Tong Ming Xi

Rebranding Ambercraft Violins to Tong Ming Xi helped the brand move up the value chain while competing in a niche industry with established competitors

Using the PurposeCORE™ Model, Consulus rebranded Ambercraft Violins as Tong Ming Xi, with a strategic move towards specialising in the sale of antique, quality European violins, violas and cellos, catering to the high-end segment of the string instrument industry.

Post-rebranding, Consulus used the EngagementCORE™ model to maximise customer engagement and implement Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for their staff.

The Tong Ming Xi branding project has won accolades in the Singapore Design Awards 2012 and has been featured in the 7th issue of the Asia Pacific Design compendium.

When Tong Ming Xi founded Ambercraft Violins, he built a name for himself based on his strengths in repair and restoration and the trading of string instruments. However, Ambercraft Violins needed to raise its perceived value in the eyes of its customers to compete more effectively against established players in a niche industry.

The beauty and art of a violin is often talked about, but the science and precision behind creating and restoring of one is frequently overlooked. We needed to showcase the process of restoration for a brand seeking to move up the value chain.

Little steps, like educating the music community to appreciate a well set-up instrument, enable us to contribute to a more vibrant music scene.

Tong Ming Xi

Founder and Master Luthier

Business Design

Consumer Research

To understand Ambercraft’s clientele and how the brand was perceived, Consulus conducted a survey with more than a hundred individuals. Some valuable findings surfaced.

The research indicated only a small percentage of customers were aware that the company provided after-sales services for string instruments and bows. Amongst its clientele, the brand was known to possess a good range of violins and Ming Xi was trusted as a knowledgeable dealer.

In sum, there was a high potential for Ambercraft Violins to perform better and there was room to grow as a brand. While its foundations of good service and quality products had been established, there was a need to align their unique strengths with a more polished brand experience and business strategy.

Identifying a Sustainable Brand Purpose

The research highlighted the need to focus on Ming Xi’s strengths in order to differentiate the company from its competitors. The journey undertaken by musicians is an experience filled with emotions and aspirations. We wanted to ensure the brand was not merely seen as selling products and services, but to be seen as helping musicians find their ideal sound through quality products and excellent luthiering and craftsmanship.

After harnessing the insights from the founder and the research, Consulus proposed the following 3-State Brand Model:

Brand Purpose Discovering the balance of art and precision
Ability Acquiring knowledge in string instrument
Influence Being an oasis for instrument lovers
Differentiation Curating string instruments

This had a significant impact on the way the brand’s products and services were packaged. Two distinct categories were then developed in line with the model:

  • Quality string instruments and bows: As the company specialises in selling antique and contemporary premium string instruments from Europe and around the world, there was a need to present his string instruments and bows in a manner befitting of their high value. This strategic intent was implemented in the retail space and website.
  • Repair and restoration: This implied that the brand needed to offer a comprehensive range of services such as maintenance, repair, restoration, appraisal and certification to support professional and amateur musicians both locally and abroad.

Naming

‘Ambercraft Violins’ was renamed as ‘Tong Ming Xi’, as the research showed that customers recalled and related more to the company’s founder, Ming Xi. The tagline ‘Hear it’ describes Tong Ming Xi’s commitment to a personalised experience for its customers. It invites people to discern the quality of Tong Ming Xi’s instruments and services themselves.

Every Instrument is an Art Piece

The Tong Ming Xi retail space is designed to convey its brand purpose. The space is separated into three areas – Gallery, Stage and Workshop.

In its old premises, string instruments were closely packed together against wood fittings. This made the space look cluttered and undermined the true value of the string instruments.

For the new retail space, the overarching principle was to treat every instrument as an art piece. This led to the decision to name the string instrument and bow display section as the ‘Gallery’. Similar to how art pieces are hung in a museum, violins and violas are hung on an entirely white display against the wall, with ample space in between to allow each piece to stand out on its own.

