In our Brand Profile Series, we take a closer look at surging brands across the world. For this thirteenth article in our series, we hit closer to home with Swiss company Punkt!
Looking back, looking forward
10 years ago, the smartphone was born. As 2017 ends with a renewed craze for the new iPhone X, now is a good time to examine the momentous changes the smartphone has had on our relationship with technology – and people. People and smartphones have become largely co-dependent and, while the benefits are certainly many, so are the drawbacks. This is where Punkt comes in. In 2008, one year after the first iPhone was released, Punkt was founded in Switzerland as a consumer electronics company with a singular promise: take back control of the technology you buy. Since then, the brand has built up a cult following of design-savvy, digitally-weary customers from Brazil to Beijing looking to buy both their products and the lifestyle that goes with it, starting with their €295 MP 01 “dumbphone”.
Taking back control
It would be easy to dismiss Punkt as fodder for the 21st century hipster Luddite, complete with vintage typewriter or Moleskin notepad. But the company ethos is not about renouncing technology, but rather taking control of it.
The idea for Punkt came to founder and CEO Petter Neby as early as 2004, when he saw how technology was starting to take over our lives instead of bettering them. What did he do? “Rather than write a book about it, I thought about launching a product”. And so he did, trying with each new product, from phones to alarm clocks to humble USB chargers, to strike a healthy balance between analog and digital, technology with a touch of humanism. And it doesn’t stop with products, as the company embraces its status as unofficial ambassador of the “digital detox” lifestyle, advocating for a new, more balanced rapport between people and technology.
Straight to the point
Concerning his design ethos, Neby believes in simplicity: “We want to be to the point – hence our brand name” (Punkt means ‘point’ or ‘full stop/period’ in German). Under the watchful eyes of creative director and renowned designer Jasper Morrison, Punkt manufactures pleasantly mono-functional devices. But what they do, they do well. The analog AC 01 alarm clock finally does away with the annoying ‘tik-tok’ sound of its ancestors, an innovation which took years to perfect, while refining the seminal Dieter Rams clock design for Braun into a sleek 21st century iteration. But Mr Morrison is neither a nostalgic nor a copycat, ditto its design for Punkt flagship product, the MP 01 mobile phone. From the ultra-realistic ringtones inspired by bird calls to the supremely satisfying haptic feedback when punching a number on the keyboard, the MP 01 is not your average “dumbphone”.
With the MP 01 launch in 2015, Punkt effectively changed scale as it quietly conquered the pockets of tech entrepreneurs, stressed out executives and other digital detoxers the world over. A feat rendered all the more impressive by the fact that the company does not advertise its products. Not only that, the company even restricts the sale of its products to a limited number of design-minded stores (think Colette or the Conran Shop). A successful strategy apparently, as the company now sells around 100,000 products a year.
One possible explanation for this success is the way Punkt leverages its clout in the digital detox community. The brand organises regular Digital Detox Challenges, where people trade in their smartphones for a “dumb” one for a day or a week and recount their experience online. Full of insights, the stories are impactful in their own right, while quietly advocating the company products. The clever use of influencer marketing (several of the stories are penned by leading tech journalists) probably doesn’t hurt either.
For all of its recent successes, the path ahead for Punkt is uncertain. The brand is buoyant about its future, confident that its strong brand promise will allow it to eventually extend into new product or service categories. New products are in the works, but the company likes to take its time: “a brand, like a person, needs some time to grow up”.
But even Punkt products are not immune to the ravages of time, with their flagship MP 01 phone slowly becoming inoperable as network operators the world over phase out their 2G networks (Australia, Japan, Singapore and some American, Canadian and European operators have ceased service, with more to follow). And as competition intensifies, can Punkt maintain its unapologetically elitist price strategy for its more obsolescence-prone devices? The answer to that will depend on the brand’s capacity to attract, retain and engage customers pointing to a clear need for imminent new product releases.
It’s safe to say that as we experience ever more invasive technological innovation, the need for more digital detox will likewise grow, and with it the savvy companies occupying the market. But as Punkt tries to incarnate this healthy balance between our digital and physical lives, it’s worth remembering that both are in constant flux. In a world of planned obsolescence and endless fads, can a technology brand ever attain timelessness?