Tim Kobe: Building irrational loyalty through design

By Lim Hui Jie / EdgeProp Singapore | April 1, 2022 9:00 AM SGT
Kobe: Corporate values are becoming more important to the younger generation of consumers. They will support a company they believe is contributing positively to society (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of design agency Eight Inc, is famous for his designs of the Apple retail stores with late Apple founder Steve Jobs. Kobe believes that Jobs was one of the few people who understood that “design is a strategic tool for business success”.
Jobs felt that Apple was different from other companies and wanted customers to experience that difference when they walked into an Apple store. “Apple’s objective is to build relationships,” says Kobe. “And these relationships last a long time, and in turn, generate transactions.”
Based on Apple’s success, it’s clear that transactions are generated when people “connect with a brand, and believe that the brand matters to them and shares their values”, says Kobe. That, in his view, leads to “irrational loyalty”.
The Apple store known as "the cube" at Fifth Avenue, New York (Credit: Eight Inc)
While most companies look at psychographics and demographics in market surveys, Eight Inc tries to identify what drives human behaviour. “We buy things emotionally and justify them irrationally,” he says, explaining the retail process.
Kobe recalls that when the Apple store first opened, the most-talked-about feature was the Genius Bar. The tech staff at Genius Bar explained Apple’s technology to prospective customers, for instance, showing mothers how to put together photos and videos to make slideshows. Such interactions develop positive relationships, he points out.
While Apple is undoubtedly the marquee client for Eight Inc, the latter’s portfolio also extends to other companies that are in Singapore, such as Singtel, the Singapore Repertory Theatre and Japanese bicycle manufacturer Shimano.
Apple store Orchard Singapore - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The flagship Apple store on Orchard Road in Singapore (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

More than selling bicycle parts

Eight Inc designed the Shimano Cycling World showroom at the Singapore Sports Hub. The showroom has an exhibition area showcasing the firm’s technology, books about cycling, and spaces to learn all about the different forms of cycling. What is notably absent at the showroom is a point of sale, which means visitors cannot make any purchases.
This is because Shimano, which has a significant share of the bicycle components market, usually sells its products through neighbourhood shops. By not selling via its own showroom, Shimano is protecting its distributors, the neighbourhood shops. Therefore, anyone who wishes to purchase a bicycle or bike part after visiting the showroom will have to purchase it from the neighbourhood bicycle shops that carry Shimano products. Hence, Shimano is helping these shops generate more business.
The Shimano showroom at Singapore Sports Hub designed by Eight Inc (Credit: Eight Inc)
For Singtel, the goal is to showcase its technology to large corporate customers at its innovation centre. Within the centre, Eight Inc showcases the different technological offerings by Singtel and how they have evolved. “The intention is to let people experience each of them, and find the outcome that resonates most with them,” says Kobe.
Kobe cites the late Wally Olins, a British designer known as the “father of branding”, who had worked with brands like Renault, Volkswagen and Tata. According to Olins, brand identity is of paramount importance. “If you stand for something, you will stand out from your peers, even in a competitive business — whether it’s retail, insurance or banking,” says Kobe. “If your company looks like your peers in the industry, to your customer, your product becomes a commodity, and the only differentiating factor is price,” he adds.
Singtel Innovation Centre - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The Singtel Innovation Centre targeted at large corporate customers (Credit: Eight Inc)

Beyond concept cars

In Japan, Eight Inc designed an experience centre for an event held by Nissan Motor Co. Nissan wanted to showcase the cars that it was selling then, with a focus on mobility. The company wanted to increase visitorship to its experience centre from 30,000 to 40,000 a month.
However, Kobe proposed showcasing Nissan’s concept cars instead — the vehicles that were still in the design stage, and not yet available for sale. The idea was to spark conversations around the future of mobility, rather than simply selling a car, he explains. Nissan adopted the idea. The result was 250,000 visitors a month, with a “high level of conversion to sales”, he adds.
Even though the concept vehicles were not available for sale then, they communicated the values that Nissan stood for, explains Kobe. For instance, Nissan’s electric vehicle, the Nissan Leaf, showed that Nissan was doing its part to reduce carbon footprint and save the planet. Anecdotally, those who had visited the Nissan experience centre to view the new concept cars, went on to visit their neighbourhood Nissan dealership to purchase a vehicle.
Corporate values are becoming more important to the younger generation of consumers, observes Kobe. “They will support a company they believe is contributing positively to society,” he says. “And if these corporate values resonate with them, it is more likely to translate to sales.”
At the end of the day, what matters to Kobe is that Eight Inc’s designs effectively communicate his clients’ corporate objectives and values to their customers, making them stand out among their peers.
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