Topic: Book Club

Ries: Name This Category!

Posted by Anonymous on 1000 Points
I have a brand name (The Style) in a new furniture category that as yet has no name! I learned from reading "Origins" that naming the category is just as important as the brand name.

After reading the extraordinary job you did on toothpaste, it gave me hope that you can help me with this one: what category does this furniture fall into: Don't tell me "knock down" or I'll cry!

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  • Posted on Member
    Well, seems you have (1) designer (vs. mass-manufactured) (2) Brazilian hardwood (3) easy dis-assembly and re-assembly and (4) modern, insofar as the common attributes of this type...

    Can you tell us what the competitive categories are? I just don't know furniture so it helps to have that information--as well as if I've missed any of the core attributes when I listed them above.

    Do tell :-).
  • Posted on Member
    Another thought Victor: How "simple" is your furniture to assemble and re-assemble? I ask because every time I've bought furniture in pieces it's been a nightmare...a ton of pieces and instructions and it never aligns correctly. I'm left just accepting that my entertainment center or bookshelf is askew.

    You might be able to hang part of the category on how simple it is (though I don't mean to at all connote that it's not high-quality just that it's not high-maintenance). Actually the "high quality doesn't need to mean high maintenance" might be a good line for some of your materials.
  • Posted on Author
    CK, Thank you for your astute observations and questions. The only thing you missed is the fact thay my designs have roots in Holland. The Style is the English translation of de Stijl, which is the name of a magazine that represented a Dutch design group in the early 20th century. Piet Mondrian was affiliated with the group. You might recognize that the framing on my web site reflects his linear composition in primary colors.

    Competitors are hard to find. On the one hand there is "art furniture." These are one-of-a-kind three dimensional art works that are made by extraordinarily skilled craftsmen working in their own shop. The pieces are more or less functional, depending on whether the emphasis is on "art" or "furniture." There usually is no clear provenance to these pieces. My pieces share price points with a lot of "art furniture," but are far more functional.

    On the other hand, there are the "modern classics." Examples are Marcel Breuer's 1925 Wassily Chair; Le Corbusier's 1927 Cushion Basket Chair and Sofa; Mies van der Rohe's 1929 Barcelona Chair; and Gerrit Rietveld's iconic 1925 Red and Blue Chair. One of Rietveld's associates in de Stijl was my professor in undergraduate art school. My work shares the design philosophy of these classics, but is not nearly as expensive as the originals, is far more portable, and made of solid hardwoods.

    Now you see why I have such a hard time defining the category!
  • Posted on Author
    CK, another qood question. The bad news is that most of my large pieces are difficult to assemble untill you see it done once. We ship the product flat in felt lined cases. Then I fly to the collector's site to assemble, number, sign and date each one. The good news is you can get these large pieces up a narrow stair case (or elevator) for assembly that otherwise might require breaking out a wall, or settling for a smaller piece.

    "High quality doesn't mean high maintenance" is a good line. Thanks.
  • Posted on Author
    Karen, all good ideas. Each one better than the other. I particularly like "deconstructable," but I bet some would say it doesn't have a good ring to it!

    Movease furniture is smoother and to the point. I like the "designed-to-move furniture" category idea the best of the three. My pieces even come in a felt-lined wood case to ship them in when you move!

    I'm happy you like the Thomas Sideboard. It's named in after Gerrit Thomas Rietveld who, in addition to the Red and Blue Chair, also designed a sideboard using the same principles of construction.
  • Posted on Author
    Jessica, thank you for your comments and good wishes. Eclectic is one of my favorite words. But as you say it has pretty much been conscripted by the market to mean contemporary designs.
  • Posted by Tracey on Member
    Would this fit -- organic minimalism?

    The first thing that struck me about your furniture is that it's minimalist, but without the coldness/spareness of a lot many other minimalist designs. Anyway, sounds like you have a lot of categories, and you have to pick what you want to emphasize most. Constructable/movable doesn't sound as high-end (to me) as your furniture really is. Just my two cents, hope it helps.
  • Posted on Accepted
    Another possibility would be "Brasilian-style" furniture which would take advantage of the wood and Brasil's reputation for hipness.
  • Posted on Author
    Bob, yes "designer furniture" is a bit stuffy. And its the category I thought we were in until I read "Origins." If you Google "thestyle" you get this tag line in my URL: "The Style Modern Furniture: Custom Designer Furniture ..." Thanks to Al and Laura's book I now see that "Modern Furniture" and "Designer Furniture" are the old categories my work has diverged from. And hence my question and this search for the new category name.

