The Brand Wizard: Yves Behar

fuseproject, San Francisco

Yves Behar is the Brand Man. In a world where consumers are choking on choice, technology is pervasive and at times overwhelming, and 24/7 advertising turns people off, Behar's business is creating what he calls "powerful, emotional brand stories that connect to 21st century consumers." A well-designed product and the story it tells "create better connections to consumers than 30-second TV spots," he argues.

So companies often call on him when their brands need a major boost. One of his best-known interventions of late has been for Birkenstock, the '60s icon of granola-ness that was slipping among Behar's own thirty-something generation. He kept the sandals' signature features -- the comfortable, posture-enhancing footbed and natural cork-and-latex sole -- which exemplified the ergonomic and ecological values that have kept Birkenstock customers loyal over decades. But he also added running-shoe-type technology and designed a new line of 21st century leather and suede shoes and boots. Then he came up with a name for the new brand line: The Architect Collection. He designed the logo, picked the ad agency for the line, and even designed another brand extension -- colorful "Birkies" for the beach. In story terms, Behar reinterpreted Birkenstock's original message of reliability and "greenness" to a new generation of ecology-minded people.

BMW turned to Behar when it wanted to create a series of auto-related products to go with its retooled classic, the Mini Cooper. Behar told his clients that the real mini story was not about the car, it was about the driver's lifestyle. The MINI brand, he says, is about mobility, maneuverability, speed, and fun. So Behar designed a line of lifestyle gear -- a watch, shoes, a jacket -- and named it MINI_motion. "Consumers want products that tell stories, have magic, and inspire," he says.

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