I managed to catch up with the Design Indaba this week. This is an annual event which claims to believe “that creativity will fuel an economic revolution in South Africa” and as such brings together inspiration from the full spectrum of creative sectors to share their knowledge and insight.

Whilst there are many very interesting speakers to watch, I particularly enjoyed hearing from Brad Armitage and Rui Esteves about their various enterprises and what they have learnt. Brad & Rui epitomise how I see South Africans. They are young, dynamic guys who just get on and do stuff that they are passionate about. They say you have to love what you do and I think it is this emotional connection that ensures they deliver a great connection with their brand.

Their first big success was launching Vida e Caffe, the coffee brand. It is easy to look at these outlets today and forget just how innovative it was for South Africa when they launched it in 2001. They have since sold the business and are now venturing into the craft beer market. And whilst both initiatives are really well done, it is two of the principles they talked about that rung true with me.

Focus. That is one key driver to their success. Doing one things that you believe in really really well. I have said before that it is the specialists in the food arena who are most impressing me. I was extolling the virtues of The Doughnut Plant, Popbar and Sprinkles only last week but this focus is not just a sweet domaine.

I have bored most of my friends rotten about The Meatball Shop in New York. This is the epitome of focus. A very simple menu of meatballs done in a choice of flavours with different sauces that you can mix and match yourself. Plus the shop itself is simply decorated with nods to the process from old mincer parts on the wall.

The wipeable tick list menu that allows the ultimate in personalisation

Cute sliders, hearty bowls of tasty meatballs, fresh salad and a carafe of red - what more could you want?

Mincer parts make ideal wall decs

Another great example of focus is Chin Chin Laboratorists here in Camden, London. This husband and wife team make wonderful ice cream using the liquid nitrogen method. And their shop, or lab, is an innovative design too which underpins the brand.

Scientific cues for the most modern science way of making ice cream

The mad professor making ice cream

It’s not only the shop and the product that gives focus, but the menu itself. There are only ever three flavours on offer: vanilla, chocolate and a special of the week which is always seasonal and creative. And then they do the most wonderful array of toppings and sauces for you to choose. Superb.

A focused menu indeed

Unconventional display tools underpin the experimental feel

It all adds up to a scrummy dessert

The second Brad and Rui principle that struck a cord with me was the need to build a community around their product. In fact, when Rui presented this part of their chat, he talked about building a shrine where their consumers could come. For their Brewers & Union beer, this was under an old church in Bree Street, Cape Town. There they serve an array of beers and matching food platters. It is relaxed, casual and quite the centre of the fashionable Capetonian crowd.

Bold graphics bolted straight onto the wall. It's simple

Each bottle is individually designed with unique glasses to match

Clearly, the Chin Chin team have done a great job of that shrine and if you think about it, all the best places have an equally impressive home too. I strongly believe that customers need to interact with the brand physically, so a place to find it really is important. I think the salvation of our high streets will be driven by the fact that a web based community is just not going to tick the shrine box. It is too disconnected.

The best brands will be able to combine a real and virtual world in fine harmony. Both elements have a place in building that community for their target market. They should embrace their customers with a huge hug and never let them go.

See the full & union presentation at this address

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