    I like Nomad Furniture. Simple Furniture? Certainly it is and this has a nice ring to it. And you thought of Mondrian at first glance! Excellent, it works.
  • Posted on Author
    Tracey, the artist in me loves the idea of "Organic minimalism." The businessman in me says, wait this puts me in the art furniture category! I agree my minimal designs don't suffer the curse of coldness, probably because of the Brasilian hardwoods. And, these woods have exotic names like Massranduba, Jatoba, and Ipe Tobac!

    Constructable and (Karen's) Decontructable both point to a fundamental attribute of my furniture. Karen in a later post responded to my concern that the term didn't have a nice ring to it by saying she "didn't think it mattered that the word was a bit awkward, since it would be a category name, and not a brand name. Sort of like deconstructivism in architecture." Which leads to a question for Laura and Al -- do new category names need to have the same qualities as a brand name?
  • Posted on Author

    WOW! You really are prolific AND creative on this one! Yes, Biedermeier IS hard to pronounce and spell. What a great association. I'd almost forgotten about it even though de Stijl is its lineal descendant.

    This is the name of an artistic movement that flourished in Germany in the first half of the 19th century and later moved to Scandinavia. The look also was based on clean lines and simple profiles. For some images see

    Enough history. Your latest suggestions, combined with earlier ones, raise another question about naming this (or any?) category. Should a new category name emphasize its:

    ROOTS (Retro-Dutch; New Dutch Modernism; de Stijl inspired)

    FUNCTION (Designed-to-move; Nomadic; Deconstructable/Constructable)

    LOOK (Organic Minimalism; Brasilian Style; Simple)?

    BTW, "Rietveld" is a registered mark of his family trust. I tried to use his name in Google AdWords last year and it was rejected for this reason.

    Thanks for your insights!
  • Posted on Author
    Al, I really like Brasilian Style. It's even more meaningful than you know. We have a showroom in Rio. If you or Laura are members of MySpace I've posed a slide show on my page there with photos of my newest designs, our studio, and showroom. Just invite me to be a friend and you can see it. If you're not a member, maybe you should join up. It seems all the presidential candidates already have. The character of MySpace has changed a lot since Murdoch bought it.

    My oldest son spends a third of his time in Brasil running the export business and working with our craftsmen. Of course he had to learn Portuguese to pull this off. He's also my venture capitalist without owning even one percent of the action. There's nothing like having a dedicated son (or daughter) helping run a business!
  • Posted by Phoenix ONE on Accepted
    Hi Victor,

    I really like the way we can feel the passion in your art. It does come through in your posts

    The products seem like furniture in the beginning simple, effective, minimally invasive to decor, put together deassemble move and put it together again, natural materials, Brazilian hardwood, simple luxury-

    How about something very simple for the category:
    Genesis Furniture, it denotes the origin when all was naturally beautiful

    From this category Genisis Furniture
    You could stylize the decors similar to what you have already done.

    Create the category Genisis Furniture, you could capture that furniture in the beginning was designed to..............

    Just a new way to approach the subject - hope it helps

    Good Luck & Happy Marketing ~ Bill
  • Posted by steven.alker on Accepted
    Dear Victor

    I must apologise that this posting wanders around a bit – but that reflects the nature of the problem I found in your question.

    I have a great fondness for Charles Rennie Mackintosh, even to the extent of buying jewellery made in homage to his style for my wife. That is what I immediately thought of when I looked at your website, possibly because I have spent 8 years in Scotland and possibly because I had a passing experience of the rather chaste influence of Ben and Dan Tindall, the only architects who seem to be able to frighten the wits out of my Lord Foster disciple of a brother-in-law!

    To try and help you with a category I therefore turned to the Kelvin Grove Art Gallery in Glasgow which was the last place to stage a huge retrospective, but I quickly realised that my uneducated eye was wrong. (I’m a scientist by training who just happened to read a lot and do more in the arts than my own faculty’s stuff at St Andrews. The girls were prettier as well.) This is just proving, yet again, that the numbers are much easier in marketing than the conceptualisation and this, for heavens sake is segmentation – not just nomenclature.

