Understanding the business model of a truly unique company

Image of a Muji store from the outside.
Image of a Muji store from the outside.
Muji store in Stockholm, Sweden. Image by Muji

The idea of a company not branding itself seems contradictory. In a world where brands allocate millions on marketing, it’s rare to find a company with a single-minded focus on the product at hand. That’s what makes Muji, short for Mujirushi Ryohin, meaning “no-brand, quality goods,” stand out among the rest.

The Japanese company sells conventional items such as household goods and apparel, but unlike most brands, Muji doesn’t want consumers to feel an urge to buy their products. Instead, as they put it:

Muji’s goal is to give customers a rational satisfaction, expressed not with, “This is what I really want” but with “This will do.” “This is what I really want” expresses both faint egoism and discord, while “This will do” expresses conciliatory reasoning. …

They sell only one product. How did they become such a powerhouse?

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Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

Though nowhere near the sales figures of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Starbucks, the Red Bull brand is just as iconic.

So how does a brand that only sells one product gain the same amount of recognition? What keeps them ahead of the curve? And perhaps most importantly, what are the secrets of Red Bull’s marketing success?

The Beginnings

Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian marketing director at a toothpaste manufacturer, first discovered energy drinks on a business trip in Bangkok. Suffering the effects of jetlag, locals directed him to a Krating Daeng, a Thai beverage claiming to boost performance and concentration. …

Lessons from the Swedish fast fashion giant

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H&M store in London. Image by H&M Media

Fashion and affordability don’t often go hand in hand. Yet H&M seems to have deciphered the riddle of combining cheap prices with the latest runway trends.

Through a mixture of creative marketing, fast production, and a short product life cycle, H&M has grown into one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

So how did they go about creating a sustainable business model? How did they become so recognizable? And perhaps most importantly, what are the secrets behind H&M’s success?

The Beginnings

Understanding the success of a sixth-generation business

Hermès store in Warsaw, Poland.
Hermès store in Warsaw, Poland.
Hermès store in Warsaw, Poland. Image by Przemysław Nieciecki

While mainstream luxury fashion brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Versace are often seen as flashy, Hermès stands out for being a family-run business deeply rooted in a tradition of craftsmanship.

With products ranging from fragrances to saddlery, the brand is best known for its industry-leading leather goods.

Logically, keeping products relatively scarce makes for a higher selling price. Yet most brands can’t get customers to pay those higher prices. So how does Hermès do it?

The Beginnings

Lessons from one of the world’s largest retailers

Large queues at a Walmart store
Large queues at a Walmart store
Image by Walmart Media

Way before the rise of e-commerce, a company from Bentonville, Arkansas burst onto the scene by offering a cheaper alternative to mom-and-pop stores embodying theirs at the time with the slogan of Always the low price. Always.

Renowned for its cheap, one-stop shopping experience, Walmart swiftly captured market share by aggressively undercutting small-town supermarkets. By 2001, Walmart overtook Exxon Mobil to become the world’s largest company by revenue.

From the highs of global dominance to the lows of a lackluster push for international expansion, Walmart’s business is undoubtedly among the world’s most successful.

The Beginning

Sam Walton opened his first Ben Franklin variety store in 1945 after being released from military duty. Soon enough, his talent became evident as his store swiftly tripled in business. Wanting to expand, Walton pitched his ideas of low pricing to Ben Franklin. Company directors were quick to shut him down when they realized margins would be cut in order to compensate for the lower pricing strategy. …

Just as we thought 2020 couldn't get any stranger

Message from Burger King asking readers to order from McDonald’s
Message from Burger King asking readers to order from McDonald’s
Source: Burger King Twitter

When it comes to fast food, there’s no greater rivalry than Burger King versus McDonald's. Since their inception in the 1950s, it’s fair to say they’ve been battling it out ever since.

But with 2020 being the year of the unexpected, Burger King didn’t fail to deliver. As England prepared a second lockdown, Burger King’s UK branch tweeted a letter urging people to order from fast-food competitors such as McDonald’s, KFC, and Subway to support the industry.

“So, if you want to help, keep treating yourself to tasty meals through home delivery, takeaway or drive thru. …

Why we pay money for something many can get for free

Bottled water placed on a surface.
Bottled water placed on a surface.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

In most industries, it’s easy to differentiate through quality.

In food, it’s the ingredients; in fashion, it’s the materials; and in hospitality, it’s the customer service. Yet in the bottled water industry, it’s hard to tell the difference between high and low-quality water. In fact, to most people, water is just tasteless.

In developed countries like the U.S. where tap water is generally safe to drink, it’s puzzling to understand why bottled water has become an indispensable part of American culture.

According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), since 2017, bottled water is America’s favorite packaged drink. It’s ahead of popular beverage categories such as soft drinks, teas, and juices. …

Lessons from Asia’s biggest apparel chain

Modern Uniqlo store
Modern Uniqlo store
Uniqlo Philippines Store. Image by Uniqlo

Among the masses of fashion brands proudly displaying labels, creating distinctive designs, and following the latest trends, Uniqlo stands out for swimming against the tide. The brand has no labels, little variety in clothing, and sells standard casual-wear.

Though the strategy seems counterintuitive, Uniqlo’s numbers say the opposite. It’s now the largest apparel chain in Asia, and it’s within touching distance of fashion giants Zara and H&M.

The Beginnings

The rise of hybrid clothing

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Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

In the crowded sportswear market, brands have built their name focusing on niches before expanding. For Nike, it started with high-performance running shoes; for Under Armour, it was T-shirts using synthetic fabric; and for Lululemon, it was yoga-inspired technical apparel.

This is the story of how Lululemon went from a modest shop in Vancouver, Canada to a billion-dollar company that shaped the athleisure market.

The Beginnings

Back in 1998, Chip Wilson began taking yoga classes to alleviate his back pain. That’s when he noticed nobody — not even his yoga instructor — was wearing yoga-specific apparel.

Sensing an opportunity, he set out to create quality apparel for women to wear during yoga. The idea was to create stretchy, comfortable gear for low impact exercise, as most sports gear was focused on high-impact sports like running, football, and tennis. The concept took a few years to take off, but the yoga market eventually went from a niche to a mass, and Lululemon was perfectly positioned to become the dominant player. …

How the eerie world of AI chatbots can go wrong

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Tay on Twitter

Back in 2016, Microsoft released Tay, a chatbot designed to interact with Twitter users by emulating the personality of a teenage girl.

Although the idea of using artificial intelligence to interact with humans seemed potentially far-reaching, the experiment ended in a complete PR fiasco. Within 16 hours of release, Microsoft’s chatbot was taken offline after a series of obscene messages.

Xiaoice — Microsoft’s Chinese Chatbot


Kenji Farré

Cornell University

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