What we can learn from “The Ice King”

You’ve probably heard the expression “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Now, trash might not be the best analogy for ice but the expression holds true when we think about the ice trade of the 19th century.

Frederic TudorThis is Frederic Tudor. If you’ve never heard of him before, it’s okay. Neither had I until I recently read Steven Johnson’s brilliant book “How We Got To Now” where he presents 6 discoveries humans made that propelled our species forward to where we are today. And believe it or not, ice was one of them. I am not going to talk about why ice was a game-changing discovery and how it affected human civilization in this article but instead I want to share some interesting facts from Tudor’s venture as the largest ice trader of his time.

What is the big deal with ice?

In the 19th century, ice was a luxury good that was mainly consumed by the rich. Unless you were living in a cold climate where water froze in winter to create natural ice, it was not attainable for the average person.
Frederic Tudor was born to a wealthy family in Boston. As a young man he spent a lot of time in the American Northeast, as well as Cuba. Having experienced extreme cold and extreme heat, he thought that people in warm climates like Cuba would benefit greatly from the wonders of ice, which was abundant in Northeastern United States. It’s also important to note that in the 19th century, ice was the closest thing to refrigeration; it was not only used to cool drinks but also as an air conditioner. (It was not uncommon for hospitals to hang large blocks of ice off the ceiling to cool the rooms).

Tudor’s idea was simple (at least in theory): cut blocks of ice from the frozen lakes and rivers in New England and ship them to warmer climates where people had no access to ice.
There were a few major challenges with this idea, the most important of which was keeping the ice intact without melting during shipment. Over the course of a decade Tudor tried different ideas and lost his entire family fortune in the process, going to debtors prison twice. But he never gave up. He believed that he had a great idea and despite all the hurdles he wanted to see it through.

From prisoner to “The Ice King”

His breakthrough came when he finally discovered the perfect way to insulate the ice while traveling on ships for weeks on end: sawdust. He found out that the sawdust was a much more efficient way to keep the ice intact than hay, which is what he had been using until that point. From that moment onward, his business took off and he died a millionaire in 1864.
Now here’s the brilliance of this entire ice business: Tudor took a product (ice) that cost nothing except the labor to cut frozen chunks out of the lake, he then shipped it for a bargain on boats that were travelling practically empty on their way south, using an insulator that cost him nothing because sawdust was the byproduct of forestry industry in New England and was practically everywhere.
Free ice, free sawdust, empty vessels.

An average New Englander’s “trash” became the “treasure” that Tudor “The Ice King” delivered to far away places.

Tudor’s ice trade was also one of the first examples of a “zero-waste” business model, without even consciously trying to be a sustainable operation. His product was naturally occurring in one part of the world, covered by a recycled byproduct from another industry, transported on vehicles that would otherwise make the trip empty and waste fuel, as well as space.

Lastly, Tudor’s ice trade was a major paradigm shift in business principles. Up until that point, businesses were always attracted to “high energy” locations. Warm climates had fertile soil that could be worked all year round and yielded good produce whereas places like the American midwest were cold with barren lands that could not be used half the time. Never before Tudor had anyone considered that these cold places could offer anything to the rest of the world, let alone frozen water.
Looking at the ice trade of the 19th century in hindsight may not impress us too much, since most of us were born into a world that had refrigerators. (I don’t remember not having a refrigerator ever). But when we think about these events in their own context it becomes a whole different story. People like Tudor are the visionaries of their centuries. They could see what others did not at the time and were probably considered crazy. But that’s just the thing about visionaries, their ideas are so far ahead of their time that sometimes it takes decades for the rest of us to catch up.

What do successful logos have in common?

Designing a logo is a very fun (and sometimes frustrating) process. But when the designer gets it just right and the client says “that’s the one!” the end result is very rewarding.

Design in and of itself is a very subjective concept. Everyone has a different idea of what ‘good design’ is and that’s what makes it so interesting and appealing. Something that looks beautiful to one person can look completely unappealing to another. As interesting as this is from a creative perspective, it poses a challenge from a business standpoint.

