Best of SCHMOOZY FOX

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

 

 

MTV: Brand Engagement for Generation Y

Today, it’s my pleasure to feature an interview with Mattias Behrer, Senior VP and General Manager for MTV North Europe and MTV International Property Marketing. MTV is a widely-known music and entertainment brand that has been part of the youth culture across continents since 1981. MTV has established a very strong brand with massive TV audiences. Having expanded its focus away from only music into entertainment in general (think of Beavis and Butthead, as well some of the more recent reality shows), MTV has reached a very high level of brand awareness vis-a-vis its main audience -- young people aged 13-29. My goal today, however, is to chat with Mattias about some of the aspects of MTV  that are perhaps less known to wide audiences. In particular, I’d like to talk about the role MTV plays in building brands of companies that advertise with it.  

Olga Slavkina: Mattias, when I met you about a year ago during the launch of your book “How Cool Brands Stay Hot - Branding To Generation Y” , something interesting struck me in your presentation. It was the extent to which MTV goes when it works with advertisers. Unlike many other channels which simply show TV commercials, you actually work with your advertisers to make sure that they reach MTV’s audience in the most effective ways. Is this a correct summary?

 

Mattias Behrer: Absolutely. At MTV we have more than a 100 researchers and analysts feeding all our teams across the world with the latest insights on youth culture, media habits and consumerism. We invest most probably more than any other media brand into the understanding of our target audience. In order to maximize the value for our advertisers and partners, we have specialized in using this knowledge while creating marketing solutions and communication concepts for them.

 

These client solutions are created and executed by our advertising unit called Brand Solutions. We pair our client's marketing challenges and strategies with our youth insights and create communications that are relevant and engaging for the millennial generation. Essentially, we work like an advertising agency, adding our own TV, online and mobile platforms, 31 years of experience in communicating with young people, as well as creative heritage second to none. We are very proud to be able to work with ideas which travel across all media and always try to make the audience the main communicator of the message, leveraging the social aspect of all communication.

 

Olga Slavkina: How could you define a successful collaboration with an advertiser?

 

Mattias Behrer: Successful collaborations are always defined by meeting the objectives set by the advertiser. All concepts are created based on the advertiser's goals, be it sales targets, brand positioning or engagement targets, number of entries for a competition, etc. We are always very conscious about breaking down the objectives defined by the clients, and we discuss unrealistic or poorly defined targets. I have to say that our brand solutions team has created a pretty impressive portfolio of successful cases by now, and I am proud to see that many clients keep coming back year after year. A good recent example is a campaign in Sweden, where Nike asked us to increase the sales of their running line by getting the attention and affection of a new target group - the young urban demographic.

Our concept, called Take Sthlm, was a real life running competition fueled by a 360 degrees integrated campaign with a multitude of social and viral elements. The inhabitants, opinion leaders and fans of each area of the city of Stockholm were encouraged to team up to defend the honor of their "hoods" and battle against each other using the Nike+ functionality to register miles covered. You could follow in real time online how the areas of the city were "taken over" by the respective teams.

 

It ended up being one of the most successful campaigns for Nike Sweden, boosting sales by 70% and their running line beat the football line for the first time ever. The fact that this campaign just won bronze in the Eurobest Awards last week was nice icing on the cake for us and our client.

 

Olga Slavkina: How do you make sure that your advertisers reach your audience with messages that are taken into account?

 

Mattias Behrer: The starting point is always to find the consumer’s "sweet spot" or proposition at the intersection of:

a) the client’s marketing challenge

b) the specific USP/ESP of the product or service

c) the client's brand positioning

d) our applicable youth insights.

In relation to some concepts, we pre-test our material with the target audience, but generally it is about working with the most skilled researchers and planners we have in-house and sometimes with the client or their ad agency.

 

These analysts work with the audience every day, they know how to support our creative and marketing people with the insights needed to develop relevant communications which really move people emotionally. Our research is very much about understanding the fears, hopes and aspirations of Generation Y and advertising is always about engaging and incentivizing your audience to move closer to the desired state of mind. It is much easier today to know when you are doing the right thing. Most concepts carry an element of "social currency" brought to life through the combination of TV and digital media. Through the latter, we get instant feedback on how we are doing.

 

But in the end, it is about meeting the goals of the advertiser and sometimes short term sales targets are best met with ads that don't necessarily get the highest liking in tests. We obviously need to tailor our concept development in order to always deliver on effectiveness and efficiency defined by our clients from one case to another.

 

Olga Slavkina: I’ve written quite a bit about the concept of so called meta-brands -- overarching concepts which add positive associations to other brands which relate to them.  Can MTV be considered a meta-brand and why?

 

Mattias Behrer: MTV is very much a meta-brand. By staying true to our core mission and brand idea - empowering young amazing lives - and by always being guided by our core values, we can navigate in a credible way across the different interests and tribes of youth culture. We can engage with and build stories and values for a rocker, a skater, a rebel and an geek. As long as we stay true to ourselves and never pretend to be something else, we still have the breadth and depth of brand associations that can be selectively highlighted in different situations and appeal to different interests and aspirations from time to time.

