Interplanetary branding

As I am sure many of you heard, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has just revealed pretty exciting news. It announced discovery of 7 Earth-sized planets, 3 of them in the habitable zone, around a dwarf star called Trappist 1.

It’s pretty exciting news for all scientists and stargazers alike. 

The brand strategist in me, however, is noticing something else amidst all this excitement. I notice yet another example how some creativity could be applied in the field of innovation and science, to spice things up. 

Look at the names assigned to these new discoveries: Trappist 1 for the dwarf star in the constellation of Aquarius. Trappist 1 A, B, C, D, E, F, G for each of the seven planets rotating around this star. 

Don’t you just feel the amazing beauty and mystery of something called “Trappist 1 A”? 

I really doubt it. 

My love for metaphors and and appreciation for poetic expression demands more beautiful names for such amazing discoveries. 

If I apply my brand naming tactics, I would be tapping into many different elements in order to come up with more meaningful, and more memorable names. 

Why? 

Well, just for fun, to start with. But also because the world is in urgent need of positive, beautiful news. Because advanced science is our future, and any significant scientific discovery needs to be remembered by many people, not just a small scientific community. 

Dear scientists, team up with creative entrepreneurs, linguists and brand namers, and your remarkable discoveries will be more memorable and inspiring for many more people.

What would you call these new planets and how would you go about the brand naming process? 

 

How to brand a branding consultancy: SCHMOOZY FOX is featured in a new marketing book published by Routledge

Brand Mascot book cover
Brand Mascot book cover

A new marketing book “Brand Mascots and Other Marketing Animals", edited by Stephen Brown and Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe, both professors at University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, has been published by Routledge. The good news for me is that a whole chapter of this book is dedicated to the evolution of SCHMOOZY FOX's brand. I co-wrote this chapter in partnership with Dr. Adriana Campelo, a marketing lecturer at Cardiff Business School. The book is dedicated to an interesting strategy of using brand mascots to build a brand. Other brand mascots described in the book are Hello Kitty, Angry Birds, Mickey Mouse, and others.

Routledge is a global publisher of quality academic books, journals and online reference.

The press release with more details can be found here.

You can also read my past articles about brand mascots here:

Brand mascots: shiny happy creatures

Kipling customizes its brand mascot

How Google keeps its Doodle funky

Brand mascots in action: Travelocity Roaming Gnome

Online brand mascots

Why meerkats help markets

Beastly branding

Brand mascots

The story of Schmoozy Fox to be published in a forthcoming marketing book

 

I am happy to announce that a case study about Schmoozy Fox will appear as part of the forthcoming book, Brand Mascots: and other marketing animals, to be published by Routledge in the summer 2014.

The chapter called Schmoozy Fox: standing out from the pack was co-written by yours truly and Dr. Adriana Campelo Santana, Professor of Marketing at Cardiff Business School. I'm very happy to have worked together with Professor Campelo on this rewarding project.

The book Brand Mascots: and other marketing animals has been edited by Dr. Stephen Brown, Professor of Marketing Research at University of Ulster, and Dr. Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe, Professor of Marketing Communications at University of Ulster. My thanks go to both Dr. Brown and Dr. Ponsonby-McCabe for proposing to include the story of Schmoozy Fox in this book, and for doing great editing work on the chapter.

"The eminent anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once observed that “animals are good to think with”.  They’re also good to brand with, as this book reveals. It shoots the breeze with Smokey Bear; dances the logo-motion with Hello Kitty; plays along with Cadbury’s drumming gorilla; gambols with the garrulous GEICO gecko; gets down and dirty with the peerless Peppa Pig; runs amok with the honking AFLAC duck; and compares the meerkat to monkeys, marsupials, Martians and more.  It goes wild and crazy with Tony the Tiger, Churchill the Bulldog and the Michelin Man for good measure.  Brand Mascots contains contributions from some of the world’s leading academic authorities on anthropomorphic marketing, including Russell Belk, Morris Holbrook and Barbara Phillips, as well as prominent practitioners of brand animal breeding, training and nurturance." (Stephen Brown & Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe)

If you'd like to learn more about the role brand mascots can play in your marketing strategies, please have a look at some of the previous posts I've written on this blog:

Brand mascots: shiny happy creatures

Kipling customizes its brand mascot

How Google keeps its Doodle funky

Brand mascots in action: Travelocity Roaming Gnome

Online brand mascots

Why meerkats help markets

 

 

Rebranding of nations: Cyprus

On April 14-15, I was a panel speaker at the Global Russia Business Meeting in Limassol, Cyprus, organized by Horasis and hosted by the government of Cyprus. In my talk, I planned to address the necessity for Cyprus to stay positive, and use the collapsed economy as a rare chance to improve the country’s brand in the long term. Perhaps a rather surprising and unusual approach to branding in the midst of the emotional aftermath of the banking system collapse. But for better or worse, my unusual message stood out from the crowd -- which happens to be the very purpose of any good brand.

A COLLAPSED BANKING SYSTEM

In a way, the timing of the meeting, aimed at fostering bilateral economic relations between Cyprus and Russia, could not have been more difficult. With a freshly collapsed banking system, and sovereign long-term foreign currency credit rating sinking into junk status, Cyprus was about to host a high-level gathering of prominent Russian business leaders - many of whom had just lost millions of Euros as a result of the ‘haircut’ procedure imposed in agreement with the EU and International Monetary Fund. The chance of this bilateral meeting, organized in the midst of a huge economic crisis, running smoothly, seemed rather small at the onset. In fact, I wondered if it would go ahead at all.

GOVERNMENT OF CYPRUS DECIDES TO GO AHEAD WITH THE CONFERENCE

However, the government of Cyprus decided to go ahead with the conference. Brilliantly chaired by charismatic founder of Horasis, Frank-Juergen Richter, the conference gave a chance to the Cypriot government to express itself to the community of Russian business people in a transparent and open way. It was clear that the message the Cypriot government wanted to pass to the Russians, was one of regret for not having been able to safeguard the wealth and trust of those who had invested into the country, and also one of commitment. The commitment of the government to take a very broad look at the underlying causes of the economic collapse, and seek realistic measures in order to fix it.

TOP-DOWN COMMITMENT  - A SECRET INGREDIENT OF ANY RE-BRANDING PROJECT

In the business context, the top-down commitment of senior management is a crucial element which can make or break any major re-branding project. As far as nations go, re-branding, or reshaping an image of the country vis-a-vis the minds and hearts of its target audience, also requires full commitment of its government to start thinking differently. As soon as there is commitment to start fixing one’s own problems, chances for a successful outcome of a re-branding project increase tremendously.

Although rarely on the radar screen of governments dealing with the urgency of major economic crisis, branding can actually help any government keep a broad perspective of what needs to be attained in the long term. Whereas its main preoccupations in the present situation may be of a remedial nature in the short term, and mostly directed at reforms of the banking system and tax regime, the government of Cyprus would benefit from embracing some of the following principles of branding a nation:

1) Stay positive about the future

The world loves success stories about countries emerging from economic crisis. Whereas it’s crucial to address the most urgent things first, positive morale of a good outcome is of great importance in any rebranding project, or crisis communications.

