most im­por­tantly it keeps the cre­den­tials of Vi­bram high, keep­ing them seen in the right cir­cles.

MTB Rider wear­ing shoes with Vi­bram soles

Ac­ti­va­tion: Vi­bram does very interesting ac­ti­va­tions. I am high­light­ing two. The first show­cases its rea­son for ex­is­tence, and the sec­ond show­cases prod­uct func­tion­al­ity. Sole Fac­tor Tour: Vi­bram has fit­ted out a van with equip­ment and hired cob­blers. The vans go around the coun­try to re­fit shoes with new soles. These days shoes are dis­carded when the sole gets worn out. But that is a waste, be­cause the up­per ma­te­rial may still be good. With a re­fit­ted sole, that shoe can be given a new lease of life.

It also im­por­tantly con­tin­ues the dy­ing art of the shoe cob­bler and shoe re­pair to the next gen­er­a­tion. It is ecofriendly to not keep throw­ing shoes out. It teaches kids some value in the art of re­cy­cling, es­pe­cially in a gen­er­a­tion of use and throw.

The Vi­bram Sole Fac­tor RV

For Vi­bram, this ac­ti­va­tion is its whole rea­son for ex­is­tence. It brings fo­cus to the sole of the shoe. How im­por­tant it is in the shoe? Let peo­ple know what Vi­bram does. And hence it is treated as an on-go­ing ac­ti­va­tion. It started in 2015 and con­tin­ues this year as well. Any good ac­ti­va­tion does not just build aware­ness and cre­den­tials with the peo­ple that wit­ness the ac­tiv­ity, but also with the peo­ple that read or see the unique ac­tiv­ity through PR. Ac­tive Grip Demo Ac­ti­va­tion: Peo­ple slip a lot. 25,000 peo­ple on av­er­age slip a day in the US. This hap­pens mostly on slip­pery sur­faces and in win­ter time most sur­faces be­come slip­pery, which mul­ti­plies falls and in­juries.

Vi­bram has a sole tech­nol­ogy that pre­vents you from slip­ping on wet ice. And it show­cases this through a fas­ci­nat­ing demon­stra­tion. They take not only a slip­pery sur­face, but one that is in­clined, which makes it much tougher to walk on in reg­u­lar shoes.

You can see peo­ple wear­ing one reg­u­lar shoe and one Vi­bram-soled shoe on the other. The dif­fer­ence is there for peo­ple to see.

The Arctic Grip Ac­ti­va­tion at Bos­ton, USA

Take­away: Ac­ti­va­tions can be a great tool in your mar­ket­ing ar­mour. A well thought through ac­ti­va­tion can give you great mileage as a brand. When an ac­ti­va­tion uses top­i­cal­ity like the Sole Tour does by try­ing to save the dy­ing art of the shoe cob­bler and be­ing an eco-friendly so­lu­tion, it can get sig­nif­i­cant cov­er­age through PR. They also make great prod­uct demon­stra­tions and these can be edited into great clips for dig­i­tal or even TV.

Why the Vi­bram case?

Yes, this brand is fo­cus­ing on sports and ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to the moun­tains which is a niche here in In­dia. But look at the strat­egy be­hind that. They found them­selves a highly rel­e­vant niche and have be­come the mas­ter in that space. Be­cause they built a brand with the end-user within the earshot of their cus­tomers (shoe man­u­fac­tur­ers), they can­not be sub­sti­tuted. Shoe brands tie up with them to give them­selves cred­i­bil­ity of be­ing an au­then­tic so­lu­tion.

What is rel­e­vant here in In­dia? What are the un­met needs? What are the com­ing trends that will be game chang­ers? You need to find those rel­e­vant needs that are go­ing to be big and provide so­lu­tions. And guess what you don’t need to be a shoe brand. You can be a com­po­nent of a shoe and still do it, just like Vi­bram.


A zip com­pany that has largely played in the ap­parel in­dus­try. But they have made some moves in the footwear in­dus­try too. Zips on shoes? Yes. It is not just be­ing used for its func­tion­al­ity, but is a de­sign state­ment too. Let’s look at two such ex­am­ples.

Nike X Acro­nym

This is a sports shoe de­signed by Er­rol­son Hugh for Nike. It was a co-branded launch with the de­signer’s la­bel ACRO­NYM. This was the re­design­ing of the Lu­nar Force 1 shoe. And Hugh de­signed the shoe with a big bold YKK zip on the shoe as an al­ter­na­tive way to fas­ten the shoes. His view was to not be shy about the zip and con­ceal it. But to keep it big and bold as a de­sign state­ment. And for a shoe brand to do this, they chose the best qual­ity zip brand they know, YKK.

Nike x ACRO­NYM with YKK zip­pers Adi­das Yeezy Boost

Yeezy is a brand owned by Kanye West. He had a tie up with Nike ear­lier, which com­menced in 2009 and went on till 2014. The Adi­das Yeezy was launched in 2015 and the very first shoe had a PR dis­as­ter. The shoe came with a zip and it was break­ing. Hav­ing given up the Nike tie up and to have this fi­asco could not have been good for Kanye West.

