How to Reach the Pinnacle in Branding


On the surface, it may have appeared to be an unusual collaboration – a stationery shop manager, a banker and an engineer. Seemingly the only common bond was that they were all German – however, they shared a vision for a business opportunity. For centuries, man wrote by dipping a feather or a shaved reed into some form of ink. It was tedious, messy and quite inefficient until 1884, when an American insurance agent by the name of Lewis Edson Waterman had invented the first ink feeding system for pens.

Suddenly the combination of a seller of stationery, a banker who signed documents and an engineer made sense – together they would design and sell self-filling pens. It was 1906 when the three businessmen – Voss, Nehemias and Eberstein – started the Simplo Filler Company in Hamburg Germany.Their brand became “Rouge et Noir” – Red and Black – which were black pens featuring a six-pointed red star on the crown of the pen. By 1910 their success was driven heavily by export – they had offices in Barcelona, Paris, London and of course, Hamburg.

Producing and selling top quality pens was at the core of their business philosophy. This belief was so ingrained that they changed the familiar star atop their pens from red to white – depicting the snow caps which existed at the pinnacle of the tall mountains of Europe. They opened their first boutique in Hamburg in 1919 which featured a wide array of pens – ranging from some high-end items to more affordable versions.

The company never lost its drive to deliver the pinnacle of quality and in 1924, they introduced their “Meisterstück” which translates to Masterpiece – and a masterpiece it was. Every aspect featured fine detail – especially the large engraved nib – all of which combined to make it a truly top-of-the-line pen. This was an item which would come to define the company.

World War II had a significant impact on the company and the path to recovery was long and arduous – but recover they did. A new production facility was opened in Denmark to complement the factory in Germany. For the next thirty years, the company sold a wide range of pens in order to survive – but they never stopped improving, producing and selling the Meisterstück. They were eventually purchased by Dunhill Ltd. – a British company which had long been a minority owner.

The company’s commitment to the luxury market paid off – as many of their competitors succumbed to market pressures which included the onset of mass produced pens as well as the computer explosion. The company had found its true niche – the high-end luxury pen market. The consistent pursuit of excellence had established their pens as more than a writing instrument – they had become a status symbol. Not only did their pens  signify quality and success in business – they were chosen by dignitaries around the world for use at historic signings.

By the 1990’s they opened a second boutique -their first since Hamburg – this one in Hong Kong. They also began expanding into other luxury markets – beginning with leather goods and then its own brand of luggage. Next came an expansion into jewelry and very soon thereafter luxury watches – both lines aimed at the male market.

Today, the company plays a very significant role within the Compagnie Financière Richemont – a holding company which is comprised of nearly twenty luxury product companies. The company has leveraged their position as the most prestigious pen company in the world to become a top name in luxury categories including jewelry, watches, scent, leather goods and more. Selling in over 70 countries, they have over 360 boutique stores along with a very select group of authorized retailers they are looking at yet another year of significant growth.

Their success in various luxury segments is not what defines the company as a fearless brand. The white cap on their pens represents the snow-capped peak of the tallest mountain in Europe – Montblanc – and their success is because the Montblanc company was built to be a fearless brand.

Fearless Brands sell on a basis of value.

The name  Montblanc evokes thoughts of status, quality and luxury worldwide. Montblanc began by knowing their why – creating and selling the highest quality self-contained pen. Their expansion into such a wide variety of luxury products is the result of being able to successfully extend their core values into those segments. 

Montblanc’s commitment to quality is unrelenting. They craft their watches in Le Locle, 1,000 meters above sea level in the mountains of Jura, Switzerland. Why? Because that is considered the birthplace of fine Swiss watchmaking. Their Leather Competence Center is located in Florence, Italy. Why? Because that is the heart of the Italian leather trade.

Montblanc’s white star – or pinnacle – is not the only brand icon which ties the company to the mountain. The number 4810 can be seen across a variety of Montblanc products including both pen and watch collections. While arguably a bit obscure – people ‘in the know’ realize that the peaks of Montblanc are 4810 meters in elevation – which further reinforces the height of quality.

As a fearless brand, Montblanc understands the need for constant improvement, recognition of changes in category trends and a willingness to embrace new and evolving technology. Their Meisterstück pen has recently celebrated its 90th anniversary by issuing a commemorative collection – this time across all categories – the Montblanc Heritage Collection. 

Montblanc’s heritage is unquestioned – their products highly sought by collectors of fine craftsmanship – but often being handed down from one generation to the next.  is determined to be relevant to today’s lifestyle. 

At the the beginning of this year Montblanc launched the Timewalker Urban Speed timepiece which has an e-strap – marrying fine watchmaking with wearable tech.  Montblanc has also partnered with Samsung, the global leader in mobile technology. The result is the introduction of a line of accessories which complement the technological capabilities of products like the Galaxy Note 4 – combining tech with the craftsmenship and prestige of Montblanc.

As with all fearless brands – there is much to learn from Montblanc -these branding principles are also applicable to your personal and business brand.

Discover your  niche – and get damn good at it – Montblanc began with a mission to create a high quality self-filling pen. The company morphed into a producer and seller of high-end luxury items because they stayed true to their core values – their why. When it comes to your brand, make certain that your messaging and products remain true to your vision.

Build your brand on a platform of value – not price – There is a truism in business – if you acquire a customer based on price – you’ll lose that same customer because of price. Montblanc provides proof that delivering tremendous value will yield tremendous returns. For long-term success, your brand should attractive due to its value – not due to low price.

Adapt, adjust, revise. While Fearless brands realize that they must remain true to their why – they also realize that trends, needs and technology change. As with Montblanc, you must be ever vigilant with your brand, being aware of those changes and adapt, adjust and revise as needed – increasing the relevance and value of your brand.

You need not climb to the pinnacle of Montblanc to deliver high quality – but as the company discovered, it’s a great way to keep the commitment top of mind. Learn from Montblanc. Be true to your core values – your why and you too will build a fearless brand.

Friday's Fearless Brand

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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