Shifting Attitudes and Global Directions After Maison&Objet
In the first few months of 2020, the curators and organizers of Design Philippines’ annual participation at the Maison et Objet were preparing for a physical show in Paris. Then the pandemic happened, and eventually, M&O announced the shift to a digital show.
But the transition to digital gave all participating brands a chance to reach a wider, more varied audience. Last October 30, 2020, Manila FAME held the online talk “THE WAY FORWARD, Lessons Learned from Maison & Objet and More (MOM)” with CITEM’s Executive Director Pauline Juan, MOM’s Philippines exhibitors, and collaborators sharing their experiences in producing the show.
“The platform has requirements and an algorithm of its own, which are beyond our control,” Juan explained. “What’s within our control is how we respond and provide for these requirements and how we modify our behavior and see the platform as a live, dynamic tool that needs to be sustained and invested in with time, manpower, and resources—if we want it to produce lucrative results for our business.”
In the talk, everyone had an optimistic view of the digital show’s entire process and outcome. They shared each of their experiences here.
Instead of a physical fair, curators Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco created “Bubble Living” in an imagined environment that served as a backdrop for the MOM vignettes in Metro Manila with Co-Studio.
“Photography is important.”
Rita Nazareno and Gabriel Lichauco took the helm as curators of “Bubble Living” for the Maison et Objet digital show. They had curated Kindred show last year at the physical Maison et Objet, and worked through a pandemic this year to present 13 companies’ products in their best light—it was definitely a challenge for the two creatives, but a deeply satisfying one.
“It was an immensely collaborative process, and product development was done via Zoom…it was all a remote way of design,” Lichauco said. “In terms of curation, we chose what we wanted to show the audience, and chose the ones that would work well in the vignettes. We were also very careful about intellectual property.”
Instead of setting up in a fair hall in Europe, Nazareno and Lichauco collaborated with Vince Uy of Co-Studio to recreate an ideal “environment” that served as a backdrop for the product vignettes. They conducted a seven-day photoshoot during MECQ (Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine), and around 50 creatives were engaged in the content, with the curators directing it via Zoom.
“Photography was very important,” Nazareno said. “We made sure that it did not look ‘native’, and that it looked contemporary. The images were well-directed by Co-Studio.” She adds that good photography is essential to promoting a brand these days without physical fairs and exhibits, and that a manufacturer’s catalogue had to be impeccable, and well-designed. The MOM platform had over 50,000 images from international brands, so it was key to have clean, modern images that stood out.
“Local sales tripled after MOM.”
Instead of the initial trepidation of not being discovered, exhibitors who participated in the digital fair enjoyed almost immediate discovery from an international (and local) audience. “Our products and brands were displayed over 1.03 million times, our product sheets were visited 13,395 times, and buyers clicked on our pages 1,631 times,” Juan said, stating the business results.
The Executive Director added that there was an almost ten-percent increase in overall sales compared to 2019 sales (USD1.957 million in overall sales for 2020 vs, USD1.775 million sales in 2019), but with only half the production expenses for organizing and setting up the fair—Php3.48 million (approx. USD72,431) compared to expenses of Php6.242 million (almost USD130,000) in 2019.
Jim Torres, founder of Zarate Manila and a relatively new Manila FAME exhibitor, recalls his Maison et Objet digital experience. “My overall experience with MOM was excellent…Our local sales tripled after our MOM participation. Most of it was booked on Instagram,” Torres continued. “For export, we’ve received interest in exclusive distributorship from South America (Sau Paulo, Brazil) and Texas and Florida in the US, and other countries like Thailand, Portugal, and Australia. It’s surprising to know the countries that have generated the most inquiries—mostly from tropical-coastal places.”
Some of the most inquired products from the MOM digital show included (from top left), Candy Lamps by Zacarias, Brique Chair by Zarate Manila, Benjamin Lamps by Venzon, Marmorcast products by Nature’s Legacy, Stade Chair by Finali, and Don Papa Rum Bar by E. Murio (seen in the main photo collage above).
“Be in a customer service mindset.”
After the discoverability of these brands on the MOM platform, interested buyers and clients would naturally head over to each exhibitor’s social media accounts and websites. But it wasn’t enough to engage this new audience with the usual social media behavior.
Juan stressed that this old behavior of not getting back immediately to an inquiry or potential client could spell a loss of major business opportunities. “You have to be in a customer service mindset,” she stressed. “You need to respond quickly.”
“Social media is very important,” says E Murio’s creative director Tisha de Borja. “Instead of posting at the usual Philippine times of 9am, 12noon, and 6pm, you had to take into consideration the different time zones of all these countries with social media,” she said. “You needed to consistently and reliably answer questions. Moving forward, you need to know how to explain your craft, and to look for a new language.”
Venzon Lighting’s creative director Jackie Venzon shared the same attitude in addressing the needs of potential clients. “You have to respond immediately to the production, and to make yourself available on these platforms.” She also said that they took the opportunity of the lockdown “…to focus on revamping our social media and marketing efforts to stay top of mind as a premier Lighting and Objects designer and manufacturer.”
“It’s all about discoverability.”
Good visual representation and social media were also key in the discoverability of each brand on the MOM platform. Juan noted that “companies actively promoting on social media reported more local traction, and companies with the most uploaded products recorded the most inquiries.” Proper content planning and distribution were also mentioned as important to optimize your discoverability.
The MOM digital show was, as Juan noted, “…a total community platform,” and cited that the “entire community would benefit from social media,” including designers, buyers, consumers, and manufacturers. She could not stress more the role social media played in the success of the MOM digital show, and the discoverability of the brands and products, citing that the social promotions of the show garnered 223,000 in total reach on Instagram and 727,226 total reach on Facebook platforms alone.
Related to discoverability, Lichauco mentioned that the show was also an opportunity for each company to rethink their brand. “You have to constantly evolve to grow,” he said. “This is all a continuation of the brand’s development and growth. We have seen many companies in FAME grow into international brands.” Lolita Cabanlet’s CDO Handmade brand in particular, was cited, as it had in some aspect, been reintroduced at MOM as Indigenous with its minimalist-modern, sustainable paper pieces.
If a physical fair enabled buyers to have that tactile experience, MOM’s digital fair had given its audience a more democratic and accessible show. “Compared to having the usual trade fair, I would say digital is better in reaching a wider audience,” Torres admitted. “Hence, it is an advantage for companies focusing on targeting buyers that are searching for unique products for distribution in their own country.”
In the end, it was all about connections—Juan was ecstatic about the whole digital experience, as FAME’s familiar homegrown brands went global at the click of a hyperlink. “The extensive reach of MOM enabled our brands to reach buyers and territories we otherwise would not have had access to.”
Photo-illustration by JP Meneses