Brand builder: Ultimo


The lingerie brand is looking to extend into new markets starting with skincare.

Ultimo, the designer lingerie range created by former model Michelle Mone, has been courting the press with racy images of its celebrity brand ambassadors for much of its 16-year existence.

The most controversial signing was back in 2004, when Rod Stewart's wife Penny Lancaster was supplanted by the singer's ex, Rachel Hunter, as the face of the brand.

Since then, a string of beautiful women have modelled for Ultimo, including Kelly Brook, Tamara Ecclestone (pictured) and Argentinian actress and model Luisana Lopilato, who is married to chart-topping singer Michael Buble.

Glaswegian Mone has proved herself a savvy operator, recognised for her services to business with an OBE, as well as being voted the most powerful woman in business by readers of Glamour.

However, Ultimo's PR strategy of signing big names to gain guaranteed press coverage is now being expanded to broader marketing. Mone recently announced she is looking to appoint an advertising agency.

In addition, the company is preparing the launch of Ultimo Beauty, which will offer cosmetics lines from face creams to fake tan. Mone's first foray into the FMCG market perhaps signals her big ambitions for rapidly expanding the brand.

Last year, Ultimo's parent business, MJM International, which is run by Mone and her estranged husband Michael, who remains a business partner, turned over £42m. What does it need to do to ensure a smooth expansion and take the brand to the next level, however?

We asked former Ann Summers and Knickerbox head of marketing Gordon Lee, now a consultant, and Monkey chief executive John Morgan, whose previous agency, Merle, worked on the Ultimo account.

Gordon Lee Consultant (and formerly of Ann Summers and Knickerbox)

What you have to love about Ultimo and Michelle Mone, the brand's founder and driving force, is that at times they seem like an unstoppable force.

Mone and Ultimo appear to carry everyone - consumers, buyers, staff and the media alike - with them on a tidal wave of self-belief and gumption. The Body Shop's Anita Roddick was the same.

Brand partnerships with supermarkets Asda and Tesco and department-store chain Debenhams are both pragmatic and mutually beneficial.

Ultimo brings strong design, technological enhancements and entrepreneurial spirit to their otherwise dour own-label offerings, while these big retailers bring customers appreciative of the OK! celebrities that Ultimo has used over the years to decorate its brand.

Mass-aspirational, glamour with a common touch, call it what you will - Ultimo does it very well.

The plan

- Nobody has truly cracked bra-fitting: the ultimate personalised service. Headquarter this service in key regional stores and invite customers to regular consultations.

- Ultimo's use of social media is surprisingly poor, particularly when Mone herself has about 115,000 Twitter followers.

- Keep the celebrity endorsements, but make them work harder. Use celebrities with brand values beyond the short-term and superficial, tie them to your bodycare range and build a content/social/digital strategy around them that really engages Ultimo fans.

John Morgan Chief executive, Monkey (whose previous agency worked on the Ultimo account)

Michelle Mone's self-generated persona is staggering, given that she got here from a standing start, without all the familiar trappings of shoe-ins such as having a McCartney or Geldof as her dad.

It's a persona that could well hold the key to other potential brands in lifestyle industries.

On the practical side, she has also done pretty well with distribution, albeit with the usual caution that there are some pretty big eggs in that basket.

Those eggs will want to be sure where the brand is heading and, right now, it isn't entirely clear. Is the future with the tweeters and (my apologies) the sycophants, or is there more substance to be eked out of what seems to have the potential to be a very good brand?

Never having worn a bra, I can't speak for the efficacy of Ultimo's products, but I do wonder whether the brand could stand in its own right, beyond lingerie or without Mone - and whether it will, when the time comes.

The plan

- The company's founder has reached a crossroads this year, with one very important decision to make: which will be the more important brand in the long run - Ultimo or Michelle Mone?

- If it's Ultimo, the focus needs to be on style and credibility - product and design over Champagne corks.

- If the priority is Michelle Mone, consider the effect that will have on the final positioning of Ultimo and its potential to appeal to a wider audience.


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