Building a product via a digital community is the natural approach for those growing up in the ‘YouTube generation’. If you hit the mark then your brand will find a loyal audience who will market the product for you. Such is the story of LOKI One, a compact camera support that transforms into a shoulder rig, that became a Design Council Spark finalist in 2016. We spoke to LOKI designer Matt Marais about how he and the team embedded the audience into the very core of their business and product. 

The idea of community has been central to LOKI's success from the very beginning. “We have grown up as a generation on social media”, explains designer and founder Matt Marais, “it has been ingrained into us”. It was Matt and his partners’ Danny Kane, Craig Lynn and Gregor Aikman’s demonstrable ability to grasp and leverage the concept of community that made their application for the Spark programme really stand out. 

In today's world of ascendant video, mobile journalism and a YouTube star on every street, it is a timely product launch.

LOKI One is a multi-use camera support that "helps videographers tell engaging stories." It's a compact unit, about the size of a Digital SLR camera body, that transforms into a shoulder rig providing a stable base to film from, eliminating that amateur, shaky 'handheld' look. Named after the Norse God for his shape-shifting abilites, it allows filmmakers to react to their environment without having to swap between lots of bulky gear. In today's world of ascendant video, mobile journalism and a YouTube star on every street, it is a timely product launch. 

The team first started their quest to take LOKI to market via crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. Matt had previously experienced success funding another project using Kickstarter, but didn't manage to meet their funding goal in the early stages of developing LOKI One. “With hindsight I think we set the target too high”, says Matt. “But for us, crowdfunding was fundamentally not about the money. It was much more about building a community around our product and validating our business idea.” Unperturbed about not meeting their funding goal, the team maintained contact with the people who had committed to the products on Kickstarter and soon turned this audience to their advantage. 

Just over one year later, those early adopters are now able to buy the first production model of LOKI One, which was developed through the Spark programme.

“The Kickstarter campaign gave us a way to tell our story to people at a very early stage,” says Matt. “Early adopters like to have direct contact with the real human beings behind it. By pre-ordering they are investing in our company and tend to become great advocates for it.” Just over one year later, those early adopters are now able to buy the first product model of LOKI One, developed through the Spark programme. 

The LOKI story started when Matt, a graduate of Product Design Engineering at Glasgow School of Art with a keen love of photography was working at a product design consultancy. “There were lots of people there that were into photography and there was a lot of serious camera kit lying around,” he says. He observed however that professional photography often required too many pieces of single use equipment and identified that there had to be a way to simplify the number of parts. Having previously developed a multi-use camera tripod for his final project at university, Matt started to develop the design for LOKI joining forces with former colleagues. Excited by its potential Danny, Craig and Gregor came on board. Soon after, the new team applied for Spark. 

Spark gave the team the time and support to refocus their relationship with the digital audience that Matt had already engaged through his previous projects, helping to shape the way they communicated about LOKI. “The Spark programme was an awesome opportunity to go back and not only readdress the product around a tried and tested design framework, but also helped us to reconnect with our audience,” says Matt. 

“We worked systematically through the different markets and identified organisations such as photography associations that we could work with,” continues Matt. “We plotted our user journeys and identified all the pain points properly. There was a lightbulb moment when we realised there was a huge market amongst professionals such as wedding photographers, who have to be able to react to changes of plan very quickly. These were people we had never focused on before, and now we could get them to test LOKI. We learnt so much from that testing process, it created a window into new environments that we would not have otherwise had access to.”

When we did our video pitch at the design camp we scripted the whole thing. One of the mentors, Mark Elliot, sat down with us and basically called out the marketing nonsense.

Matt Marais, LOKI One

“We changed the way that we talked about our product,” continues Matt. “For example, when we did our video pitch at the design camp we scripted the whole thing. One of the mentors, Mark Elliott, sat down with us and basically called out the marketing nonsense. In five to ten minutes we completely turned it on its head and created in its place a sincere and meaningful message.”

Matt and his partners have big ambitions. They would like to scale up their team and develop LOKI into a go-to brand, one that people are proud to own. They are continuing to build their community – their Facebook page is core to the product and the community around it.  “We have people messaging us directly from Facebook about the product and their experiences of it. We gather most of our feedback in this way and are able to act on it between production runs – that’s the beauty of the modular design. We don’t have lots of money for advertising. Instead we are building up a loyal following who can spread the word for us, using things like YouTube as a kind of modern day equivalent to more traditional marketing techniques.”

Just as the crowdfunding was not about money, nor was Spark for the LOKI team. “If you just want the money then there are lot of other schemes out there you can apply for,” says Matt. “Spark is different, there is so much you take away from it that isn’t just financial. I think there is a movement back to small innovation businesses like ours, where customers can see the people behind the product. Now is the time for designers and light engineers like us, with ideas and products that can make people’s lives a little easier.

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