2) Identify your Unique Value Proposition

Just like any product or company, any country has something that makes it unique in the eyes of its target audience -- be it tourists, or potential investors. The Cypriot government would need to go through a major brand audit exercise, whereby it would collect all of the elements that could be considered unique for its brand, and decide on a shortlst of most powerful ones to be communicated to the world.

3) Identify your target audience

Whereas the main audience in the context of the conference consisted of Russian investors into Cyprus, the government of Cyprus should identify different categories of its target audience, which may include investors from other countries, EU, international credit rating agencies, tourists, and others.

4) Create a unique brand personality and brand positioning

Based on an in-depth brand audit, and having identified its unique DNA, Cyprus should then translate this into a credible and inspirational brand personality.

5) Roll out the new brand positioning through a high-impact communications campaign across offline and online channels

Depending on the previously identified target audience, select channels for rolling out a brand communications campaign

Whereas many governments still tend to view re-branding campaigns simply as advertising initiatives aimed at fostering growth of the tourist sector, it’s worth looking at country re-branding from a different, more strategic, angle. In the case of Cyprus, a re-branding project would be highly beneficial as it would help the government to identify the main areas requiring immediate fixes, allowing at the same time to keep a broad perspective of exciting opportunities that the future holds for this beautiful sunny island.

The Branding Bandwagon

Happy Valentine’s day -- to all those who celebrate it, and also to those who don’t. Because even if the meaning of Valentine’s day does not play such an important role in your life, I bet you have noticed its existence today. Many, many times.

Pretty much every brand I follow throughout Schmoozy Fox’s social media channels, has wished me, and the rest of its fans, a happy Valentine’s day. From just a couple messages early this morning, it all turned into a massive wave of red hearts as the day progressed.

Let’s call this festive herd behavior branding bandwagon. The question is: what value does this bring to brands? And what value does it bring to customers?

The bandwagon effect refers to “people doing certain things because other people are doing them, regardless of their own beliefs, which they may ignore or override.” (source: Wikipedia) So, many brands will be posting their messages on Valentine’s day not because they are exploding from love towards their customers, but simply because it’s just something other companies do. And of course, often this may seem like a great idea to sell more products.

But in reality, it’s really difficult to say how much of such commercial corporate messaging gets into the hearts of the target audience. My guess is, probably very little. The bigger the snowfall of pink and red-colored images, the less our brains are likely to single out the message.  And the less chance you have to get your marketing material noticed.

A similar Branding Brandwagon effect occurs during other festive seasons, such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc.

My advice to brands is: unless it’s something meaningful to you, and unless your post brings a lot of value to your target audience, just go and celebrate Valentine’s Day with your loved ones, and wait till tomorrow to post your next Facebook status update. This will give you a better chance to get your message across in a more efficient and elegant way.

Skunkfunk: edgy fashion from Bilbao

It was my last night in Lisbon. I’d had a great short break in this fun city, full of exuberant graffiti and little cosy restaurants serving grilled fish. My usual hunting for local funky brands, however, didn’t produce too many fantastic results, and it was too late to hope for anything spectacular. It was the time to have the final drinks in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto, not go shopping. But around 10 pm, when we were hopping from one bar to another, I noticed a store that was still open.  Skunkfunk, the sign said.  There was no way that a funky fashionista would miss a quick peek inside.

What I saw inside of the store pleasantly surprised me. Very original and happy clothes, and great bags and accessories, made from recyclable materials. Having acquired several items, I asked the shop assistant whether the brand was Portuguese. “No, it’s from Bilbao,” he said with a lot of excitement. “And they are so great, they support artists, and have really talented designers working for them.”

If a shop assistant of your franchise outlet has that much enthusiasm about your products, then your brand is probably doing a lot of things right. I wanted to find out more about Skunkfunk, and am happy to publish an interview with its founder and CEO,  Mikel Feijoo Elzo. Olga: When was Skunkfunk founded?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews

Mikel: It was launched in 1999. Before founding Skunkfunk, I had been buying and selling clothes simply to support my habit of traveling. Then I started a line of Tshirts that I was selling to festival-goers, and later on decided to create a full range, a brand. Without too much experience in the fashion industry, I launched Skunkfunk, planning to manufacture everything locally. Olga: Can you describe the brand of Skunkfunk in three words?

Mikel: Different. Lifestyle. Cosmopolitan.

Olga: How important is it for Skunkfunk to follow trends?

Mikel: Actually, we don’t call Skunkfunk trendy -- we don’t follow trends. We follow our own unique style, which is supported by a large team of in-house designers . They take care of the colors, fabrics, trims, prints and styles.

Olga: In how many countries do you sell?

Mikel: We are present in 44 coutnries, selling our products in 22 brand stores.

Olga: How could you describe your “typical” consumer?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2

Mikel: I would say that it’s a lady who travels, cares about style and comfort. She is an independent woman, and she likes to be different, and show her unique personality. She’s also someone who dares to carry a round hand bag, which looks extremely funky, but, let’s face it, not very practical. (Laughing). Olga:  Some articles about Skunkfunk that I’ve read refer to Skunkfunk as a sustainable brand. Is it a good way to describe your company?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1

Mikel: I think a better word to use in relation to Skunkfunk would be “conscious”. There are many fashion brands that call themselves green, for example, but to be perfectly honest, if we followed the principles of sustainability, we wouldn’t need so many clothes altogether, would we?  Trends change way too often, and to comply with trends, more and more fashion is being produced, and transported around the globe. The fact that we consciously don’t follow the trends, contributes to sustainability. You can buy your clothes at Skunkfunk, and they will last several seasons.  We use sustainable fibers to manufacture clothes and accessories.

Olga: A shop assistant at your store in Lisbon was very enthusiastic about your collaborations with artists. How do you collaborate with them and what would you like to achieve through these collaborations?

Mikel: Since we have a large in-house team of designers, working with independent artists is a way of bringing in new inspiration to the company, and freshness to our collections. We don’t only work with graphic artists, by the way. We sometimes challenge other types of artists -- the ones who have never worked with textile before. We ask them to create art on a canvas that is going to be worn by people. They like these challenges, and they often result in freshness and creativity, benefitting the final consumers of Skunkfunk.

Olga: What are Skunkfunk’s plans for 2013?

Mikel: We’d like to start seling in East Asia  and Brazil. And of course, we will also seek continuous improvement in all areas of the business, trying to be better in terms of service delivery, sustainability, design -- everything you can think of.

Olga: Thank you, Mikel, and I wish you and the whole of the team at Skunkfunk a very productive and successful 2013.

The power of brand endorsements

Trust builds brands If some of my readers are into consulting, or any other type of services business, no doubt they are very well aware of the power of recommendations. A former client making a referral about you to a prospect, a powerful recommendation of your skills and achievements on LinkedIn, Klout +K’s that you collect -- any of these can signal trust, an essential element for building good brands. Likewise, if you are an author, the praise given to your new book by other authors or famous people is crucial, and can boost the sales of your book.

