KENNETHCOBONPUE®: A Brand Made Unique through Design

In this blog, we will revisit ‘Brand Strategy‘ and focus specifically on one of its three important elements, specifically ‘USP‘ or ‘unique selling proposition‘.

I always teach my students who attend my ‘The Brand Architecture‘ webinars, that the foundational stage of any brand building exercise is ‘Brand Strategy‘ which is composed of three important elements, namely, (a) brand positioning, (b) USP and (c) supporting evidence (also known as RTB or reason-to-believe).

With respect to ‘USP‘, this plays an integral role in properly positioning a brand to occupy an open hole in the market thereby allowing itself to be clearly differentiated from its direct competitors. Without a USP, a brand runs the risk of not capturing the attention of the target customers who already have set perceptions in their minds of established brands in a specific market segment. Therefore, without a USP, a new entrant will never be noticed by its intended market.

In previous blogs on Kopiko® and Potato Corner®, we learned how these brilliant brands found an open hole in their respective markets which they capitalized on very strongly with clear USPs, i.e. ‘richer flavor and creamier texture‘ for Kopiko Brown®, and ‘flavored fries‘ for Potato Corner®.

In this blog, we will focus on the USP of this brilliant and internationally recognized brand based in Cebu in the Philippines known as KENNETHCOBONPUE®, named after its founder and resident industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue who graduated with honors from the Pratt Institute of New York with a degree in Industrial Design. Cobonpue augmented his classroom learning with an apprenticeship at a leather workshop in Val d’Arno, Tuscany, and in 1994, on a state scholarship, he studied furniture marketing and production in Munich and Beverungen, Germany.

But before we talk about this brand, let me share a brief personal backstory about Cebu.

I was born in Cebu City in 1966 when our family’s home was still inside the residential compound of my paternal grandparents. It was a beautiful and sprawling compound which showcased my granparents’ home which was designed by my grandfather himself. Being an engineer, my grandfather created something that was to me quite fascinating both from a functional design and aesthetic standpoint. The home had unique design features like acoustics that would allow ground floor conversations to be heard on the second floor (one wonders why this was part of the design!), and alternating living room wall slabs that don’t touch to allow air to flow freely but which kept the rain outside, plus translucent glass wall blocks that would illuminate the entire living room in the evenings from a solitary outdoor lightbulb, to name a few. This unique home offered some highly captivating design features that I have never seen in other homes, even up to this day.

Interior design of the The Archdiocesan Shrine of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Cebu where I was baptized and which was built by my paternal grandfather.

This ancestral home would just be one of many unique designs that would fascinate me about Cebu. Through the years, Cebu would become known for several homegrown brands that would later become nationally and even internationally recognized brands including coffee chain Bo’s Coffee®, Julie’s Bakeshop®, Islands Souvenirs® and international fashion brand Pennshoppe®. The Mactan-Cebu International Airport Terminal 2 itself won a prestigious award at the World Architecture Festival back in 2019 besting stiff competition in the category from international architectural icons like Singapore Jewel Changi Airport, Hong Kong West Kowloon Station, Sydney Australia’s Barangaroo Ferry Wharf, and several other structures.

The award-winning Mactan-Cebu International Airport Terminal 2

In the wake of the destruction brought about by the recent Supertyphoon Odette (International name: Rai), Cebu was amongst the worst hit areas, together with neighboring Bohol, Surigao, Negros Occidental and Cagayan De Oro. As of this writing, hundreds of thousands of our Filipino brethren continue to suffer due to the typhoon’s destructive force which caused loss of power, water supply, communication lines and even access to various basic services like ATM machines, etc.

Therefore, in honor of the land of my birth, I was inspired to dedicate this blog to a world-class brand that was founded and continues to be headquartered in Cebu, Philippines.

Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.”

Paul Rand, American Graphic Designer, 1914-1996
An attention-grabbing chandelier piece from the KENNETHCOBONPUE® Limbo collection.

What is the USP of the KENNETHCOBONPUE® brand?

In a word: design.

In the massive world of furniture and furnishings, aesthetics play a critical role, especially for the premium segment of the market. Therefore, in this half trillion US dollar global industry, design as a USP is a must.

