Etienne Debbane, CEO of Exotica, explains the company’s new brand identity.
“Everybody thought we were crazy”, said Debbane while referring to the launch of Exotica’s first store in 1978. “We had a difficult startup at first, for years” since the demand for flower shops wasn’t there and Lebanon was experiencing the darkest of days.
Fast forward 40 years and Exotica is a much-loved Lebanese brand that is ready for the next phase of its journey.
Below is a snapshot of our discussion with Etienne Debbane as he walks us down memory lane and then right back up to what the future looks like for Exotica.
THE BEGINNING. Despite a high-quality product sold by the best experts, Exotica struggled at the beginning to awaken people’s interest in plants and flowers, and attracting footfall into the store. That is until the brand realized they needed to show people that they weren’t just selling plants: Exotica was selling happiness and dreams – an idea it needed to communicate to its audience. “When people come together, we are there to celebrate, to introduce and to remember.”
Exotica partnered with H&C Leo Burnett and created its first ever TV commercial accompanied by their famous slogan “Planting Happiness”. The campaign consisted of one corporate commercial and four small ones, whereby Exotica’s philosophy and character were portrayed to the people, and soon enough, Exotica’s business began to – pun unintended – bloom.
“Even if the campaign was too big for Exotica at the time, with an ailing business, we had no choice but to take the risk,” reminisces Debbane. Since then, the brand has been delivering on its promise of planting happiness, adding joy to the mundane.
THE FUTURE. It was time for Exotica to step into the future and reconsider a few vital points. For a brand that has been around for 40 years and amassed a loyal customer base and fan following in that time, the decision to revamp its corporate image was natural and in-line with what Exotica has been doing. Why did Exotica choose to do so? “The idea of rebranding came from the need to rejuvenate the brand and embrace the new ways of doing business. We want to be the leaders in adopting consumer friendly tactics, not just by changing our logo but also through our new retail stores and e- commerce platforms.” Debbane admits that revamping a brand with such “high authority and brand equity is extremely dangerous, but this year we are celebrating our 40th anniversary and we believe it is the right time to move to the next level and define where we want to be in 20 years.” In a world where climate change threatens our environment and our lives, Exotica’s main goal is to continue “moving towards everything that brings us to nature and brings nature to our customers”.
Yet, one would say that the logo’s color has changed from green to black – a topic that has received backlash from certain social media activists. “Green is part of our nature, it is in everything that we do! Black is glamorous and timeless which represents Exotica as a brand. We kept the leaf as a continuity of the old logo and are now proud of our creation. It is minimalistic and contemporary as it can be synchronized with other brand elements, such as the new design of our stores and the recently developed packaging”. We encourage everyone to come live the full experience in stores, as we are certain that they will understand the change better.
THE CHANGING EXPERIENCE. The new identity aims to project the brand into the future. Deb- bane states, “We had a glorious past, setting the bar very high in evolving into the future. Life is about evolution! We witness it when we accompany our customers through their life’s journey: they fall in love, get married and have children… and Exotica is by their side to create happy moments and great memories”. And to ensure a glorious future, the brand is now focused on two key factors: a customer-oriented experience and a more evolved communications model that encompasses social media. As part of its “customer-oriented” approach, Exotica’s stores will have an “environment [that] is timeless and belongs to a future direction,” says Debbane. “Our florists are not just salesmen who sell our products; they are proud experts and artisans,” he adds, which is why, for in- stance, the whole flower arrangement process is now visible to the customers. They come in and can watch the bouquet coming to life just in front of them. There are also more point of sales to outwit competitors – something Debbane considers “a challenge and not a liability.” He also says “we opened stands at the malls to meet our customers where they are. Our aim is to go towards them, offer them the right product and make them happy.” Exotica has a reputation of being a person- able brand due to its communication strategy and exemplar customer experience. Despite Exotica’s growing success Debbane concludes “We brought the experience back to its roots because at the end, we are florists and craftsmen.”