    Your influences are mostly Dutch. I’ve come across Mondrian, courtesy of my daughter and Rietveld is pretty iconic when it comes to post-arts and craft furniture, but neither particularly defines your style. They simply define the influences which have formed your craft and that is a fat lot of good when it comes to bold, definitive, memorable statements which people will remember and be able to come back to time and time again when, over a period of time when (Unless they are quite wealthy) they decide to purchase one of your pieces.

    Good Lord, they are beautiful. Speaking personally, we live in an environment where such furniture would be out of place – even our Mackintosh is confined to my wife’s father’s rather stark, rather Bauhaus place in Scotland but I’d still be drawn to it if I was hunting for something special. That makes your question all the more prescient.

    If I was hunting for something, on the web, in a showroom catalogue or in an interior design directory, just how would I come across your works? I can’t imagine Hilly’s dad suddenly saying “Oh, good heavens, I need a table and chair of the Stijl School” more to the point, neither would his wife who is an arts graduate photographer of considerable sophistication. She’d just buy some more Mackintosh stuff and look for “Arts and Crafts” as a starting point!

    So categorisation really does count - unless that is you turn my entire marketing mindset on its head and create such a media blitz for your “TheStyle” brand that those who want it come to you without a process of going through a search. That rather means that the brand will presume to become a category. More of that in a moment. I think that to most furniture designers that is a “dream on” idea as there are very few Viscount Lindley’s in the world that can create their own micro-climate in the press and even he has migrated to Christies without the emergence of a Lindley School!

    I know that this is going to sound a bit presumptuous, but have you thought that this stuff might just be good enough to make its name for itself, its brand becoming its own category? If you don’t think that this is too grandiose, or too arrogant, then you need to plot a path towards that status or, more humbly, ensure that your would-be purchasers can find you whilst the world adopts you as the category as well as the originator of the brand. The “Cook School” or “TheStyle School” would be the ultimate accolade but at the moment, I suspect that you are probably too modest try it.

    “TheStyle School” also has a semantic problem inasmuch as it would have to become “The TheStyle School” but that won’t put people off these days. In my industry I get fed up with people referring, with ubiquity, to LCD Displays. That’s “Liquid Crystal Display Displays” which is bonkers linguistically, but oh-boy, it works in marketing.

    Indeed, I don’t even think that this choice is in your hands, which means that your category, for the time being will probably be transient and more akin to a brand which assists with your marketing.

    So how did the designers and artists of the existing “schools”, which we now use as categories in order to seek the art and furniture we want, arise? Well, in the past it was a rather slower process than it is today. They produced their art or their craft and initially few people were aware of them. Then, after securing high profile customers or even patronage, they came to the attention of the press. They would then be able to exhibit and attract the analysis of the critics – both academics and commercial art experts. It took about 30 years, but a category was born organically, the name of which usually came about by some kind of consensus which was debated in public and somehow stuck.

    To my mind, that is what you have to do, but you have to do it in today’s high speed, frenetic marketplace which means that the presentation, feedback and acceptance of what your work will eventually be called will crystallise over a much shorter period of time.

    In conclusion, and I have few skills in either naming things or identifying a name which is more appropriate than another, I think that the market will eventually decide on what your creations will be called and that some of the splendid ideas presented here may well contain the name that it settles on.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball so I can’t tell you which one will win out. That probably means that you will end up using a variety of “Handles” in the foreseeable future, but in the end, the moniker by which you are known will be chosen by the buying public and the critical press. You can seek to nudge it along, as the professional marketer in you will demand that you do and this exercise is a superb starting point. Eventually, it won’t be you who chooses – it will be your public.

    With my very best wishes

    Steve Alker
    Unimax Solutions

  • Posted on Member
    Victor, Reading the website and the little writ on Sud Moebel Chair, it struck me that STRUCTURAL SIMPLICITY furniture might be quite a good name for this. It covers nearly all aspects of the furtniture category, bar the designer aspect (which in my view would be part of the individual brand name).


  • Posted on Author
    Dear Steve,

    Yes, wandering around does reflect the problem posed by my question, as you can see in my own answers to it in this Book Club exchange.

    My favourite Mackintosh piece is the Hillhouse Square Coffee Table. Probably because of its orthogonal structure. After reading your posting I went shopping for one and found a reproduction ( made in Glasgow for £1900.

    How people might come across my work is at the very heart of the problem of naming a divergent category isn't it? If my work fit into the "Art Furniture" category the answer would be simple: stage an opening at one of the private art furniture galleries in New York. You know, the ones on the forth floor of an office building with a little brass name plate on the door. If my work were reproductions of Rietveld originals I could sell them on the web for €699 with some assembly required. If I owned a Red and Blue Chair hand painted by the artist in the primary colours of de Stijl I could auction it on Sotheby's for around $150,000 (or perhaps see one at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum).