 

In collaboration with MTV other brands can - without compromising their own brand identity - lend and benefit from some of the MTV associations (and of course our channels and platforms!) and be more daring in their communication. A couple of years ago we collaborated with the biggest bank in the Nordics and at the outset the perceived positioning of the two brands couldn't be further apart. We managed to find a concept adopting a very creative and daring tone of voice and we helped to make the brand liking of this bank increase by double digits. Most importantly, the audience thought of the bank as one they would recommend to friends. We stayed true to our values and the audience by assuring that all activities gave something back to the audience - be it a laugh or an actual functional benefit.

 

The meta-brand relevance of MTV helped endorsing the relevance of the message. If the bank would have created the same communication on their own, they wouldn't have been able to communicate with the audience in the same "relaxed" and credible manner - the audience would have held their guard up high.  We also asked the audience if they liked the collaboration between MTV and the bank and it scored very high on our test.

 

Olga Slavkina: how does MTV make sure that it knows its audience well?

 

Mattias Behrer:  In this dynamic, complex and rapidly changing media environment the starting point is to acknowledge the value of securing insights and make the effort to be constantly plugged into the values, attitudes and behaviors of our audience. We put research at the core of everything we do. We have people in our teams who know how to turn information into intelligence and inspiration for our daily actions across all areas of our business: creative, content, communication and commercial. We are increasingly creating a brand and research led company and this approach is encouraged from the very top.

 

Olga Slavkina: What issues, in your opinion, do young people in Europe care about today, and how does MTV reflect this in its programs?

 

Mattias Behrer: On average, the youngsters today are better educated, more connected, more positive about the future than any generation before them. They also have greater self-esteem, ambition and ability to make their voices heard, commercially and in general. They have grown up with parents encouraging and empowering them to believe in themselves and the fact that they can make a difference. Compared to previous generations, they have far fewer needs to rebel against parents, authorities or society at large; they typically don’t fight the system, they “game” it and try to make the best out of it.

 

They are ambitious optimists striving for both material and emotional success in life and they are willing to work hard to achieve it. At the same time they are conscious of and unwilling to sacrifice their work-life balance or spending time with friends and family, a sustainable environment or a humane society at large. Overall, we see that young people today have a very positive outlook at their world but they are at the same time aware of the issues around them. For MTV this means that we have to broaden our content stories in order to reflect some of the most relevant real time millennial issues such as bullying, aids, career and life enhancement, sexual health and even teen pregnancy and parenthood.

 

We do this through observational documentaries and scripted drama, but also by being even more involved in contemporary social activities beyond entertainment, and by being more authentic, emotional, warm and direct in the way we communicate. Two of the MTV  brand values say a lot about the mindset of Generation Y: for us Smart & Fun is the new Rock & Roll and Warm is the new Cool.

 

Olga Slavkina: Could you share some of MTV’s plans for the nearest future?

 

 

Mattias Behrer: I am very proud of our brand new international pro-social initiative MTV Voices, an online platform where we and other talented and passionate contributors from all around the world share and discuss interesting social issues, content, events and trends. You should check it out, in English at voices.mtv.co.uk and in German at voices.mtv.de.

 

 

 

 

All images in this article were provided courtesy of MTV. © 2011 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

 

Follow SCHMOOZY FOX on Twitter: @schmoozyfox 

The Funky Brands™ concept is nominated for Accenture Innovation Awards 2011

Today, I'd like to share very good news with you: the Funky Brands™ concept has just been nominated for the Accenture Innovation Award 2011 in the category of Media, Communications and High Tech.  

The main prize -- Blue Tulip -- will be awarded to the best concept in this category on November 10th 2011 in Amsterdam.

 

This is an important milestone in my work, and I am happy that my approach to building brands -- which combines knowledge of business strategycreativity and the web -- has received a lot of recognition after only 2 years of operations.

 

Behavioral economics in branding

 

Over the last few years, a growing number of brands and agencies have been applying principles of behavioural economics to position and build brands.

 

Behavioral economics is all about considering social, cognitive and emotional factors in understanding consumer behavior.

 

Behavioral economists are interested in the same things that standard economists are interested in: Why do people buy certain things? What are the market forces behind their decisions? But as opposed to standard economics that assumes that people behave rationally, behavioral economics does not have this starting assumption. Watch this video by Dan Ariely, a professor of Behavioral Economics from Duke University, who gives a good summary about the subject:

Behavioral economics has been slowly but gradually prompting marketers to take a step away from simply promoting a certain message, towards looking for more subtle and less invasive ways of finding connections to consumers.  According to this article on brandrepublic.com, digital marketers have been early adopters of behavioral economics in its application to user experience and design of web sites. And in fact, it makes perfect sense -- in the online environment, it's often about a choice between clicking on one link as opposed to another. Understanding irrational factors which drive people's choices on the web is crucial in building good brands online.

 

Design thinking & funky brands

I've recently come across an article by Dominic Basulto, Can design thinking save the economic dinosaurs? The main points that Basulto talks about reminded me of what I've said in my two previous blog posts, Astonishing product design and funky brands as well as Dinosaur brands.

Basulto discusses the concept of Design Thinking in relation to "dinosaurs" -- industries such as the car industry, newspapers and magazines, healthcare providers, utilities, and the cable TV industry. Dinosaurs frequently inject a dose of funk into their brand through design.  Often, we see revamped sites, contemporary offices and funky stationery.  In fact, dinosaurs like design -- it allows them to express a certain degree of creativity without changing their business as usual too much.

 

However, most dinosaurs have an enormous need for change, and often they are unwilling to admit this to themselves. That's why they forget the "thinking" part.