The Thank You Economy
The Thank You Economy

Our brain seems to be wired to perceive endorsements, recommendations and word-of-mouth in a very special way.

In particular, before we make a decision to proceed with a high-value project, we seem to give a lot of weight to the recommendations of our trusted friends and partners.

Whether it’s a need for a strategy for your business for the next 3 years, or a new house for your family, you need to be able to trust the people who will be delivering this high-involvement, high-value service.

Celebrity endorsements - the glitz and glamor of branding

The dynamics of building trust have been studied in various fields -- psychology, marketing, and diplomacy, to name a few. In relation to brand strategy, a subject that has been studied particularly well is celebrity endorsements that are used to support launches of new products, or infuse a new life into existing ones. This technique can infuse your product with an instant dose of glamor and glitz, which, in  its turn, leads to higher sales of the product being endorsed.

Face value

Jimmy Wales Wikipedia
Jimmy Wales Wikipedia

These days, celebrity endorsements are omnipresent. Lana del Rey for H&M, George Clooney for Nespresso, or Jimmy Wales for Maurice Lacroix -- it seems that all it takes is to pair up a handsome famous face next to a product in order to make it a market success.

Many companies have used the strategy of celebrity endorsements to build their brands. And I am not only talking about big brands that have enough cash to pay celebrities -- even some startups have chosen celebrity endorsements as a sure way to become known and reach for the stars.

But wait a minute. Why would a person whom we don’t actually know, just because of her celebrity status, be able to grow your product sales only by saying that she uses a certain brand of smart phone, car or lipstick? Do customers really experience immediate trust towards a product, supported by a famous person -- even if they don’t rationally know that much about the celebrity in question?

Forget the rational

And here’s my advice -- when it comes to celebrity endorsements, forget the rational aspects of consumer behavior. Before we continue looking at the dynamics of celebrity endorsements, let’s keep this in mind: ninety-five per cent of our thoughts, emotions, and decisions, including decisions to buy a product endorsed by a celebrity, cannot be referred to as ‘rational’. According to Gerald Zaltman, a marketing professor at Harvard, and author of How Customers Think (( Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 2003 )), most of our decisions take place without our conscious awareness. So, when your customers are looking at your new ad featuring a famous model or Hollywood superstar carrying the bag that you produce, they don’t start analyzing why they find your ad appealing. Something much more powerful takes place in their subconscious minds, so let’s take a look at how this works, from the point of view of neuroscience.

KimCattrall
KimCattrall

Famous faces help sell shoes

In a recent study published by Journal of Economic Psychology, Dutch researcher Mirre Stallen (( Mirre Stallen et al., Celebrities and shoes on the female brain: The neural correlates of product evaluation in the context of fame, Journal of Economic Psychology 31, 2010, 802-811 )) looked into how products appearing next to faces of famous, vs non-famous, women, activated the brains of respondents. During the experiment, twenty-three young Dutch women were exposed to images of shoes accompanied by faces of celebrities, as well as faces of non-famous women. When the images of shoes were paired with famous faces, the areas of the brain responsible for processing emotional stimuli, were more likely to get activated than in cases when shoes were paired with faces of non-celebrities. Also, the brain activity showed that positive feelings about celebrities were easily transferred onto positive feelings towards the shoes shown to respondents.  The young women who participated in the study said that “they'd be more likely to buy the shoes associated with a celebrity's face, as long as the shoes were ones they believed the celebrities didn't already own.” (( Source: Psychology Today ))

Persuasiveness of fame

If celebrity endorsements are not a technique that is relevant to your product, get inspired by the dynamics of this branding strategy anyway. The important point to keep in mind here is that building trust is essential to building strong brands. Find your brand ambassadors, online influencers and trusted business partners, and if you manage to get their appreciation of your work expressed in the public domain -- be it your LinkedIn profile, the cover of your upcoming book, or a referral during a networking event -- their ‘fame’ and status will propel your brand to success.

Reaching_for_the_stars_schmoozy_fox
Reaching_for_the_stars_schmoozy_fox

Clearly defined brands influence purchasing decisions

running track
running track

A strong brand can benefit your business in many ways. It sets you aside from the competition. It builds customer loyalty. It eliminates search costs for people who look for products, but don't have enough time to sort through the clutter of product information available, both off and online.

One of the attributes of strong brands is that they have clearly defined positioning - a framework of associations that a brand triggers in the minds (and hearts) of those who come across it.

Clearly defined positioning is a powerful thing to have for any brand. In my own experience of working on brand positioning projects, I often notice a tendency of businesses to try to include too many associations as part of the positioning of their product and services brands, which makes the task of setting a brand aside from its competitors quite challenging.

The rule of thumb about positioning is this -- it has to be clear and succinct. Recent findings of modern neuroscience can help entrepreneurs position their brands in clearly defined ways. The brain sorts out different types of information according to whether "it has to do with knowledge (the concrete characteristics of an object, such as its name, its appearance or its physical properties), experience (which includes information about interacting with an object or idea), or emotion (the feelings, positive or negative, brought to mind by an object or idea)." ((The Business of Brands, Collective intelligence for marketing today, by MillwardBrown, p. 12))

These types of characteristics about a product or service are stored in three different neural networks. When we think about a brand in question, our brain "pulls out" corresponding information about it from each of the three networks.

So, if you develop your brand positioning around each of these 3 factors in clear and succinct ways, your customers' brains will retrieve your brand associations more readily. "In this way, a representation of a brand is no different than any other representation: one that comes together quickly and easily is more likely to influence a decision at the point of purchase." (( ibid. ))

Use (any) images to build your brand

Images play a powerful role in our decisions to buy many products. Have you ever caught yourself choosing between two magazines on the shelf of your local press shop just on the basis of which has prettier pictures on the cover page? Or paying just a bit more for a package of tea, if it's pretty, or a bottle of shampoo, if it's more attractive than the one standing just beside it? I guess the honest answer would be a firm "yes" for most of us.

The human brain just seems to need visual stimulation for better decision making. On top of that, most of the population on planet Earth can be described as "visual thinkers",  the subject I addressed in one of my previous posts, Is your web site sticky enough?

 

Marketing specialists have been using this knowledge for decades, trying to make their advertising content relevant and engaging. And that’s exactly what it often comes down to -- making images relevant to what the product or brand needs to express. This seems to be especially important for anyone who’s managing and developing brands in social media, having to select catchy images that support any written content, catching the attention of your Facebook fan, so that she spends just a couple of seconds more on your page. Familiar situation, right?

But a study recently carried out by the School of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand reveals even more astonishing facts about how the human brain perceives images. The study “Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness” suggests that “text is more credible when accompanied by photos, even when the photos don’t support the point of the text!” (( Source: Persuade with Pictures, http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/persuade-with-pictures.htm ))

 

In four experiments, academics examined the impact of nonprobative information on truthiness, which refers to subjective feeling of truth.