    As it happens I don't have enough money to "create such a media blitz" that "TheStyle" became the category name. I did however place ten full colour ads in The New Yorker magazine in 2000. I selected this vehicle because its readership fit my segmentation better than any other. The bad news is that campaign was so expensive I lost money on it. The good news is I planned it as an experiment in measuring the interaction between traditional media and online marketing. After years of revisions a paper based on the data from my New Yorker campaign was published in Information Systems Research in 2005. See

    The problem is partly segmentation, but I think, it's even more a problem of positioning the category. As you conclude "…categorisation really does count."

    Of course, early on I thought it was possible to trade on the existing "school" de Stijl. And so as not to anger the purists I adopted de Styjl™ as a trademark. But it turns out this "school" is so obscure (outside the Netherlands) there's really nothing to trade on!

    I hope you're correct that I need to allow 30 years for my new category to be "born organically." As you will notice on the web site I placed my first Sud Möbel Chair built of solid Brasilian Massaranduba on the market in 1975 ( By your count, my time has come!

    Best wishes and thank you for your insights and kind words.

    p.s. The spellings in this posting aren't an affectation. I just submitted a paper to the European journal Marketing Management published in the U.K. See
    They require English spellings, so my spellchecker remains set on them and I can't remember how to reset it!
  • Posted on Author

    The idea of "Genesis Furniture" as a category name has a kind of basic, primordial appeal. As you say, "furniture in the beginning, simple, effective, minimally invasive to décor, put together, disassemble, move and put together again, natural materials, Brasilian hardwood, simple luxury-"

    Some may find it to be a bit too biblical (at best) and impertinently bold (at worst). I'd love to know what others think about this as a category name TheStyle furniture.
  • Posted on Author
    Jason and Moritz,

    Thanks for these ideas for naming the category:

    Deft (Dexterous) Furniture -- meaning quick, or skilful. I like this. "Deft Furniture" even has a subtle play on words with Delft, the Dutch city founded in 1246.

    Opulent Vagabond (a bit like opulent nomad) but with some unfortunate double meanings (vagabond implies unsettled, shiftless!).

    Structural Simplicity gets very close to the name used in my patent applications (Orthogonal Compression Technology). Maybe this is too technical for a category name?
  • Posted on Author
    Al and Laura say "THE MOST DIFFICULT JOB IN MARKETING, and also the most rewarding, is creating a new category (Chapter 10)."

    If "…there is no definition of what the category is all about, there is no market, there are no distribution channels, and there are no competitors to benchmark … The first, and the most important question of all, is what's the name of the new category?"

    At the risk of being pedantic I'm going to quote (with added comentary) the nine main points I took away from reading "Creating a Category:"

    1. Simple names work best … marketing people are sometimes too literal. What matters most is not describing exactly what the benefits of a new category are, but expressing the essence of the new category in as simple a way as possible. My question (should you emphasise roots, function, or look in naming a category is irrelevant: you emphasise the essence.

    2. Marketing can be visualized as filling a hole in the mind.

    3. Every product needs two names, not just one. A brand name and a category name.

    4. People think generic first, brand second (remember Steve's question: how would I come across your works?).

    5. In the rush to build a new brand, the need to first build a new category often is overlooked (guilty as charged!).

    6. When your brand doesn't stand for anything, you have to compensate by increasing your marketing expenditures!

    7. Categories exist in the mind. You create categories in exactly the same way you create brands. By positioning the name of the category in the mind of prospects.

    8. People THINK categories, but they TALK brands.

    9. Categories are pigeonholes in the mind; brands are the names in those pigeon holes. The two names serve two different (and strategically important) purposes.

    Thank you Al and Laura!
  • Posted by steven.alker on Member

    Regarding your spell-check, I thought you were just an American who could actually spell in English! What fooled me is that you don’t make the habit of mangling nouns and adjectives into verbs or inventing words by copying the German idea of simply running a couple of words together to make something which look more impressive.

    To re-set your spell-check, in word select Tools / Language / Set Language / Check English (U.S.) / Default.

    If word reverts to UK English when you open a new document, then you will need to search for the template which Word uses to open a blank page. This is “” and you have to open that as a template, then do the above changes and save it again, overwriting the original.