 

Take the newspaper industry, for example. Instead of radically re-thinking what it means to be a content provider in the digital age, it is far easier to focus on "making things look pretty." (Quote from this blog post)

 

Dinosaurs don't just need to change their logos, they need to think in terms of an overall brand strategy. For more on this, see my post Need rebranding? Don't just change your logo, think brand strategy.

Interplay between brand strategy and innovation

Many stories told by founders and top managers of Funky Brands in the Funky Brand Interview series have demonstrated that product design and innovation and brand strategy often go hand in hand.  A brand cannot be funky if a product itself has poor design. And vice versa, no matter how astonishing product design is, it's difficult to make a product known without a smart brand strategy that supports its development and launch.

According to the Brand Strategy Insider blog, although there is a close link between innovation and branding, the relationship between these two areas of business is often characterized by many tensions:

"In theory they work together, with the brand strategy providing the ‘face’ of the business’s growth strategy. Brand strategy helps companies bring innovation to the market. Innovation returns the favor by enhancing brand reputation. It sounds simple, but the partnership can be an uneasy one and it is particularly uneasy during a market downturn when investing in new brands or sub-brands can be perceived as ‘too risky’. The difficult choices imposed by hard times forces managers to confront the challenge of ‘brand stretch’ more acutely."

As the article suggests, tensions become especially strong while brand managers begin to play with the idea of introducing brand extensions (for more information about brand extensions, read my article Revitalizing tired brands: Chiquita's fruit bars).  Often,  brand managers are torn between the idea of staying consistent (consistency being one of the main goals of brand strategy) and temptation of delivering the new and unexpected to customers, which is the goal of innovation.

But can the surprise and novelty aspects of innovation become part of the brand DNA whilst allowing the brand in question to stay authentic and consistent? Although it may sound paradoxical, the answer is yes, and many Funky Brands have managed to embrace product innovation as part of their consistent brand DNA.

Many funky brands ensure consistent innovation by opening their companies to external talent. For instance, both Kipling and Swarovski often rely on the fresh inflow of creative ideas from outside of the company.  Both frequently strike deals with external designers in order to deliver constant surprise to their customers.  As a result, the surprise and novelty strategy of constant innovation has become a consistent feature characteristic of both brands. H&M has a similar approach to innovation by co-designing fashion collections together with external designers.

 

Opening your company to innovation does not only only happen at the level of product design.  When I join companies on branding projects in my role of a brand guardian, advisor or partner, I serve as a bridge between the company's existing know how and its potential to innovate.

 

 

Marketing vs. Branding

Here's a very to-the-point quote that describes the difference between branding and marketing. I found it here:   Branding helps you know what to say, and marketing provides the vehicles to deliver the messages. Just like a politician will steer any question back to the handful of key campaign points, your brand positioning statement steers all advertising, website content, brochures, public relations, and face-to-face selling to your firms competitive advantages.

TechCrunch Europe republishes my article about Groupon

On March 2, 2011, Tech Crunch Europe, one of the most watched tech and web blogs globally, published my story about the branding aspects of Groupon, which originally appeared on this blog under the title The dangers of Groupon for your brand, and its own.

For me personally, the most exciting part of being featured on TechCrunch is the heated debate that my article has sparked. To wrap up my reaction to this debate, I've posted this comment:

Thanks for all your comments, everybody. To wrap it up, the main purpose of the article was to analyze the consequences of advertising on Groupon for SMALL BUSINESSES, rather than discuss Groupon's advantages or disadvantages for the final consumer.
As small businesses rarely have any brand and marketing strategy know-how in house, they simply don't give much thought to online promotions, and their consequences in terms of decreased brand value, increased expenses and an inability to meet all this capacity due to promotional stunts on Groupon.
I don't doubt that Groupon has had a great business idea and made a fortune fast. But brand building is a very complex and often lengthy process -- it doesn't happen overnight. Also, brands do not just happen by themselves, you have to nurture and sustain them. This is why, in order for its business to continue being profitable and successful in the future, Groupon needs to start thinking how to create brand value vis-a-vis all of its players -- not only us the final customers, but also small businesses. To summarize, Groupon has to begin thinking in terms of BRAND STRATEGY.
If you want to dig a bit more into the subject of brand building dynamics in the online environment, here are a couple of other articles that I wrote on my own blog that will be interesting to check out:
http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/01/19/smart-marketing-is-key-to-success-on-the-web/
http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/07/05/venture-capitalists-brand-strategy/
http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/02/03/is-your-brand-ready-to-go-online/
@FunkyBizBabe


"Thanks for all your comments, everybody. To wrap it up, the main purpose of the article was to analyze the consequences of advertising on Groupon for SMALL BUSINESSES, rather than discuss Groupon's advantages or disadvantages for the final consumer.

As small businesses rarely have any brand and marketing strategy know-how in house, they simply don't give much thought to online promotions, and their consequences in terms of decreased brand value, increased expenses and an inability to meet all this capacity due to promotional stunts on Groupon.

I don't doubt that Groupon has had a great business idea and made a fortune fast. But brand building is a very complex and often lengthy process -- it doesn't happen overnight. Also, brands do not just happen by themselves, you have to nurture and sustain them. This is why, in order for its business to continue being profitable and successful in the future, Groupon needs to start thinking how to create brand value vis-a-vis all of its players -- not only us the final customers, but also small businesses. To summarize, Groupon has to begin thinking in terms of BRAND STRATEGY.