 

“In Experiments 1A and 1B, people saw familiar and unfamiliar celebrity names and, for each, quickly responded "true" or "false" to the (between-subjects) claim "This famous person is alive" or "This famous person is dead." Within subjects, some of the names appeared with a photo of the celebrity engaged in his or her profession, whereas other names appeared alone. For unfamiliar celebrity names, photos increased the likelihood that the subjects would judge the claim to be true. Moreover, the same photos inflated the subjective truth of both the "alive" and "dead" claims, suggesting that photos did not produce an "alive bias" but rather a "truth bias." Experiment 2 showed that photos and verbal information similarly inflated truthiness, suggesting that the effect is not peculiar to photographs per se. Experiment 3 demonstrated that nonprobative photos can also enhance the truthiness of general knowledge claims (e.g., Giraffes are the only mammals that cannot jump). These effects add to a growing literature on how nonprobative information can inflate subjective feelings of truth.”  (( Source: Abstract of the new study, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22869334 ))

The main point here is this:  as a manager who wants to build powerful branded content, you now have more freedom to work with images, which, as the study above shows, are worth even much more than a thousand words.

 

Source: The Neuromarketing blog by Roger Dooley

 

Design thinking vs analytical thinking

 

Funky brands have one thing in common as far as their brand strategy goes -- design. Design is not an afterthought for them, it's something that drives an entire organization. Think Alessi, or Camper shoes, for example.

 

"The impact is undeniable when a company like Apple puts so much extra effort into making its products and marketing look “cool,” as well as ensuring that its look is unified and communicates the level of innovation that the organization prides itself on. And the business community clearly admires the company's dedication to overall design." ((Source: Fast Company www.fastcompany.com/3002635/design-thinking-starts-top))

 

Why could design-focused strategies build your brand in better ways than strategies based on "analytical thinking", e.g. financial data? First of all, it's all too common to build your strategy upon analytical thinking, and many executives are used to relying on data. Thinking in terms of improving product design is simply not common, especially in big companies (with an important exception of Apple).

 

"Design thinking, in contrast, provides the ideas that allow a company to innovate and win; it’s more of a collaborative process where creativity is welcomed, no idea is ridiculed, and the designer’s input is welcomed to help match a consumer need with what is technically feasible and a viable business strategy. A fresh, out-of-the-box attitude is brought to bear on problem-solving, rather than a strict engineering or financial perspective." ((Source: Fast Company, www.fastcompany.com/3002635/design-thinking-starts-top)

 

For big companies, moving away from analytical thinking towards design thinking may seem like an impossibly huge task. But if you are a small and agile company, think in terms of customer-focused design, and you might as well win the hearts of your target audience.

 

MINI: an exciting drive

Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox
Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox

A small car with distinctive design, and a rich brand history -- that’s MINI. MINI, a brand owned by the BMW Group, has been on my funky brand radar screen for a while -- I mentioned it on my blog back in 2009, in my post On cute little brands and MINI.

MINI fits my Schmoozy Fox’s description of Funky Brands very well, as it owes its market success to a combination of outstanding design and smart brand strategies. An important part of MINI’s brand vision throughout the years since its launch in the 1950s has been careful nurturing of the fun and excitement factors, which are inherent to MINI’s brand DNA. Today, I am happy to bring to you an in-depth story about MINI, told by my interviewee Philipp Thomssen, Head of Advertising and Community marketing at MINI. Take a glimpse at what MINI’s brand managers have done in order to reinforce the car’s emotional appeal to its customers around the world.

Olga: The brand of MINI celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009. How does a brand with such a long history manage to stay contemporary?

Philipp: Launched in 1959, revived and reinvented in 2001, MINI has quickly evolved from a one-model niche player into a premium car brand with a diverse portfolio. In 2001 it was important to refresh the potential of the classical MINI, to make it a modern product and to build a strong brand by focusing on its emotional appeal. In the worldwide perspective it was necessary to position MINI in a coherent way as an independent brand, whose core was about excitement. The market introduction´s basics endure till today.

The premise was to link an outstanding product with a modern design which still takes up the old iconic character of a MINI. Our product is characterized by its emotional design, outstanding product substance and progressive technology, and agile driving behavior as well as his almost unlimited options in customizing the car. A further significant point is maintaining the right balance of continuity of a brand now going back 50 years and its innovative potential. It was a challenge to position MINI as the first premium brand in the small car market. This was achieved by a consequent brand management and highly motivated team.

Olga: How could you summarize the main characteristics of the MINI brand?


Philipp: A MINI is more than a car. It is like a friend! It is pure “Excitement”.
 MINI is positioned worldwide as a unique and fully independent brand in its own – a brand revolving around the concept of enthusiasm and thrilling lifestyle. Our communication allows us to position MINI in a coherent way – worldwide. The marketing and communication strategy is characterized by the alignment as a premium brand with an international positioning and a clear orientation towards the demands of our existing customers and extended target groups.

MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox
MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox

Olga: What is a profile of a typical consumer of MINI cars?

Philipp: MINI aims to take over new target groups in modern milieus. Those tend to be well-funded, very demanding based on a very individual lifestyle and their part of the population is growing.

The consumers are mostly 25 to 45 years old and work in a creative environment. They are open towards new trends and are spontaneous. Aesthetics and design looms large for them – in purchases decisions as well as in their daily life.

A MINI is not a status symbol, but an expression of personality.  It´s not about the size, it is about the substance and individuality. MINI is a car build for an urban area, no matter what country they live in.

 Olga: Does MINI have a “nationality”? Is it positioned as a German car with British heritage, or is the origin irrelevant in MINI’s brand positioning?


Philipp: Today’s MINI is not imaginable without its British origin and heritage. MINI has always been a British car and still today there are cars produced in the so called MINI Production Triangle (Plant Hams Hall, Oxford and Swindon). Of course MINI as a brand is managed in Germany. But beside these facts we understand and steer MINI as an international brand.

 Olga: What are the countries in which MINI is especially popular?

Philipp: In 2012 the U.S. of America has been the biggest market for MINI with 19.911(+6.0% compared to 2011) sold units till April. In Europe the UK (13.169 units) and Germany (12.385 units) registered the biggest sales. A plus of 25% in sales made China an exceptional market with already 6.911 sold MINIs.

MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox
MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

Olga: What are the factors that explain phenomenal success of MINI around the world?

Philipp: On the one hand, it might be explained by the fact that the audience is very similar all over the world. Hence this international identity offered a chance to position MINI worldwide in a very coherent way.

On the other hand, the success of MINI can be explained by its emotional attraction and the nuanced product line-up. In the long term we aim to offer up to ten different versions of MINI, in doing so we want to grow at a steady and sustainable rate.

Olga: What MINI models exist now, and are there any plans to launch new models, or limited editions?

Philipp: There are six MINI models right now (Hatch, Convertible, Clubman, Countryman, Coupé, Roadster). The seventh family member, the MINI Paceman will debut in Fall 2012.

