Q&A: Marco Beghin, president, Moleskine America

In the era of tablet computers, you'd think the paper notebook would be extinct. Not so with Moleskine. A top executive shares the company's creative strategies for evolving the brand.

One would think that in the age of tablet computers, smart phones, and e-readers that the paper notebook would die. But, curiously, Moleskine--the maker of those ubiquitous black, hardcover notebooks that come with a flap built in to organize small items, a bookmark, and an elastic band that keeps the entire thing shut--seems to be thriving. Not only as a paper-goods maker, but also as a manufacturer of bags, pens, and USB-chargeable reading lights. It's also gaining attention as a creative company that partners with brands such as Lego and creates limited-edition goods for the likes of Apple.

On January 30 in New York, Moleskine will host a portrait-making event at the gallery Exit Art, and the guest list is perhaps surprisingly business oriented, suggesting that Moleskine is succeeding in terms of building creative cachet with corporations. Attendees who have RSVP’d on the  public, online list include those from innovation consultancies Doblin and Jump Associates, as well as a vice president from Credit Suisse.

So I asked Marco Beghin, president of Moleskine America, to discuss how the firm is re-making its brand and strategy--and how other companies in "dying" fields might be able to evolve with a bit of imagination. Here's our exchange:

SmartPlanet: Moleskine has done a lot to push beyond paper in a post-paper world. Can you sum up Moleskine's innovation and design philosophies, which have led to an imaginative set of brand extensions?

Marco Beghin: The Moleskine brand is an open platform for self-expression, memory, and sharing. We are known for our legendary notebook, but from the beginning Moleskine has been a cultural project that is bigger than any one product.

We make nomadic objects dedicated to our mobile identity, whether they are notebooks, diaries, journals, bags, writing instruments and reading accessories. We believe that we move gracefully back-and-forth along an analog-digital spectrum every day. Our fans tend to be very digitally savvy people and we know they likely carry both a notebook and smart phone with them. Living in an era of high connectivity and ability to live and work on-the-move changes the way people express themselves, they are less defined by where they are than by the collection of objects they choose to carry.

SP: Would you say that in a way, the current world of social media, online collaboration, e-readers, and tablet computing have actually helped Moleskine grow, rather than threaten a company based on manufacturing paper notebooks?

MB: Certainly we have benefited. Groups of people from all over the globe organically share images, videos and “hacks” of their notebooks on blogs, social networks and other online platforms. We are a part of a large, living, creative conversation online at all times. This community is very inspiring and the digital tools that enable this sharing allows us to communicate with our fans very directly for feedback or to share new ideas.

We also find that even in the digital age, there is something enduring and powerful about the physical act of writing on paper or choosing the right pen or pencil to channel your imagination. The growing use of digital interfaces makes analog tools more meaningful and special.

SP: So, would you say that Moleskine is a design and creativity company, rather than a maker of paper products?

MB: We are a company that makes open platforms for self-expression, memory, and sharing, and we do that by designing blank space.

On one hand we are certainly the maker of notebooks and proud of our success creating paper objects that are integral to people's lives…for instance, even though we now make objects like bags and glasses, objects that might be seen as fashion accessories, we understand we are still a notebook maker and do not see ourselves as a fashion brand or company. We want to create something quieter that is integral to our fan's entire life. At the same time, creativity is fundamental to our company culture and we see Moleskine as a cultural project rooted in a set of values - culture, imagination, memory, travel and personal identity.

The Moleskine messenger bag: notice the signature elastic closure

SP: Can you share any tips for how companies can create a context of creativity for its products?

Valuing creativity and having creative people around you (in both your company and community of fans) is very important. We enjoy taking on creative projects, things like collaborating on limited editions, and producing things like our online videos, but we also know that it is our fan's creativity that we want to support. Creativity is inclusive and open…so we create open platforms for our fan self-expression.

SP: Can you discuss how sales have been of Moleskine's various non-notebook products?

MB: They have been very successful. We are seeing the opportunity to broaden our distribution into new channels like department stores and specialty stores that specialize in things like tech supplies, luggage, apparel, gardening, and food now that our collection has grown. Also, because of the range of our offering, we are now able to bring notebooks to places that don't normally offer notebooks and bring things like our travelling collection to stores that might now normally carry bags.

SP: Are there any new products or collaborations that we can look forward to in 2012 that you can discuss now?

MB: We will be continue to “hack” the Moleskine brand via projects like new limited edition collaborations and to emphasize the growing interest in interactive, hands-on creative experiences in events and workshops.

Events like Moleskine Portraits [the event in New York on January 30] are a good example of the kind of engagement we enjoy with our fans and professional creatives. Moleskine Portraits explores the themes of imagination and identity that inform the design of the every Moleskine collection, while bringing together our community of creative fans who use Moleskine objects as open platforms for expression, memory, and sharing.

Artists and designers working in sound, text, visual art, photography, food events, and technology are creating new projects just for this one-night-only event. Fans who come out to Moleskine Portraits get to make things, meet other creatives, and experience the kinds of event concepts that we share around the world in schools, stores, festivals, and conferences.

Images: Moleskine

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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