If you want to dig a bit more into the subject of brand building dynamics in the online environment, here are a couple of other articles that I wrote on my own blog that will be interesting to check out:

http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/01/19/smart-marketing-is-key-to-success-on-the-web/

http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/07/05/venture-capitalists-brand-strategy/

http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/02/03/is-your-brand-ready-to-go-online/

@FunkyBizBabe "
Interestingly, yesterday Mashable published an article about New York Times's launch of a Groupon-like daily deals service. New York Times is said to be concentrating only on the high end products and services offered by New York Times's advertising partners. Do you think the focus on premium products and services would be advantageous for the brand of this New York Times's service, and if yes, why?

The dangers of Groupon for your brand - and its own

Last November, Google was trying to buy Groupon for $5.3 billion, in what would have been its largest acquisition yet. To everybody’s surprise, Groupon said No.

The deal-of-the-day site, which offers one deal per day in each of the markets it serves, was launched in 2008. By the time of Google’s attempts to buy it, it was operational in 150 markets in North America, and 100 markets in Europe. Its popularity and quick growth was mainly due to supposedly big rewards for the site users, who could get access to various services (such as massage, yoga courses, meals) and products at heavily discounted prices.  It was said to be the result of “buyer power” but obviously had more to do with sales promotions for the brands in question.

I also tried out Groupon on two occasions.

Once, I bought a coupon for a massage at what was presented as a Brussels-based beauty salon. The price I paid was 19 Euros, “instead of the usual price of 70 Euros” charged by the said salon.

When I arrived, I found out that the beauty salon was anything but beautiful itself... Just by looking at the shabby interior, I thought that I would have never been tempted to step in, let alone pay 70 Euros for an hour of massage, which is considered a price above the market in Belgium. But given the context, I was curious.

During the massage, the masseuse spent a lot of time telling me how much work she had to do after her service had been promoted on Groupon.

“And I earn nothing for working non-stop,” she kept exclaiming (the chat itself distracted somewhat from the experience).

An immigrant from Congo, she has 4 children to feed, and is prepared for a lot of work, “as long as there is work.”

The massage was okay. That is, okay for the price of 19 Euros. Unfortunately it also fixed in my mind that the reference price was 70 Euros - so I’ve never been back and the investment that the beauty salon made in sales promotions through Groupon must have delivered minimal, if any, results.

My second (and perhaps last) experience with Groupon took place this very morning, when I tried (and failed) to use a coupon that I had bought during the Christmas rush last December.

Priced only at 8 Euros, it would give me a possibility of printing an attractive looking photo album for the value of 26 Euros with a service called www.albumdigital.com.

In fact, I did want to make an album of my family’s photos and have it ready as a Christmas present.

But when I tried to use my 8-Euro Groupon coupon last December, I had to abandon this idea right away, mainly because it turned out that www.albumdigital.com only made its service available to Windows users. Being a Mac and Linux user myself, I found this slightly annoying, especially since my coupon said nothing about that.

I do have Windows on one of my computers, but oh boy, do I do everything possible to avoid using it.

So I did. Until this morning. Just because I noted down in my agenda that my lovely coupon was expiring today.

In fact, it was not even clear whether it would expire today, or on March 3rd. Look at these different dates that are totally confusing (the coupon is in French):

groupon coupon_expiry_dates

The first date (underlined in red) says that the coupon is valid until 03.03.2011. Whereas the second mention of validity refers to February 28th. In any case, I thought, it should work, because today IS February 28th.

Well, it didn’t.

After a rather excruciating experience of downloading the required software using my Windows computer and waiting, waiting, waiting while different windows kept popping up.

Finally, the software seemed ready to receive the photos of my kids. Although the software promised to organize them by date, this did not happen. I also had to click and click away to see which of my selected albums corresponded to which price, as this info was not organized properly.

albumdigital_prices

And yes, this painful process took a long time. Which means, that the value of the voucher was negative, at least for me, as I LOST a whole lot of time.

albumdigital_long_upload

And finally, after having uploaded everything, filling out a tedious form with my personal information for www.albumdigital.com, AND submitting my promotional code, I saw THIS:

groupon_code_not_valid1

I’ve written emails to both Albumdigital and Groupon, but the point is: even if I am ever reimbursed the rather minuscule price of 8 Euros that I paid to Groupon, it’s highly unlikely anyone will reimburse the value of the time I spent fighting with this technology.

Although Groupon has skimmed a market opportunity with commercial aplomb, its longer-term future is, as far as I am concerned, anything but certain:

  • Those small-scale services and product providers who promote themselves through Groupon generally have very little understanding about brand-building themselves. They don’t understand why offering their often high-value services at low prices through Groupon positions them as “cheap” vis-a-vis their potential customers. Would I go back to the beauty salon and pay them 70 Euros for what cost me 19 Euros and was portrayed as a “fair price” (rather than a sales promotion gimmick)? Nope. And I can hardly imagine anyone doing it. At best I might move on to the next Groupon deep discounter. There might, of course, be some exceptions, such as discovering an amazing restaurant where a meal cost you next to nothing, and wanting to experience it again. But for services of average quality, repeat purchases with that provider are unlikely.
  • Associating itself with low-quality service providers, such as www.albumdigital.com, does nothing good to Groupon’s brand either. In my mind, I lost a lot of precious time on www.albumdigital.com which I discovered with Groupon’s help, and in my consumer mind, the brand of www.albumdigital.com is .... well, Groupon’s brand. Whether Groupon wants it or not.
  • What’s happening here in brand strategy terms is that Groupon constantly co-brands itself with each and every service provider that features in its daily deals. So, the aggregate consumer satisfaction with, and brand loyalty towards Groupon will be a sum of all experiences its customers have while they receive their massages and buy photo albums. Every real-world discounter which plans to stay in business over the long term, however, still offers some sort of quality guarantee - think Aldi in Germany and Colruyt in Belgium.