Our sub-brand John Cooper Works, which has its roots in racing, currently offers five models: The MINI John Cooper Works, the MINI John Cooper Works Convertible, the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman, the MINI John Cooper Works Coupé and the MINI John Cooper Works Roadster. Later this year, the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman and the MINI John Cooper Works GP will be introduced.

As MINI is committed to the environment and sustainability we launched the  MINI E global test-fleet back in 2008. Test-user all over the world have helped us to improve our first MINI powered only by electricity.

Olga: Could you share some of the marketing activities in 2012-2013 that you plan to carry out to sustain and grow the brand of MINI worldwide?

Philipp: There are more exciting brand activities to come. MINI will surprise with creative launch campaigns in those communication channels that we consider to be more and more important. In this context we will focus on online communications and social media, without ignoring the classic communication channels, such as advertising, commercials, sponsoring and cooperation, guerilla-marketing and others.

MINI_family_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox
MINI_family_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

All photos in this article have been provided courtesy of MINI.© 2012 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews™  is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

The founder of Green & Black’s shares the story of his successful brand launch

If you’ve ever launched a new product on the market, you must know that this can be a very daunting task. You’ve created a new product concept, a name, and thought of a pricing and distribution strategy. And now, you need to make sure that your product is actually bought, and that you begin to turn a profit.How to get your product launch right?

This question goes through the minds of startup entrepreneurs as well as seasoned marketing managers working for big multinationals. In either case, they need to get a myriad of things working in their favor in order to launch a previously unknown product, and begin to develop its brand right from the start.

It often feels like trying to put the pieces of a puzzle together, without knowing what the puzzle should look like.

Today, my interviewee is Craig Sams. Originally from the US, Craig moved to the UK in 1966 after graduating from Wharton Business School. Together with his brother Greg, he opened a macrobiotic restaurant called Seed in London in 1968. His further businesses included a popular brand of organic products called Whole Earth, and later on, Green & Black’s, a brand of ethical chocolate, which has an almost iconic status amongst chocolate connoisseurs. Our main focus today will be on Green & Black’s.

After successfully selling Green & Black’s to Cadbury (subsequently bought by Kraft), Craig is now running an innovative biochar growing products business called Carbon Gold. Together with his wife Josephine Fairley, with whom he co-founded Green & Black’s in 1991, he is still involved in some high-level work overviewing the development of the brand alongside the marketing team at Kraft.

green-and-blacks
green-and-blacks

Olga: Craig, when you and your wife Josephine had the idea of launching an organic brand of chocolate back in 1991, was “organic” already a big word on the landscape of food brands?

 Craig: By the time that we launched Green & Black’s, there were actually already many organic brands out there, including our own brand, called Whole Earth.

We understood organic certification very well, and we were well plugged into the organic network. Back in 1991, it was still a small network, but our advantage was that we knew it inside out. Which means that, in theory, we had relatively easy access to distribution channels, which are crucial for building a strong brand, especially in the food industry.

Olga: And in practice? Was it challenging to convince distributors to take on a previously unknown product brand?

Craig:Pretty much all of the organic and ethical products in the early nineties (whereby “organic” also meant “ethical” in terms of brand positioning) didn’t contain any sugar. And here we were, launching an organic brand of chocolate, containing 30% of sugar. It was a pretty daring step to take, and we expected a lot of negative reactions on the market. Our distributors who sold Whole Earth products, none of which contained any sugar, were doubtful that our new chocolate brand, containing sugar, would take off. At the beginning, it took us some time to convince them that the product would be successful.

Olga: How exactly did you convince your distributors to stock Green and Black’s chocolate on their shelves?

Craig:Our solution was simply to be open and honest to the final consumer. Yes, we acknowledged that our product contained sugar. We also acknowledged that sugar was not good for your health. We even printed a warning statement on all of the packaging at the beginning, which said, “This product contains sugar, which is associated with dental decay, obesity and obesity related illness. Enjoy good chocolate and keep your sugar consumption as low as possible by always choosing , the chocolate with the highest cocoa solids and the lowest sugar content.”

Chocolate is a guilty pleasure but ours was less guilty. Our consumers picked up this message very fast, and as a consequence, our distributors started to become more and more convinced that our product would be very popular.

Olga: How did you choose the name Green & Black’s? What were the aspects that you considered important while giving this name to your chocolate?

 Craig:Since we had already developed a strong brand, Whole Earth, we were considering launching our ethical chocolate brand as part of the existing product portfolio, under the same name. But there was an important aspect to keep in mind -- “Whole Earth” was not easy to pronounce, especially on the phone, while talking to potential distributors. Imagine talking to someone in Japan, and saying, “I represent Whole Earth chocolate.” This would not have worked very well! So, our experience working internationally at Whole Earth taught us a good lesson: give your product a name that can be pronounced in any language. Provided of course that you think big and want to build an international business.

And then, Josephine and I were writing down all kinds of names, trying to express organic goodness. There was a lot of biochoc, naturchoc, and the like. But we wanted something that sounded like it had been out there for a long time. Many companies in the past were named after their founders, so we wanted to play with a similar idea, that “Green” and “Black” were last names. But of course, “Green” stands for natural, organic, and “Black” said this was the darkest chocolate that had even been on the market. Before our 70% chocolate the highest level of cocoa solids was 49% and most was 34%. In any case, the name proved to be quite memorable early on.

Olga: It looks like the initial launch of Green & Black’s was quite successful. At which point did you understand that you needed to attract additional investment?

Craig:If you are serious about building a big international brand, then you will for sure need to make significant investments into your brand and marketing strategy, and its implementation. There’s simply no way of building a world-renowned brand with no investment, so you have to think big.

And in return for investment, you have to be prepared to give away part of your company - that’s just the way it works. We were lucky to work with a very good group of investors to whom we sold the majority of our shares, and in return, they invested heavily in the brand development of Green & Black’s. Subsequently, Cadbury bought the brand, and invested even more. And later on, Cadbury was acquired by Kraft, which is doing a very good job managing and growing the brand of Green & Black’s.

Olga: If we go back to the early times again, at what point did you think that the brand was becoming well-known? When did Green & Black’s become famous?

 Craig:It happened not long after we launched, in 1993, when the Fairtrade Foundation came to us asking for collaboration. As it turns out, they had a lot of trouble finding good companies which followed the principles of fair trade. And we, with our fair trade production first in Togo and then in Belize, did exactly that.

So, naturally, Green and Black’s became one of the important carriers of the Fairtrade label. In practice, this meant that the Fairtrrade Foundation treated us as their good example, and we got a lot of support and good publicity from them. With the help of the Foundation, we got on TV, received massive press coverage, and had direct access to events and trade fairs they organized. This was a true partnership which played a very important role in Green & Black’s becoming a famous brand.Olga: Did it take you long before you expanded your product portfolio from chocolate into ice cream and other products?

Craig:Ice cream came pretty quickly. It was a result of our participation in the Hampton Court Flower Show, where we had a stall selling chocolate. It was really hot that day, and people came to our stall asking for ice cream. So, we decided to listen to our customers, and launched chocolate ice cream shortly thereafter. It had a lot of success. We had only chocolate flavors at first, but when it comes to ice cream, where there’s chocolate, there should also be vanilla, so the vanilla flavor was launched as well.

