Zippo discovers a new spark
Updated: 2011-09-02 11:25
By Lu Chang (China Daily)
With smoking bans spreading in China, company is changing direction
David Bruce Warfel, global marketing director for Zippo, says the company is focusing on China but with new products. [Provided to China Daily]
It seems to be one of the most challenging jobs in the world: Selling top-of-the-line lighters in a country where you can easily find cheaper ones for 2 yuan (0.2 euro) each. But for David Bruce Warfel, global marketing director for Zippo Manufacturing Co, the part of the romance and luster of its windproof lighter is where it is made.
"If a lighter was made in China, it will lose part of its charm," Warfel says. "It wouldn't be as interesting to Chinese consumers as it is today."
Warfel, who has more than 30 years of international marketing experience with global brands including Eastman Kodak, Ray-Ban, Xerox and PepsiCo, adds that Zippo is "an American icon recognized around the world. If you take it out of that environment and put it into a manufacturing site in China, it's no longer the product."
The 56-year-old is a bit like George Clooney's character Ryan Bingham in the Hollywood comedy Up in the Air - a corporate downsizer who can pack his entire life into a backpack. Warfel himself flies over 200,000 miles (360,000 km) to visit 20 different countries, all key overseas markets for Zippo, at least twice a year.
Warfel's around-the-clock globetrotting represents a relatively new shift for Zippo, which he says hadn't previously focused on the Chinese market. But he says 10 years ago, when he realized that the center of the world's economy was shifting East, he knew he had to go to Zippo.
Since Warfel joined Zippo three years ago, the marketing veteran has become more familiar with the big booming market of China, where young people are looking to own status symbols. He says the right marketing strategy will determine how successful a company is going to be.
"Having the right product, the right position and the right brand gets you onto the dance floor, but how a product is displayed can have a great impact on its success," Warfel says. "The biggest opportunity market for us are 18- to 30-year-old males. We are using music as a way of speaking to our audience and to be where they are. The major strategy for us is to involve our products with pop music-related celebrities, events and phenomena."
An earlier survey conducted by Zippo said that the company had gained more than 50 percent brand awareness in China and had the highest product attribute scores for quality, durability and aesthetics.
"It's a testimony to the business strategies that we have employed. China is a very important market for Zippo and it is the largest international market in terms of sales," Warfel says. "We have kept an annual growth rate from 10 percent to 15 percent in the last 10 years, primarily (because of) the pocket lighters."
But Zippo's success has been bittersweet. With more and more cities in China beginning to ban smoking in public establishments, Zippo is hoping to capitalize on its brand name with a wider range of products, from men's fragrances, apparel, watches, to outdoor camping supplies.
That's where Warfel comes in. He is being tasked with selling Zippo as a brand name that has more than one signature product.
"The real strength of Zippo not only lies in making the windproof lighters, it is also a lifestyle brand," he says, adding that the company will initially push its expanded product line overseas and gradually release the new products in the United States.
He says they've taken this strategy because markets such as the US or Europe, where there is a close association with the Zippo brand and consumers are "so tied to Zippo lighters that it's tough for the customer to make the jump to these other products" in the emerging markets such as China, consumers are more familiar with the brand as something more than just cigarette lighters.
The new campaign is to sell the new products through Zippo boutique stores and retail travel stores or duty-free shops in airports.
Warfel says that Zippo is exploring the opportunity to open its first flagship store in China.
"There are few products that become icons," says Warfel. "The market determines if something becomes a classic or not. When you look at a Zippo lighter, it has personality, it has a history, it has romance attached to it."
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