But Adi­das re­called all the shoes that had this prob­lem, pro­vided a full re­fund and fixed the prob­lem with the launch of the sea­son 2 of the Adi­das Yeezy 750 Brown. The fix was a YKK zip. A more durable and qual­ity prod­uct.

Adi­das Yeezy Boost 750 Grey Gum with Con­cealed YKK zip­pers

What makes YKK so spe­cial?

This is a com­pany that is present in 71 coun­tries. While they have been global, they have al­ways en­cour­aged their man­age­ment teams to im­merse them­selves in lo­cal so­ci­ety. So they have al­ways had a lo­cal un­der­stand­ing of the mar­ket. But the global scale has al­lowed them to tie up with other global brands and provide the same high qual­ity zip across the world.

They have al­ways be­lieved in work­ing closely with cus­tomers, and have be­lieved co-brand­ing is the way for­ward for them. It is what sets them apart from com­pe­ti­tion. Work­ing closely with the cus­tomer would help the cus­tomer’s brand. It would en­hance its value to the end-user, and would help in­crease de­mand for the brand with the end-user be­cause it made a fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion to its cus­tomer. In short, they have built their brand through co-brand­ing with the end-user. The End-user knows and re­spects the brand. They know that YKK makes high qual­ity zips.

It also works to iden­tify trends and meet cus­tomer’s de­mand quickly through in­no­va­tions, de­sign and aes­thet­ics. R&D is an im­por­tant as­pect­for the com­pany.

This in­vest­ing in brand­ing and re­la­tion­ships with its cus­tomers has made YKK in­dis­pens­able. End-users trust the brand. As a re­sult, YKK’S cus­tomers use the YKK brand as a sell­ing fea­ture when sell­ing to the End-user. That’s a good place to be in.


A won­der prod­uct. Shoes use this all the time as a means to fas­ten shoes. It is an al­ter­na­tive to laces for those that can’t tie laces just yet (kids), those that can’t tie laces any­more (the aged) and those that are too lazy to tie laces (no age bracket there).

Why is it a won­der prod­uct? Well did you know that a twoinch piece of VEL­CRO can hold 80 kgs. Also, did you know that in the first-ever ar­ti­fi­cial heart trans­plant, the ven­tri­cles of the ar­ti­fi­cial heart were held to­gether by VEL­CRO. Also NASA can be par­tially cred­ited for pop­u­lar­iz­ing this prod­uct as well, as it has oth­ers. When NASA uses a prod­uct, peo­ple as­sume it is well- tested and of high qual­ity. They used it for fas­ten­ing pens and other ob­jects in space.

Some interesting uses of VEL­CRO. It se­cures the Astro­turf at pro­fes­sional foot­ball sta­di­ums. It is an al­ter­na­tive to Zi­ploc for re­seal­ing open pack­ag­ing. Vel­cro was used in a space suit hel­met to scratch their nose when they felt itchy.

How many of you knew that VEL­CRO is a brand? It is the com­pany that in­vented VEL­CRO. The prod­uct cat­e­gory is called hook-and-loop fas­ten­ers. But since VEL­CRO did very lit­tle brand build­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, no one even knew the name of the cat­e­gory.

With its patent ex­pir­ing in 1978, it lost out in a ma­jor way to com­pe­ti­tion. Many dif­fer­ent types of hook- and-loop fas­ten­ers launched their prod­uct. And be­cause no bet­ter name de­scribed the prod­uct, they all got re­ferred to ASVELCRO, by con­sumers and the com­pa­nies mak­ing it. VEL­CRO be­came a generic. Just like Xerox, Jacuzzi, Band Aid, Chap­stick, Ther­mos and many oth­ers.

When the patent ex­pired, had the com­pany em­barked on a com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paign to make peo­ple aware of the brand and the cat­e­gory, the ben­e­fits of the prod­uct and how their brand is the orig­i­nal and high qual­ity prod­uct, it would have been a very dif­fer­ent story for the brand.

Un­for­tu­nately, the brand did not do that and lost out. It is only as re­cently as 2011 that VEL­CRO started a com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paign. It de­cided to ed­u­cate on the mul­ti­ple uses of the brand. With a brand line “There is only one”. They are now try­ing to do what they should have done a long time ago. Try­ing to make peo­ple re­al­ize that there is only one VEL­CRO. The oth­ers are all im­i­ta­tions.

What the com­pany re­al­ized was that con­sumers were al­ready us­ing VEL­CRO for hun­dreds of uses, most of which they were not aware of. So they de­cided to rope in these con­sumers to cre­ate user gen­er­ated con­tent for the brand.

They have also done a funny cam­paign in 2017, ti­tled #Dontsayvel­cro, fea­tur­ing singing lawyers. The theme of the song is that the indis­crim­i­nate use of the name is giv­ing them grief.

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