A business owner naturally wants to create a brand that is going to be attractive to largest possible number of people within the selected target segment. Your company logo may not be the most critical item to determine success, but as far as first impressions go it is pretty much your biggest weapon. A beautiful, eye-catching logo will draw immediate attention and will allow you a window of opportunity in which you can try to convey your message to the prospects. In a world where people increasingly have shorter attention spans, this is a great opportunity to stand out of the crowd.

But if it’s such a subjective concept, what is considered a successful logo?

I recently ran into a study at SmartSign that sought to answer this very question by analyzing different aspects of more than 2,000 company logos from Inc. 5000’s List of America’s Fastest Growing Companies.

It may not be perfect data due to subjectivity and human perception because colours and vague shapes can often be misinterpreted from person to person. But the study actually does a pretty good job in identifying patterns and attributes that are common to all these logos. If you are starting a new business and looking to have a new logo designed but can’t decide what kind of design you want, this infographic might be just for you! When in doubt, it never hurts to rely on data.

Logo attributes common to successful companies


Best Co-Branding Partnerships

If you are like me, you probably pay quite a bit of attention to brands around you – inside stores, on billboards, bus ads and so on. I tend to notice if something is new or unusual and start asking questions in my head. This happens especially when I see a co-branding initiative by two companies.

I start thinking about the reasons why those particular companies decided that it was a good idea and whether it will be a success or a complete failure.

I think that there are a lot of reasons why brands join forces in a partnership. Maybe the two products are complimentary to each other (like Betty Crocker and Hershey) or perhaps the companies want to increase awareness and break into new markets. Or maybe it is driven purely by the idea of increasing profits.

In my opinion though, the most important reason is shared values between brands. These are also the most successful co-branding initiatives, as they naturally mesh well because of what they represent and what they mean to their customers.

I am sure you can already think of so many great examples of co-branding partnership throughout the years and it is hard to condense it down to one short post. Nevertheless, I chose the below examples to include here, as I think they cover a nice range of different industries.

GoPro & Red Bull

I think this is such a classic example of partnership made in heaven. GoPro and Red Bull are made for each other, not only because they represent the same values for their customers but also because they both associated themselves with outdoor lifestyle and action sports.

Over the years, both GoPro and Red Bull established themselves as lifestyle brands promoting extreme sports and an adrenaline-filled, action-packed lifestyle. If you think about it, Red Bull is not really in the business of selling energy drinks and nor is GoPro in the business of selling cameras. They are both in the business of promoting a certain lifestyle that resonates perfectly well with their target audience.

I am sure everyone remembers the below video where Felix Baumgartner jumped from a space pod with a GoPro attached to him. The partnership between the two companies truly struck gold with this event.

Uber & Spotify

Another natural partnership that was meant to happen is the Uber & Spotify initiative. I like this example, especially because the two products could not be more different in their nature, yet they are extremely relevant in the way that people use them.

Uber & Spotify

For those who don’t know what the partnership is all about, Uber prompts riders to create or choose a playlist from their Spotify account that they would like to listen to for their trips. It is a simple but very powerful feature that adds to Uber’s value proposition.

Also think about the two companies as major disruptors of established, old school industries like music sales and urban transportation. In my mind, this ties perfectly with the shared values argument, as both brands have this fundamental resemblance that they are innovators and disruptors in the way that they do business. The partnership means one more additional benefit for Uber to distinguish itself from taxis and for Spotify to give its subscribers one more avenue to use its product, it’s simple and brilliant.

Covergirl + Lucasfilm

This partnership looked a bit odd to me when I first saw the ad. My first reaction was ‘Star Wars is such a male-dominated market, why are they marketing to women?’

Lucasfilm & CovergirlBut this is exactly why the initiative made sense. Targeting the male population lets the producers speak to only 50% of the population. And there are a lot of female Star Wars fans out there that may have been feeling neglected all these years. The partnership between Cover Girl and Lucas film allowed both brands to address a much broader audience.

The product was a makeup set that was created by Pat McGrath and it featured “light side” and “dark side” styles, referring to the movie. And once again, the two products could not have been more different from one another but it made perfect sense in the context and turned out to be a win for both Lucasfilm and Cover Girl.

At the end of the day, it is about seeing an angle that will resonate with the audience. There are so many other examples of successful partnerships that this is in no way an exhaustive or comprehensive list.