Uncomplicated by Design; what’s in your Capsule Collection?

The term “Capsule Wardrobe” was originally coined by Susie Faux, the owner of influential 1970’s London boutique “Wardrobe”. Via the fount of all knowledge that is Wikipedia:

“A capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces. The idea was then popularised by American designer Donna Karan, who, in 1985, released an influential ‘Capsule Collection’ of seven interchangeable work-wear pieces.”

This is a great example of using design to make someone’s life easier, more efficient and more convenient without the need to compromise, either on quality or style. What was once a trend is now common-place in the fashion industry, and is now becoming a fundamental business model and element of brand strategy in other sectors where time-strapped consumers are looking for simplicity, efficiency, convenience and ease to manage an increasingly complicated world and increasingly busy lifestyles.

As Philip Davies, EMEA President for strategic branding agency Siegel+Gale noted in his article for Campaign in 2012:

“When things are beautifully simple they are more powerful; they get into our heads faster and stay there for longer. Simplicity, when properly applied, serves a purpose: it helps us make choices, saves time, money and minimises debate. But simplicity isn’t easy. Mastering complexity is the new brand challenge and the brands that get it right, win.”

Well said, Philip. He goes on to highlight some big household names as examples of simplicity infusing business and brand proposition, such as IKEA with flat-pack furniture, and McDonald’s with burgers where quality and consistency have never been sacrificed in the name of efficiency; the essentials designed and presented in a way that streamlines decision-making, purchasing and usage, both internally and externally.

While big business has embraced simplicity, and thrown considerable $ to achieve (or at least give the impression of…) simple and efficient, how can FMCG brands embrace the idea of making people’s lives easier, more efficient, more convenient (etc.) relevant to an individual’s motivations and/or unmet needs when shopping a particular category? If a brand can deliver its own “Capsule Collection”, what might this look like? As in all effective brand building initiatives, it depends upon the category, the perceptions the brand seeks to leverage, and the total experience the brand has the opportunity (and potential) to deliver.

Well known brands are already embracing the idea and even the language, including Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Blue, which released a collaboration “Capsule” with British Designer Tom Dixon in April 2017 at Milan Fashion Week. The Capsule has been designed to reflect “the heritage and craftsmanship that goes into each and every bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label” and features a limited edition bottle, bespoke ice bucket, tumblers, coaster and bottle cap; everything one might need to enjoy the perfect Johnnie Walker nightcap.

More a brand activation or gifting platform, it’s nevertheless interesting to see this use of fashion language coming into packaged goods parlance, and if we think about Capsule Collections as not just providing “the essentials” but as a way of introducing a brand and its mission to consumers, this opens up the scope of “Capsuling” to a far greater extent. Breweries often create capsules of their best offerings, such as Marston’s Brewery and the Classic Ale collection, which has been used as an opportunity to showcase some of their finest beers and ales from across the British Isles. Take this a step further and another Diageo Capsule could be Orphan Barrel, a selection of some of the finest bourbons that came into Diageo North America’s ownership via M&A activity across the US; “orphaned” barrels of ageing stock oftentimes come with the acquisition of a distillery, so what better way to use them than to create a truly limited edition that tells a unique and inspiring story to underpin the character of the product and the “business” behind it? Orphan Barrel Whisky Distilling Co. doesn’t really exist, but this is a great example of clever marketing to inspire and delight consumers.

Looking to retail and the ultimate in “convenience” (for the select few that can afford it), Fortnum & Mason’s Christmas Hampers are a bit of an institution and have been a Christmas tradition for more affluent families since 1707. They’re a great example of a retailer taking the “hassle” out of consumers needing to buy everything individually. Hampers are now part of the mainstream with the likes of Waitrose and Marks & Spencer entering into the Christmas spirit with their own take, but this isn’t just a seasonal opportunity; brands are successfully innovating around delivering the necessities with the likes of Abel & Cole’s Brilliant Organic Barbecue Box, and continuing the culinary theme, Hello Fresh (UK) and Blue Apron (US) provide everything one might need to make a delicious dish from scratch, including chef-created recipes and all the necessary ingredients. It doesn’t remove the need for preparation but if everything is brought to you without the need to go find it in the supermarket, pre-measured and packaged to support the process of making the dish, even the weakest cook can feel like a Masterchef.

In a broader sense, online grocers such as Ocado target convenience and lifestyle by delivering a weekly shop without the need to actually go shopping, but bricks & mortar supermarkets aren’t going anywhere, so perhaps there’s an opportunity to pivot on the idea of a Capsule Collection to help not just the time-strapped but the inexperienced/not-online to shop more efficiently or effectively? Retailers might not jump on the idea of a “starter-kit” for fear of perceptions of brand preference, so maybe this conversation should be had with the multinationals, such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble?

For example, students leaving home for college or university can’t rely on mum to take care of them, and companies such as UniKitOut are embracing this opportunity; “we pack and deliver a great range of Bathroom, Kitchen & Bedroom kits to your door”, so what about a student starter kit of essential household cleaning and personal care products? Or thinking about craft beer or ale, which can be intimidating at the best of times for the uninitiated drinker and (more often than not) cash–strapped student, that mostly come in 500ml bottles; a commitment in terms of cost and actual drinking when the flavour is an unknown, so why don’t breweries provide tasting kits in smaller bottles or formats? One bad experience and the brand could lose that consumer for life, so a simple way to mitigate this risk is to allow them to “try before they buy” (or at least try before they buy a lot). After all, modern craft breweries experiencing huge success both in the UK and the US, such as Brewdog, sell their beers in category-challenging 330ml bottles; this success is driven by making their products accessible, and design plays a huge part in achieving this.

What all of these examples demonstrate is the power of design (and design thinking!) to meet need and solve challenges, whether they be business, brand, financial or lifestyle based. Design is about making things better, however that particular “better” manifests itself, which is more often than not the repurposing and reusing of something that already exists to solve the complex and inspire positive change.

In short, a “capsule collection” offers consumers the opportunity to experience the breadth of a brand’s product offering, and as successful brands increasingly diversify their portfolios to target relevant opportunities, a capsule collection provides forward thinking brands and retailers the opportunity to celebrate their product range in a unique and exciting way for consumers. Of course, and as with all good FMCG branding initiatives, the success of a capsule relies upon the right presentation to ensure consumers understand exactly what they’re getting and why this might benefit them; a unique, simple, cost-effective and efficient form of brand building.

As Susie once said, “A Capsule Collection is confidence in who you are, what you do and what you promise.”

(She didn’t really say that, but if she worked in branding, I’m sure she would have!)

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