One of the reasons why Groupon has achieved such rapid market penetration is because the small businesses which promote themselves through it have very little knowledge of business development and brand strategy - especially online. Motivated by large-scale and quick exposure to potential customers, they sell their service often at a loss - remember that Groupon makes money by keeping half of the price advertised in daily deals. So, my masseuse actually sold her services at 8.5 Euros per hour!

They also position their fragile and often unknown brands in the consumer’s mind as worth much less than the price they usually charge - and possibly little more than a ripoff. Meanwhile Groupon is generating cash by cannibalizing its own brand - hardly a recipe for long-term value creation.

Mad Mimi: funky email marketing

mad mimi Anyone who has ever launched a new business, must have at some point experimented with email marketing.

Has any entrepreneur ever looked for an extremely funky kind of email marketing when looking for such a service? I can only speak for myself, and say that I wasn’t. Frankly, I didn’t expect anything as functional as sending out an email to be enjoyable and fun. Until I discovered Mad Mimi.

First of all, it was the name. I thought that a company that dared to call itself by such a name, would be something special.

Then there was the funky design of their web site that triggered my interest even more.

To cut a long story short, sending my first email with Mad Mimi was simply fun. Email exchange with its support team that welcomed me to MadMimi was refreshingly different. I simply could not resist contacting Mad Mimi’s CEO Gary Levitt and getting to know the man behind this funky brand. I greatly enjoyed my talk with Gary, who shared some useful tips on the importance of staying optimistic, and hiring only the best and most talented. Have fun reading my interview with Gary, and learning about Mad Mimi.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Gary, most of my Funky Brand interviewees have represented product brands – such as fashion, accessories, food and drink. I am very happy to interview you about Mad Mimi because I want to show to my readers that Funky Brands can also exist in a business-to-business context. Could you tell me when and how you had the idea of launching Mad Mimi?

Gary Levitt, CEO of Mad Mimi

Gary Levitt: I studied music at Berkeley College in Boston, and after graduation, played jazz in New York, worked as a bus boy in restaurants and eventually worked in commercial music production. One day I had an idea of building an online platform for musicians that would allow them to upload images and send out press kits. Although I received funding to develop this product, and hired coders, I never ended up launching it.

I guess the main reason for that was that I lacked deep understanding of how to build a product, and expected the coders I hired to do the creative thinking and architecture for me. The coders were into ... coding, as opposed to designing the product and making it work on the market. Plus, I myself lacked the experience to know how to manage the development of a product.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How did you make the switch from the press kit product for musicians towards Mad Mimi, which is an email marketing service for a much wider audience?

Gary Levitt: Mad Mimi simply seemed like a logical step in a direction that I thought had more potential for commercial success than a niche product for musicians. The interface we had created for musicians was good enough for everybody to use -- and so Mad Mimi was born.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Mad Mimi is quite an original name, did you come up with it?

Gary Levitt: Yes. I originally planned to call the company simply Mimi, but then had the idea of adding “Mad” to it when I was renting space next to another company called Madstone productions.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Good design -- be it product design or brand visual identity -- is an important element of Funky Brands. To me, Mad Mimi looks pretty eye-catching! Even the colors of your site look quite different from what one would, I suppose, associate with email marketing!

Gary Levitt: I wanted Mad Mimi to stand out from the crowd not least by giving it amad mimi email marketing fun, eye-catching visual identity that would make it memorable. I was once leafing through an issue of Creativity Magazine where I saw a list of award-winning designers. It seemed like a great idea to work with the best and most talented, so I contacted one (David Bamundo) who designed Mad Mimi’s logo.

This is pretty much how I’ve thought at every crucial step of building the company. For instance, when I looked for software developers, I sent out my brief to about 80 meticulously selected top programmers. I was lucky to end up working with really talented people who helped me build Mad Mimi the way it is now -- and are in fact continuing product development.

The same philosophy of hiring the best and most talented applies to selecting customer service reps for Mad Mimi. We receive 1, 500 emails of customer inquiries per day, and have a dedicated force of 16 customer service reps around the world.

I have generally focused not on resumes (I’ve never actually used a resume to influence a decision to hire someone) but on energy instead. We typically don’t take a cost cutting or outsourced approach to staffing our front lines with low paid employees. We’ve instead focused on creating top-down culture where every lead developer and C-level executive does customer service along side dedicated customer service staff. The customer service infrastructure isn’t “designed” as such, but has rather flowed naturally from the ownership out to other members of the team. We feel that our profitability and growth is in a large part due to this approach, and it’s a crucial part of our brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: I experienced Mad Mimi’s customer service first hand.  Actually, I must say, I assumed that the first email I received from Mad Mimi was an automated response.  And yet, something told me there was a real person interacting with me at the other end.  It felt different and nice.