Green&Black's_Glamour_magazine_Schmoozy_Fox
Green&Black's_Glamour_magazine_Schmoozy_Fox

Olga Slavkina: Can Green and Black’s be considered a premium brand?

Craig:Yes, it has premium brand positioning. It’s a simple luxury -- a product that anyone can afford once in a while, and something that provides you with an instant infusion of luxury. Green & Black’s is all about glamour. It received some good coverage in the glossy magazine Glamour, in the context of fashion, celebrities and luxury, in line with its brand positioning. It’s also been the top food brand every year in the UK’s list of Cool Brands for 7 consecutive years.

Olga: If you look back at the different ventures you’ve launched throughout your entrepreneurial career, what has been the most successful, and the most rewarding one?

Craig:Without any hesitation, I would mention launching the brand of Whole Earth, and then launching Green & Black’s. If we talk specifically about Green & Black’s, I would mention our work on the product called Maya Gold, our first product to be awarded the Fairtrade Mark in 1994.

Olga: Thank you very much for sharing your story, and I wish you continued success in the future.

Product_launch_tips_branding_Schmoozy_Fox
Product_launch_tips_branding_Schmoozy_Fox

Alessi: passion for design

Alessi is a brand from Italy which has already featured in my list of Funky Brands™ on Pinterest and in one of my previous blog posts,  Funky Brands from around the world: Italy.  

Today I am happy to publish my in-depth interview with Matteo Alessi, the company’s director of marketing, international sales and development in Europe, and also the first member of Alessi’s 4th generation to work for this family business. I spoke with Matteo about Alessi’s brand strategy, the role of design and open innovation in its business development, and am happy to share this conversation with you today.

Olga Slavkina: Matteo, if you had to explain Alessi’s brand to someone who’s never heard about it, what would you say?

Matteo Alessi:I would probably focus on our mission on the market. I would say that Alessi is a mediator between the world of applied art and design on the one hand, and consumers, on the other hand. Alessi makes sure that great design finds its expression in products that people like you and me can buy, and use in their homes.

Olga Slavkina: In practical terms, how do you bring art and design to the market? Does Alessi employ a lot of designers?

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Matteo_Alessi_portrait
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Matteo_Alessi_portrait

Matteo Alessi:Not at all. In fact, we don’t have any designers working for us full time! Instead, we have a pool of about 200 independent designers that we work with. Whenever we have a request for a specific product, we tap into this pool, and work with someone who we think would be the best person to design it.

Olga Slavkina: What are the advantages of working with freelance designers as opposed to hiring them?

Matteo Alessi:the keyword here is creativity. We want to collaborate with creative people who are free in their own work. For us, it makes much more sense to work with freelance designers who work for different companies, not just one. We believe that this feeds their creativity, so their designs end up being very creative, too.

Sometimes we call Alessi a Dream Factory -- because we help designers realize their dreams, and realize themselves. We never tell them, “Please design a table of this color and this shape”. Instead, we say, “Do what feels right to you.” The key to achieving good results in our work with designers is simply to be open to their creativity.  Instead of doing extensive market research, asking our current and potential customers what kinds of products they would like Alessi to produce, we come straight to the designers and artists. We think that asking the market about what it wants, and then telling the designer what she needs to deliver, limits her creativity. Perhaps our approach is quite unconventional, but it is certainly a very important element of our brand strategy. We call it open innovation.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Girotondo_Tray_design King-Kong 1984
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Girotondo_Tray_design King-Kong 1984

Olga Slavkina: Do you work with designers individually, or do you also have any initiatives which allow them to work in teams, on larger projects maybe?

Matteo Alessi:As I mentioned, creativity is a very important word in the world of Alessi. It’s one of our key brand values. Of course, we work individually, but we also have large-scale initiatives dedicated to creativity. For instance, we often organize workshops on different aspects of creativity. They are attended by many artists, designers, sculptors and other kinds of creative people. Sometimes these workshops have very concrete goals, but sometimes we leave them a bit more open. They benefit those who participate in them, and of course, they also benefit Alessi. These workshops feed Alessi’s passion for creativity and design -- the values around which Alessi’s brand revolves.

Olga Slavkina: Could you give an example some of Alessi’s recent creativity workshop?

Matteo Alessi:Sure, I could mention a workshop that we ran with the municipality of Beijing in September 2011. The name of this project was (Un)Forbidden City. It involved work with 8 chinese architects who were our workshop participants. Alessi didn’t have any concrete objective in mind when we were organizing this workshop. Instead, we simply wanted to feel the pulse of the architecture in Beijing, we wanted to have a better understanding of it, so a creativity workshop was a good way of doing that.

Olga Slavkina: I’ve noticed that on your web site, products can be searched and viewed by the name of the designer who created them. This is actually the first time I come across a company which acknowledges the role of the designer to such an extent. It must be very valuable for the artists and designers who collaborate with you -- and for their personal brands.

Matteo Alessi:Indeed, all of the products that you can see on our sites are strongly associated with the names of those who created them. It’s simply Alessi’s way of showing our respect to the creative force which is at the core of our company. And of course, it also benefits designers and their careers. This is true both for emerging designers, and also for those who have already established themselves as well-known creatives.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Juicy Salif_Citrus squeezer_design Philippe Starck 1990
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Juicy Salif_Citrus squeezer_design Philippe Starck 1990

Olga Slavkina: Can you think of any cases when an unknown designer’s career and personal brand became famous as a result of a collaboration with Alessi?

Matteo Alessi:When we began to work with Philippe Starck in 1986, he was already establishing himself as a strong designer, but I think Alessi played an important role in helping him become very well-known. In fact, I think this is probably true to every collaboration between Alessi and each of the designers in our pool. It’s great to be able to play such an important role in the careers of so many creative people. Alessi certainly improves their personal brands by helping them associate their work with our brand name. Alessi is known for its truthfulness to designers, and their style and honesty in the way we work with them, so all of our collaborations are win-win.

Olga Slavkina: How can a company with such a long artisan tradition stay up-to-date and contemporary?

Matteo Alessi:Alessi was established 91 years ago, so indeed it has a long history of making high-quality products. At the beginning, it manufactured products for other companies, and actually, its own company name was different. It wasn't until the 80s that Alberto Alessi decided to make products under Alessi’s brand name.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_9093_Kettle_design Michael Graves 1985
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_9093_Kettle_design Michael Graves 1985

Our products have been and are hand made, with the help of machines. It is still all very artisan. In this sense, we stay true to our roots. This is because quality is very important for us, and we want to continue paying a lot of attention to details, durability, functionality and quality of the manufacturing process. On the other hand, the brand manages to stay contemporary through design.

There isn’t any particular “traditional” style that we want to preserve, on the contrary, we are interested in bringing very avant-garde, unusual products on the market. Perhaps this is Alessi’s style!