The workshop at the old premises was cramped and not prominent. Taking reference from the purpose model, we took care to elevate the presence of the workshop in the new retail shop, so as to highlight the repair and restoration capabilities of the company.

To make the luthiers feel at home, we chose to furnish the workshop in wood. String instrument repair and restoration sketches were installed on the window to convey the level of precision the luthiers required. The open-concept workshop allows customers to catch a glimpse of the luthiers at work through a glass window. Customers have the opportunity to learn repair and restoration techniques via educational workshops conducted by Tong Ming Xi, usually held in this room.

The old premises lacked a private space for customers to try out instruments. To encourage musicians to try the instruments and find their ideal sound, we provided the right setting for them. The ‘Stage’ was designed to allow customers to try out the instruments in comfort and privcay. To simulate a performance stage, red theatre styled curtains were used to line the walls and to act as a layer of soundproofing.
In a nutshell, the Gallery presents instruments similar to delicate art pieces in a gallery. The Stage is built for musical performance, where artistic expression takes place. The workshop communicates precision, showcasing the craftsmanship and skill of the luthiers.

Design for Business

An Identity that Reflects its Brand Purpose

According to the research, Ming Xi was considered the brand’s icon in the minds of his customers. To give greater focus on the brand name “Tong Ming Xi”, we decided to go for a type treatment for the logo. Three key attributes – elegance, delicateness and expressiveness – were taken into consideration in order to communicate the brand’s purpose.

Logo
The logo was designed to suggest the classical nature and melodious flow of music. The wavy alignment was inspired by musical notes on scoresheets, and represents the freedom of music expression. The text resembled parts of a violin which requires precise craftsmanship such as the scroll. The primary corporate colours were kept to black and white, to resemble musical notes on scoresheets.

Cohesive Brand Identity Application

The brand visual language was designed to resemble dancing musical notes. Used across all collaterals, the visual language was applied in a random manner to invoke a sense of freedom, experienced in musical expression.

Evocative Photography

We wanted the photography to evoke the subtle romance of music performance. Thus, we chose to shoot the photographs using warm lighting to mirror the same conditions as that of a concert hall. As the primary brand colours are black and white, majority of the photographs were portrayed in a black-and-white format.

Subjects were chosen to reflect the elements of either art or precision. For example, close-ups of a luthier working on an instrument portrayed precision, while shots of a musician playing the violin and close-ups of the intricate details of the instrument portrayed the artistic nature of music.

Online Engagement

The old website was not well organised and little information on the brand was provided. As the new retail space was not situated in a high traffic area, the website became a critical consumer touchpoint.

Thus, the website was redesigned to reflect the brand purpose of discovering the balance of art and precision. Specific pages on the workshop, repair and restoration capabilities and certification services were created to highlight the brand’s key strengths. This helped to elevate the brand’s status to that of a high-end, professional strings company.

To strengthen Ming Xi’s credibility as the iconic luthier of the brand, an interview and background information on Ming Xi was also created. The page known as ‘Luthier’s Notes’ regularly featured articles written by Ming Xi and his team to tie in with the educational aspect of the brand.

Engaging with Customers Online and Offline

As part of a wider strategy to engage with its customers and grow an additional revenue stream, Tong Ming Xi held events on a regular basis. Events centred around an educational theme, helping to reinforce Tong Ming Xi’s position as a rising authority in their industry.

Educational workshops are held to allow customers to obtain first hand experience in string instrument repair and restoration. The brand conducts school tours to let children have a behind the scenes look at how a string instrument is made by touring the Tong Ming Xi workshop. In addition, Ming Xi gives school talks to educate on string instruments.

Consulus also conceptualised and executed the idea of launching collections on a quarterly basis. The idea came about because to a musician or a collector, an instrument is not just a product. Every piece has its own story and history. Having a collection cuts through the clutter, bringing featured violins to customers’ attention, and brings out their unique backstory. With the launch of each collection, customers are notified through integrated channels, including direct mailers, emailers, web, and social media. There is thus something new to look forward to every quarter.

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