Gary Levitt: (Laughing). Indeed, we don’t do automated customer service! There are real people who are there 24/7 to help you. We say that we like to hire friendly geeks for this kind of job, but really, anyone cool, friendly and passionate is great to be in customer service.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And finally, Gary, how would you describe the essence of Mad Mimi’s funky brand?

Gary Levitt: It’s simplicity, warmth and loveliness. Yummy loveliness! :)

Mashable gives a positive review to Mad Mimi

Polish Żubrówka becomes Żu in the US

Here's a nice read that can appeal to all those who like to dig into intricate issues of international branding. The cult Polish alcoholic drink, Żubrówka, has finally made its way to the US market, the Wall Street Journal reports. This is big news for the Polish brand which will be able to market its product on the potentially lucrative US market.  However, the Żubrówka you might know -- the kind that comes with a thin leaf of mysterious bison grass in it -- which gives the drink that strong particular taste (the Żubrówka taste) -- will have a different version in the US. So different, that the question is -- can it still be referred to as Żubrówka?

zubrowkaŻubrówka has been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration for many years due to the presence in it of a toxic chemical, coumarin. Apparently, the source of coumarin is the bison grass. Polish scientists struggled for years to get the grass-less  Żubrówka to taste like the real stuff, and they've finally made a new concoction work for them.

From a branding perspective, Żubrówka's entry in the US was complicated. The US authorities referred to Żubrówka as a generic drink, which led to many fake Żubrówka look-alikes appear on the market.  So, the challenge was to find another name as a trade mark.  This was viewed as an opportunity as the new name -- Żu -- is also potentially easier for Americans to pronounce. It also contains a bison-inspired reference to the animal world, as Żu is supposed to signal "zoo".  I am not sure if bisons are typical zoo residents, and I am not convinced that those who try the drink for the first time, would ever pick up this link between zoos, wild Polish forests and bisons. But the name choice is made, and the drink has entered the US market.

What are the implications of launching a brand that is well-known in one geography, in another, under a different name? Is the new brand name a good choice to support the launch of grass-less drink? Do the Żu marketers need to promote the Żubrówka heritage in Żu brand communications?

The Zuckerberg brand

zuckerbergDo entrepreneurs have to manage their personal brands separately from the brands of products they launch? This is the debate that I've seen happening recently, and answers to this question differ in each individual case. What does seem clear is that whether they want it or not, CEOs of big companies have their personal brands under scrutiny 24/7, and they should take this fact seriously.

A concrete example I want to talk about today is Mark Zuckerberg's personal brand.

Facebook is known pretty much by everyone on planet Earth. Facebook's business model relies on people to trust it with their data. And now, here's something important to remember: if they trust the CEO, they're much more likely to trust the platform.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, has been enjoying a lot of media attention lately, most of which has boosted his personal brand tremendously. At the end of 2010, Time Magazine named him Person of the Year.

This is a positive development for Zuckerberg, especially since some predicted a painful PR disaster for him after release of The Social Network movie.

In reality, the movie has had a completely opposite effect on Zuckerberg’s personal brand. Instead of being positioned as a thief of business ideas and a sexist jerk, Zuckerberg has come out as a talented entrepreneur and a young prodigy.

This personal brand positioning is extremely valuable for someone who runs such a sizable company as Facebook. Moreover, as Lesley Stahl has pointed out in her recent interview with Zuckerberg, half a billion people who give their information to Facebook, do feel that they have a right to know more about him.

The 60 Minutes interview on CBS did exactly this: it allowed Zuckerberg to communicate who he, Mark, not just Facebook’s founder and CEO, really is. And he did it in a way that benefitted the Facebook brand, too.

Here is a recap of what has helped Zuckerberg’s personal brand positioning as a successful young entrepreneur:

1) The Social Network movie

As mentioned above, the movie has had a positive effect both for Facebook as a company, and for Mark Zuckerberg personally. By the time the movie was released, it had a hugely responsive audience at its disposal -- the audience that was already brand aware. Speaking in branding terms, all those Facebook users who went to see the movie became brand loyal even more.

2) Friendliness to the press

If you haven’t yet watched the CBS 60 minutes videos, you should, as they can give a good lesson on how to handle journalists’ questions. Mark Zuckerberg was relaxed, joked about the movie (“they got the T-shirts and sandals right!”) and managed to avoid answering difficult questions (“How could you rate yourself as a CEO?” asks Leslie Stahl, to which Zuckerbergh responds, “You can never win by answering this question” and then proceeds to giving an example of how he decided not to sell Facebook to Yahoo for 1 billion dollars).

3) Philantrophy

Zuckerberg has joined the Giving Pledge set up by billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and has agreed to give away half of his wealth to good causes.

These days, it’s not Nokia that’s connecting people, it’s Facebook. Somehow, 500 million active users can’t be wrong -- Facebook has become an important part in our daily lives. And trusting it with our personal information gets a bit easier if we trust the guy who's created the platform.

Brand names for innovative products

pampersIf you are about to launch an innovative product, the kind that has never existed before, you'd better give it a great name -- memorable, snappy and easy to pronounce. But what if your product becomes so popular, that it gives rise to a whole new product category? So popular, that people begin referring to this new category by your product name.

"I am going to get more pampers for my baby."

"Give me a kleenex, I have a cold."

"Let's take a thermos on our trip."

"Let's make some jell-o for dessert."

Pampers, Kleenex, Thermos and Jello-O all used to be innovative products that essentially established totally new product categories. Nowadays, people go shopping for "pampers" even if they will end up buying a box of Huggies.