Olga Slavkina: Are Alessi’s most avant-garde products sold under the Officina Alessi line? Which other product lines can you mention?

Matteo Alessi: Alessi has 3 different product lines, depending on the average price point, and some other factors. Officina Alessi is our line which offers exclusive products sold as part of limited editions. This line allows us to experiment with new materials, and gives us an opportunity to try very innovative, avant-garde, designs. As the other two lines -- A di Alessi and Alessi, Officina Alessi is available in each of our 25 flagship stores worldwide, as well as some other carefully selected points of sales.

Olga Slavkina: How could you describe Alessi’s “typical” consumers? Could you call them design aficionados?

Matteo Alessi:Yes and no. I think that besides being knowledgeable about design, these are the people who simply have an emotional reaction to our products. In other words, you don’t need to be a specialist in design in order to appreciate the presence of Alessi’s products in your home.

But if you simply like our products, and can connect with them emotionally, and you feel that they are part of you, and your home, then you’ll probably be attracted to many of Alessi’s products.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Magic Bunny_Toothpick holder_design Stefano Giovannoni 1998
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Magic Bunny_Toothpick holder_design Stefano Giovannoni 1998

Olga Slavkina: Could you share with the readers of the Schmoozy Fox Blog your vision -- personal and professional -- for Alessi’s development in the near future?

Matteo Alessi:On a personal level, I would very much like to establish distribution of Alessi’s products in Russia and Eastern Europe. On a broader, company level I’d like to continue with the open innovation approach, and explore such trends as eco-design, minimalistic design, and other contemporary styles and trends.

Olga Slavkina: Thank you very much for this interview, and I wish you a lot of success in your very creative job.

All photos in this article have been provided courtesy of Alessi.© 2012 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews™  is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

A good metaphor for good (and bad) branding

Maybe you've seen this image circulate on Facebook over the past week or so. It was originally posted by the page called English Quotes, and then spread virally amongst many of my Facebook friends. I have no idea who the author of this image is, and if I knew, I would certainly give her a good mention.  

For me, this image is a visual metaphor for good branding, and bad branding. On the left, you see what good branding should look like: lots of work in the background, laying a strong and healthy foundation, and not always seeing the results right away. Good branding takes time, but when it's taken care of well, it brings its fruit (or vegetables) when the time is ripe.

 

Bad branding is "fluffy" branding, just like you see on the right. There's lots of activity taking place on the surface, with no strong, reliable roots that back it up. It's all about "make up" and appearances, with no long lasting strategy that lies at the core of the business.

 

Make sure that you water your carrots well, then your brand will grow strong and last longer.

Confused about your brand positioning? Stop advertising

If I asked you what kind of associations you had about Nutella, the sweet and gooey spread, oh so full of calories?  

Maybe you'd remember how you indulged in Nutella when you were a kid. How much fun it is for your kids. That it's an occasional treat you'd give your kids after they've eaten their dinner.

 

But my guess is that very few of you would  refer to this product as "healthy and nutritious." Fruit and vegetables are healthy and nutritious, but  sugar-packed sweet spread? Not really, even if it's made from "natural ingredients" as the ad in this blog post states.

 

In fact, I think that the extent to which it is "natural" is not the main reason why people buy it. We buy it because it's fun, period. And there's actually nothing wrong with being all about fun.

 

So, why did Ferrero (the company which owns the Nutella brand) choose to communicate something so different in its recent advertising campaign? And, as a result, went through a class action suit, having to compensate $3 mln for stating false claims about the product?

 

There may be many reasons to it, but the one that comes to my mind is that people at Ferrero simply forgot what the brand of Nutella is all about. They temporarily forgot its positioning.

 

Finding the most advantageous brand positioning is like building a good, solid foundation for your house. I do a lot of work on positioning with startups and small companies, as well as with bigger companies which are in the process of changing something -- be it their visual identity, or business strategy.

 

Big companies, too, should regularly check if their foundation is still solid. If it's still what it used to be, and if it holds the house properly.  For big, established brands, even small tweaks in positioning should never happen without rethinking the whole of the brand strategy, and possibly, changing the product itself.

 

If you have the slightest doubt whether your positioning truly reflects your main brand values, my tip to you is, stop and rethink it. Don't advertise just yet.

 

Source: The Truly Deeply blog

 

 

Building Russian brands

Last week I participated -- as a panel speaker and attendee - in the Global Russia Meeting hosted by the government of Luxembourg. Organized by Horasis, an independent think tank based in Zurich, and dubbed as a “world economic forum for emerging markets” , the event brought together many prominent business and political leaders from Russia, Europe and the United States.  

Addressed through different panels, discussions about Russia focused on such topics as entrepreneurship, business growth overseas, innovating the Silicon-valley way, and of course, branding. Selected as one of the panelists for the discussion entitled Building Russian Brands, I shared my views on what would make Russian companies successful internationally.

 

RUSSIAN BRANDS GLOBALLY

According to one of the panel speakers, Tony Cowling from TNS, several agencies, including his own, frequently publish lists of brands which can be considered global. Most of the times, Russian brands are present there in a tiny minority.

Whereas a few Russian brand names, such as Lukoil , Standard Vodka and the girls pop group Tatu, (( which gained mainstream recognition with their release of “All the Things She Said” several years ago)) who may be known internationally, many others rarely make it to the brandscape of international consumers, unless they target a specific niche.  In order to get an idea of what of Russian brands my own non-Russian friends were familiar with, I posted a quick informal survey on my Facebook profile prior to the event.

What often comes to the mind of the Western European consumer in terms of Russian brands, within the limits of my very informal survey, is not always names of commercialized brands. Instead, it’s often a series of symbols and associations, related to the image of Russia. Think matryoshkas and even the Bear, with the latter playing the role of the unofficial “brand mascot” of Russia (Read more about brand mascots here).

But as soon as you begin to explore more niche brands, you might discover that more Russian brands get on the international brand horizon. Among them are, for example, Digital October, a startup incubator in Moscow, known by the international web and tech startup community. Or Garage, a contemporary art center in Moscow that many art lovers around the world have surely heard about.

BRAND STRATEGY IS THE ANSWER

But do Russian brands need to strive for international recognition? And if yes, what benefits can it give them? First of all, the more quality Russian products appear on international markets, the better it will benefit the overall image of Russia long term. Secondly, there’s a strong link between having a successful brand and a sizable market share, as mentioned by another panel speaker, Givi Topchishvili, CEO of New York based Global Advertising Strategies.  Third, the scarcity of Russian brands on the international brandscape presents a rare opportunity for them. By learning to think strategically in terms of their brand development, Russian brands would make the first important step towards market success.  Placed in the framework of a coherent strategy, which begins from a clear definition of value proposition, and ends with knowing how to capture the hearts and minds of the target consumer, Russian brands will begin to position themselves as competitive players on international markets.

And what about the necessary ingredients Russian brands would need to use in order to make their brand strategies successful? In this respect, two important elements come to mind: design (both product design and visual identity as a whole, including web design) as well as better use of the web. With Russian being my mother tongue, I often visit sites of Russian companies, only to find old-fashioned design and complex user interfaces. Better looking and better functioning products and web sites are the required ingredients of successful brands.

