What’s in a brand? Parker vs. Mont Blanc

June 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

We regularly get prospective customers in the shop with little idea of what to buy but the words Mont Blanc trip off the tongue without any idea of price or rationale.  We suggest pens across the price range with a response ‘What! For a pen?’ ‘But, sir, this is half the price of an entry-level Mont Blanc.’

Love them or loath them, Mont Blanc is a master class in brand management.  In marketing classes, the first thing taught is the ‘4 P’s’ – Product, Price, Place and Promotion.  A basic mnemonic which serves well even at a sophisticated level as a ‘back-to-basics’ check.  Mont Blanc pens are fine.  They are good quality, reliable, pens.  The Mont Blanc range is beautifully presented, as would be expected for the price.  One criticism may be that their refills are not as widely available as would be helpful for their owners.  But until you have purchased, you don’t find that out.  Realistically, in terms of quality they compete with Pelikan, high-end Parkers and Watermans, and personally, I would rate Caran d’Ache marginally superior.

However, where Mont Blanc leaves all the other brands in the shade is in terms of desirability.  In pricing terms, they have created a good product but have managed the market in such a way as to sustain a premium price point.  The company has reduced the number of retail outlets, focussing instead, on the high-end and jewellery retailers where they can ensure that the brand is represented across its range including jewellery and leather goods.  Uniquely, Mont Blanc seems to manage retail pricing to avoid the usual scrum of internet site under-cutting each to generate sales. Combine this with the rolling-out of dedicated Mont Blanc boutiques, the creation of ‘want’ in your target market is complete.

A few limited edition products offers a ‘collector’ component and a focus for highly targeted advertising, naturally of a similarly high quality, and brand development is that simple!

Parker Duofold Black Centennial - on par with Mont Blanc

Parker Duofold Black Centennial - on par with Mont Blanc

Parker pens are almost the antithesis of Mont Blanc.  Especially at the high-end, the Parker Duofolds and Premiers are of a comparable quality with attractive packaging and even a similar price point.  Those in the know can see through the puffery of branding and will take an objective view of the pen and its performance. Parker pens work.  They do exactly what they say on the label.  Unfortunately, they do it for insurance company response incentives for nothing, as well.  Therefore, the brand is worth what people are prepared to pay for it.  With considerable regularity therefore, we offer the Parker Duofold or Premier in response to a request for a high quality pen and the customer declines, not on the basis of the pen or its superb writing experience, but because the Parker brand has been devalued.  Parker is aware of its brand’s erosion and are working to improve its perception.  Last year as part of this recovery process at PenFountain.com, we took delivery of some of the best display furniture we have seen for pens but this is only a starting point.

When choosing your next high-end pen, our recommendation would be to try the pen in a blind testing (difficult to write blindfolded but you get the idea!) and find the pen which gives the best experience.  There is a strong probability that it will be one of the non-Mont Blanc products.

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