This phenomenon is called genericide, or a "threat of the brand name being used as a generic term." (( Taylor ,  C .  and  Walsh ,  M . G .  ( 2002 )  Legal strategies for protecting brands from genericide: Recent trends in evidence weighted in court cases .  Journal of Public Policy and Marketing  21 (1) :  160 – 167 .))

Is genericide good or bad for your brand?

On the one hand, one could argue that it is good.  After all, it demonstrates very high awareness about your brand. However, this brand awareness may not necessarily lead to purchases of your brand, since its popularity will prompt other copycat brands to appear. And it may lead to customers buying them, whilst referring to them by the name of your brand.

Whereas there's probably little you can do to prevent competitors from launching similar products, you might want to make sure that genericide does not have negative consequences on the brand of  your innovative product.

Professor Judith Lynne   Zaichkowsky from Copenhagen Business School suggests the following methods that brand managers can use to protect their brands from genericide: (( J.L. Zaichkowsky, Strategies for distinctive brands, Journal of Brand Management (2010)  17, 548 – 560))

  • use the trademark as a descriptive adjective, such as Rollerblade ® in-line skates or I-POD ® MP3 player.
  • use the trademark notice in advertising and labelling, for example, BLACKBERRY ®
  • display the brand name with special typographical treatment -- font matters!
  • extend the brand name to other related product categories
the threat of the brand name being used as
a generic term

In other words, successful protection of a brand name involves much more than attention to the name itself -- it a brand strategy that affects a whole company.

Swarovski: enchanting the world

GINSENG_BangleToday SCHMOOZY FOX is happy to publish an interview with yet another Funky Brand -- Swarovski.

The origins of this Austrian company go back to 1895, when its founder Daniel Swarovski invented a machine for cutting and polishing crystal jewellery stones. Today, the Swarovski group, still family-owned and run by 4th and 5th generation family members, has a global reach with some 24,800 employees, a presence in over 120 countries and a turnover in 2009 of 2.25 billion Euros.

Swarovski comprises two major businesses: one produces and sells loose elements to the industry, whilst the other one manufactures and sells design-driven finished products. And it’s surely the latter that makes the Swarovski brand known to most of us. It’s particularly interesting to feature Swarovski on this blog, due to its positioning as a contemporary luxury brand -- after all, SCHMOOZY FOX’s area of particular expertise is what we call Affordable Luxury (join our Affordable Luxury group on LinkedIn).

NOBLY_Keyring Aqua

I am happy to talk to Nathalie Colin, Swarovski’s Creative Director of consumer goods, who’ll give us some insights into the company’s brand strategy.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Nathalie, Swarovski has a very long history of technological innovations and quality. How does a company with such a heritage manage to innovate and stay contemporary?

Nathalie Colin: On the one side, we have a heritage and values that we need to protect and maintain. On the other side, it is our responsibility to balance the heritage with the need for change, in a careful and respectful way.

We pay a lot of respect to the heritage of Swarovski, and to the initial visionary approach of Daniel Swarovski who founded the company. At that time, it required a visionary strategy and out of the box thinking to found this company in the middle of Tyrol. Daniel Swarovski knew early on that innovation was key, and that networking and collaborating with artists and designers (Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli) was crucial to bring fresh ideas into the business.

From its very beginning back in 1895, Swarovski has been continuously exploring the extraordinary possibilities of crystal. And even now every step in our design process focuses on the same ambition: to push the boundaries of crystal.

Working with crystal is a given and I work with this in mind. I am particularly interested in various creative techniques with crystal: crystal mesh, pavé, stone set in stone, floating stone, exclusive faceted cut crystal stone, beading, embroideries, and Pointiage® -- a real craft couture technique where all stones are applied one by one by hand.

All these techniques open doors to endless creativity, especially when one can mix them together.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What about Swarovski’s co-operation with famous designers? I suppose this must be one of the important drivers that help create a contemporary brand image?

Nathalie Colin: It surely does! To give you an example, I am very pleased with our choice of inviting Harumi Klossowska de Rola as a guest designer the Spring-Summer 2011 season. One could say that Harumi is a Swarovski woman: modern, feminine, international, trendy, artistic, with an interesting personality.

She is also a muse, who has inspired photographers like Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Althur Elgort. Elegance and mystery have become her signature.

Swarovski Nymphe zip coin purse, SS 2011

Harumi is the daughter of internationally renowned painter Balthus and Japanese countess Setsuko. She has an intimate connection with the world of painting, and she herself also paints. Our iconic motive of the season, the butterfly, is also one of her favorite animals (she has a butterfly-shaped tatoo). She was very enthusiastic to design a butterfly-inspired theme for Swarovski. The delicacy of the jewelry theme she has designed is really stunning.  On a personal level, I do appreciate the international spirit of Harumi, her sensitivity, her taste for cultural diversity… and her great sense of humor!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What does the brand of Swarovski stand for?

Nathalie Colin: Creation, perfection and innovation are Swarovski’s key values.

Our approach to design combines femininity and emotion with the rigour of innovation, and attention to details. Some of the technics we have developed (like the

Swarovski Nature brooch SS 2011

handmade Pointiage™ technic) have helped us create a distinctive signature style, and yet allow every accessory look unique.

In terms of brand positioning, we call Swarovski a contemporary luxury brand (SCHMOOZY FOX calls this “new luxury” or “affordable luxury” -- O.S.)