Some Russian brands have understood this, and involved international brand and marketing experts early on in their brand strategy development. Such was the case of Standard Vodka, which relied on international brand, marketing and advertising agencies to shape its identity, launch the product, and set a long-term brand strategy framework. Outstanding design was not an after-thought, but an important element of Standard’s brand strategy.

IMPORTANCE OF SUCCESS LOCALLY

Although very few Russian brands are enjoying international fame, there are a few success stories if we look at the local market. In fact, the measure of brand success of Russian companies may be related to how fast, and for how much money, they are acquired by large international corporations. And such cases abide. Think of Unilever acquiring Concern Kalina, a Russian producer of cosmetics. Or PepsiCo buying Wim-Bill-Dann, a Russian juice and dairy group. PepsiCo is now launching its Quaker cereals under the name Chudo (“Miracle”)- one of the existing successful brand names in Wim-Bill-Dann’s portfolio, and there are even some speculations that the multinational intends to sell some of the products in its Russian portfolio abroad. Maybe such a roundabout way -- first becoming strong locally, then hitting overseas markets under the umbrella of PepsiCo, Danone or Unilever -- is a way for Russian brands to expand abroad?

 

 

To summarize, success of Russian brands will depend on how quickly they realize that brand strategy cannot be an afterthought, but key to overall business development.

 

Only by shaping and implementing a smart brand strategy framework will Russian brands set themselves on the path of market success internationally.

Schmoozy Fox in De Standaard Magazine

 

A weekly Belgian publication, De Standaard Magazine, published an extensive review of my Personal Branding workshop that I gave in Brussels back in February.

The article, Maak van uzelf een sterk merk (Create yourself a strong brand) is a detailed account written by journalist An Olaerts who was one of the workshop participants.

For Dutch-speakers, the article will provide a great insight into the dynamics of my Personal Branding workshops, as well as explain the benefits of building your personal brand. The full text of the article is available online.

De Standaard Magazine is a weekly lifestyle publication, and is part of De Standaard, a leading newspaper in Belgium.

Schmoozy Fox to present at the 3rd Annual Global Russia Business Meeting in Luxembourg

I will be joining the panel of experts on international business and marketing at the 3rd Annual Global Russia Business Meeting in Luxembourg from April 21 through 23.  I will address how existing and emerging Russian brands could become more competitive abroad by applying brand strategy principles to their business development. The agenda of the conference includes presentations on the current investment climate in Russia, its challenges and opportunities,  case studies in the post-crisis economic environment, as well as discussions about the startup environment in Russia.

Celebrities help startup brands reach for the stars

Brand endorsements by celebrities has been a recurring theme on this blog. I've written about business celebrities endorsing fine Swiss watches, and famous musicians endorsing sports shoes.

 

Pretty much in all of the cases I've written about, the pattern has been more or less the same: a famous celebrity endorses a famous brand. But is it common at all for celebrities to endorse emerging products and services, not yet known to large audiences?

 

Believe it or not, it actually happens quite often. Sometimes it's a carefully planned strategy called co-branding. Startups reach out to celebrities, or bigger, already famous brands, and get their attention as endorsers or business partners. Read more on this in my article 6 things startups should consider when partnering with brands. Or, it can happen by pure chance, for instance, if your brand is discovered -- and liked -- by someone like Oprah Winfrey.  In the business world, Oprah is known for her generosity toward products and services she likes.  She doesn't hesitate to mention them either in her shows, or in the O! magazine. This is what has happened to a Belgian brand of chocolate, Newtree, (( disclaimer: Newtree is my former client )) when it was noticed by Oprah.  Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise to the company.

 

Sometimes celebrity endorsements go beyond such generosity toward brands.  For example, Hollywood actors Leonardo di Caprio and Ashton Kutcher have actually invested in several startups.  With that, without actually acting as product spokesmen, or appearing in billboards next to the brands in question, they have de facto endorsed them, simply because they are so famous. Di Caprio has shared both his cash --  and his fame -- with a company called Mobli. Kutcher has invested in a range of startups, such as Foursquare, Hipmunk and Airbnb. ((The latter, by the way, has recently acquired Crashpadder, previously featured in the series of Funky Brand Interviews))

 

Generally speaking, if a celebrity talks about your little-known brand, it is a very positive development likely to boost your product sales. And by "talks" I mean tweeting, facebooking or mentioning your product in the open domain.  Which means that celebrity endorsements can actually take place spontaneously, without you hiring the celebrity in question.

 

However, if you have enough cash to pay to somebody famous, then you enter into a  more official co-branding partnership. In this case, be sure that it makes perfect sense for your brand, as celebrity endorsement are likely to have  long-lasting effects on your brand in the long term. More on this can be found in my article 3 co-branding rules for bigger profits.

 

Also read:

Co-branding: Desigual and Cirque du Soleil

Another co-branding example: Missoni and Target

8 examples of co-branding and brand partnerships

Brand partnerships

Can laptops and nail polish complement each other? 

Naked Wines and Naked Chef

A  new kind of brand ambassadors: famous bloggers

A new kind of brand ambassadors: famous entrepreneurs

Funky Brands™ on Pinterest

  Most social media aficionados like myself have probably heard about the recent successful rise of Pinterest -- a "pinboard-style social photo sharing website" (source: Wikipedia). If you google the term "Pinterest", and "Pinterest for marketing", you'll get an endless stream of press articles, and blog posts describing the benefits of this new platform.  I've even seen many marketing consultancies popping up here and there -- with the sole purpose of advising their clients on how to market their businesses on Pinterest.

 

A lot has been already analyzed in terms of the advantages of Pinterest, as well as factors which made it successful. And here's Schmoozy Fox's two cents:

 

1) Pinterest understands that most people are "visual learners."

Most people on planet Earth are the so called "visual learners" -- as opposed to "verbal" and "experiential" learners. I wrote about this in my article Is Your Web Site Sticky Enough? Whereas the main point I was making was related to video content, which is a great visual way to communicate about your brand, the same goes to images and photos. The fact that Pinterest is built around visuals - which appeal to most of us, visual learners - is certainly responsible for Pinterest's successful rise.

 

2) Pinterest is all about playing games

Pulling images from across the web and "pinning" them to your board made me think of gamification, "the use of game design techniques, game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts." (source: Wikipedia) If you want to dig more into the benefits of games and what game dynamics can do to your business, I suggest you check the site of Jane McGonigal, who's a game designer (whom I saw at the Creativity Forum in Antwerp), as well as the blog of Gabe Zichermann, a gamification guy whom I once heard speak at the BetaGroup in Brussels.

 

Pinning does feel like playing a game, so I am also on Pinterest now, and I am having fun with it. Check out my two boards there: 1) Funky Brand Interviews™, which has images of all of the interviews published to date, as well as 2) Funky Brands™, which is a collection of brands I'd like to interview -- or work with -- to make them even more funky.