Bamboo and Rattan concept car by the brand

You hear the name ‘Kenneth Cobonpue’ and you think of many iconic design moments. For me, it will always be the debut of his design of the first bamboo and rattan car, aptly called the Phoenix, in Milan in 2011,” writes Vicky Montenegro in online magazine FAME+.

I’m always told that you can always tell that a piece of furniture is a KENNETHCOBONPUE® simply by its design,” the designer himself says of what his friends tell him.

Source of Design Inspiration

Like all designers, Cobonpue derives inspiration from many sources and allows the creative process to allow the original inspiration to evolve into his brand of design.

I was practically born into the world of furniture design through my mother’s designs and manufacturing background. As a boy, I built my own toys with the help of the craftsmen and artisans around me. Never content to take things out from the box, I built things that crawled, rolled and flew.  I wanted my creative childhood to last forever and I decided that this was going to be my profession

Back in 2013, the Habitat Youth Council teamed up with multi-awarded furniture designer and manufacturer Cobonpue to create a limited edition centerpiece that benefitted the underprivileged communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan during that year.

As a designer, I find inspiration absolutely everywhere, from the most mundane things around me every day to the most exotic locales I’m privileged to visit. I find that in constantly searching for inspiration everywhere, all the time, the mind somehow becomes more open to finding it, and the ideas flow faster as a result.  A lot of things in Southeast Asian culture are beautiful. I try to take bits and pieces of this multi-faceted jewel to make designs that are contemporary so they fit right into an apartment in Milan or New York,” says Cobonpue in a 2015 interview with Australian Design Review.

International Design Recognition

Named by Time as ‘Rattan’s First Virtuso‘ back in 2007, the namesake designer behind the brand KENNETHCOBONPUE® has been collecting a host of design accolades from prestigious international bodies including Designer of the Year in the inaugural Maison et Objet Asia, held in Singapore back in 2014; Best Seating Design in the 22nd Annual International Interior Design Association (IIDA)/ Hospitality Design (HD) Expo Product Design Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2018; and shortlisted in the 2019 World Architecture Festival (WAF) Awards in Amsterdam for his work on the Ateneo de Cebu’s chapel. And in the local scene, most recently, Cobonpue was a recipient of the highly prestigious 2020 Gawad CCP Para sa Sining Award.

Ateneo de Cebu’s Chapel, a collaboration between designer Kenneth Cobonpue and local architect Buck Sia
Rattan’s First Virtuoso according to TIME Magazine

“Getting TIME® magazine to declare me as ‘rattan’s first virtuoso’ was a huge accomplishment that will be attached to my brand forever. I am sure there will be many more, but the accomplishments I am most proud of is showing the world what someone from the developing world is capable of when he believes in himself, and uses the talents and resources God has given him. More important than my achievements and awards is my being an inspiration to the generation of designers and young people who want to make a difference for their country.”

Kenneth Cobonpue

And of course, after the brand became identified with international superstars like Brad Pitt who purchased the brand’s Voyage bed which was also featured in the music video of Maroon 5 for its release “Never Going to Leave this Bed” back in 2011, the global trajectory of the brand, on the back of its ultra unique furniture designs, skyrocketed.

Unfolding Design Legacy

“The book of my life is still unfolding and legacies are made in a lifetime…”

Kenneth Cobonpue

Still in his early fifties, Cobonpue’s design legacy is still unfolding. But already, the impact of this brand in the world of design has reverberated way beyond the shores of the island of Cebu. The brand is now distributed in dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe, North America and South America.

The brand’s project in Nobu Doha Restaurant, Four Seasons Qatar

And the brand has gone beyond furniture as well, venturing into lighting and accessories, but still with that trademark unique and imaginative design of the KENNETHCOBONPUE® brand.

The brands wine holder named Shuttle.

And it is this brand’s USP which has allowed it, not only to become a global success, but also become an icon of design for Southeast Asia.

This brilliant brand leaves us two key lessons with respect to USP:

First, in order for a brand to penetrate any market, especially highly competitive and crowded segments, it is imperative to have a unique selling proposition. It could range from design, in the case of KENNETHCOBONPUE®, to flavored fries in the case of Potato Corner®, to sustainable materials of VEJA® sneakers, etc. Whatever it is, it must not only be unique, but also highly relevant to the needs of the target market.

And second, without a USP, a brand literally does not exist in the mind of the prospect. The USP is that singular concept that is integral to the very definition of branding.

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