    Pre-Word 2003, the warning “Changes to have been made, do you want to save them” or similar, but to the best of my knowledge this has been avoided in 2003. There’s a wealth of info about this fickle little sod on:

    I read the paper you referred to, the writing of which contributed to unintended Englishness. I found it fascinating – I’ve often banged on about the need to differentiate between markets and marketing and the relationship between the two, so I’ve spent some time patching your graphs and text onto a single document which I could read.

    Surprisingly (for me) you have confirmed that my kiddie instincts of valuing a “Good Company”. It is roughly 1.2 times the turnover and 11 times the profits – unless that is there is huge borrowing or some optimistic evaluation of future prospects. These caveats mean that in reality, and this includes $500,000 analysts who say otherwise, to an extent, we are all guessing.

    It didn’t stop me from being the company’s favourite competitor / acquisition analyst on top of my marketing duties, though!!

    Here is how it relates to your posting. The result was that I discovered from you, by chance, a paper in which I was interested from a financial, marketing and business point of view. But it is a paper which failed to materialise on any search which I conducted on Google. I wasn’t using the terms which define your paper.

    This is the same problem, in a direct dimensional comparison to your quest for the right nomenclature for a category and therefore to put some item for an unbranded goods or an un-publicised brand, into someone’s shopping basket.

    I was looking for information which would help me to design some value arguments for Sales Performance Management (SPM) yet I came up with 270,000 entries for the above. I get 255 if I combine it with Sales Forecasting and my site: (owned by SalesVision and Nomis Ltd)

    Ten comes up.

    Which just goes to show that people searching for a sales management and sales forecasting solution will have to be (despite our best endeavours), bloody lucky in their search terms to come across our site.

    Maybe I’m making a plea for those who would answer this question to come to my assistance, which is cheeky! I have to admit though, that I’ve been inspired by both your quest and your reasons for the quest. I am about to have the same problem!!!

    Best wishes, and I wish that I was more creative on the linguistic definition front, but I’m not.

    Position and perspective wise, I have strong feelings. I still think that you should select a temporary pigeonhole and see how it develops. And yes. I still feel that the eventual term for your category is in the hands of the market.

    In the meanwhile, you have a brand.

    Best wishes

    Steve Alker
    Unimax Solutions
  • Posted by steven.alker on Member
    Dear Victor

    Sorry, I Didn’t make this clear: I will post my pigeon-holing dilemma and other aspects of Sales Performance Management on a separate question, from me.

    I have no intention of hijacking your question, regardless of the similarities in the problem we share.

    Best wishes

    Steve Alker
    Unimax Solutions
  • Posted on Author
    Dear Steve,

    Actually, you were correct in your thinking. It turns out I am an American who actually can spell in English. This unexpected talent was nurtured over the years from 1982 through 1991 when I was involved in marketing training designed to turn around ICL. For those readers who don't know, International Computers Ltd. was the oldest computing company in the U.K. and a major force in Europe. Fujitsu bought an 80% interest in the company from STC in August, 1990 and has since retired the brand name.

    On average I spent ten weeks each year putting a total of 2K mid level and senior executives through a series of 2 ½ day events. During that time Peter Bonfield rose from Marketing Director to Managing Director of the Company. Most of the events were held in Hedsor House, Maidenhead. The remainder were held in ICL outposts round the world. As you can imagine, this near total immersion in British culture taught me to spell in English! But the habit was broken over the years since. Hence the need for spell checker. Thanks for the tips on how to revert to rebels English!

    The mission of our ten year engagement with ICL was to integrate the thinking and behaviour (oops, how easily old habits return!) of marketing and sales management. I see from my brief visit to that integrating marketing and sales management remains a mission critical goal twenty-five years later.

    As Al and Laura say (in chapter 14, page 227) "THE MOST DIFFICULT JOB IN MARKETING, and the most rewarding, is creating a new category." It seems also to be among the least understood. Over the past 40 years I taught marketing at Michigan, Wharton, Chicago, and Tulane. Yet, the idea that naming a new category was essential to the success of an innovation never entered by mind till I read "Zag" a couple of months ago. Even so, it wasn't really clear till I read "Origins" and participated in this discussion. Apparently I'm not alone!

    It seems that discovering SalesVisionOnline faces a pigeon-holing dilemma is something of a breakthrough for you too. Asking for help is neither cheeky nor hijacking. I believe its called learning! And that's what we're all here for. I look forward to helping … if I can.

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