This positioning reflects our offering of desirable products which are accessible and have a broad appeal.

It also allows us to to combine our expertise in jewelry and crystal established since 1895 with creativity, quality and innovation to enchant our consumers.

This concept embraces the idea that luxury is no longer about acquiring for status. Instead, it has become a life enhancing experience that is linked to emotional enrichment and enchantment. Contemporary luxury is not elitist, it belongs to everybody. Swarovski is all about experiential value: enchanting the world, inspiring new perspectives, enhancing lives.

DOLLL_MPAContemporary luxury is provided by a brand that represents credibility, emotion, accessibility and is open to your heart. And this is why people come in our stores.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you tell me about the job of a Creative Director for Swarovski? Do you come up with all the new product ideas?

Nathalie Colin: I was appointed by Swarovski as Creative Director in 2006.  It is a great feeling to know that the work done by our creative studio will be known by large audiences.

Due to the scale of the company, I have a wonderful work environment as well as support with a large team of in-house experts one could dream of when it comes to product innovation, quality, plating, etc.

Finally, I very much relate personally to the brand’s ambition to enchant the world. This is such a positive vision! This concept embraces the idea that luxury is no longer a material acquisition for status but instead has become a life enhancing experience that is linked to emotional enrichment and enchantment. Swarovski is all about this experiential value: enchanting the world, inspiring new perspectives, enhancing lives.

And I really feel connected with what the brand stands for: credibility, emotion, accessibility and openness to your heart. And this is why I love being Swarovski’s Creative Director and why people come in our stores!

MILADY_BagSCHMOOZY FOX: Tell me a little bit about how you work, is there some pattern that you follow to launch new collections?

Nathalie Colin: Yes, there’s definitely a pattern that I follow. For example, I always start by researching the overall mood of the coming season: what is our state of mind ? Will there be a season of ornamentation? A season of exuberance? Are we going back to the roots? Is it more about vintage revival or rather a modernistic approach?

Once key trends have been identified, mood boards are designed to show possible sources of inspiration and key design concepts.  These boards stress the key colour mood and focus on the key colour palette. Important details such as the design of unique stone cuts focus on specific techniques. Decisions of whether to mix crystal with other materials are worked through in the next design steps.

The design of exclusive crystal stones takes place early on, inasmuch as the development of special colour coatings. This requires support from the innovation & product development team. Other teams that support our design process are product development, marketing, quality, production and supply chain.

To give you an idea of my collection planning schedule, in September 2010 I already started working on the Spring - Summer 2012 collection and began to inspire related teams throughout the company. The design phase started in October/November. And the samples will be fully approved and completed by June 2011.

SCHMOOZY FOX: I like Swarovski’s characters -- Erika and Eliot. Is there a story about them?

ELIOT URBAN BEAT_Keyring

Nathalie Colin: Yes, there’s a beautiful story about them! Eliot and Erika were born from a single crystal egg, and at birth the fairies gave them the power to bring instant joy and poetry wherever they go. Originally named Elvis, our young hero returns as a budding artist and graffiti tagger under the pseudonym Eliot. Easily recognizable and exemplifying Swarovski’s unique creativity and know-how, Eliot and Erika re-appear every six months with brand new looks and accessories. Originally launched in the form of pendants, today Eliot and Erika appear on a whole range of Swarovski leather goods such as coin purses, clutches and even handbag charms. Since their debut in Spring/Summer 2008, the pair has become a great success, eagerly awaited each season by fans across the globe. Many other adventures are already planned for Eliot and Erika in the coming seasons.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the main highlights of Swarovski’s brand strategy? How does it plan to stay a very innovative, exciting and funky brand in the future?

ERIKA URBAN BEAT_KeyringNathalie Colin: Our key brand strategy objectives are work on the architecture concept, celebrity marketing initiatives and work on new market segments.

We plan to expand a new retail concept to the new and already existing retail network. Today, Swarovski is an international player with strong retail business of 1800  branded boutiques and other points of sale in all major fashion capitals around the world.

It is in the luxurious and world famous Ginza district in Tokyo that Swarovski showcased the utmost creative expression of the ‘Crystal Forest’ concept with the opening of its first Flagship Store at the end of March 2008. And in December 2009 we opened a new boutique on 146, avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris.

Speaking about the new retail concept, it has been designed by Tokujin Yoshioka as a multi-sensory experience, giving visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the seductive brilliance and infinite depths of crystal. We wanted the new retail architecture to surround the brand with a true crystal experience focused on pleasing the senses. We plan more than 150 openings this year and do have similar plans for the years to come.

Regarding celebrity marketing, since 1999, Swarovski has been deeply involved in the Cannes Film Festival, and since 2000 in the Academy Awards (the Oscars) and more recently as an official sponsor of the Toronto International Film Festival.

With a strong presence at major star-studded events such as the Grammy Awards, Golden Globes and Césars, internationally renowned celebrities such as Madonna, Sharon Stone, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Aishwarya Rai, Zhang Ziyi and Jennifer Aniston select Swarovski for their red carpet appearances, and this of course helps enhance the brand of Swarovski even further.

All images in this article are courtesy of Swarovski.

Beastly branding

The owl of hootsuite.com

In my previous post, I talked about brand mascots: when to use them to boost your brand, and when to avoid them.

After the blog post was published, one of my blog readers pointed out that the majority of brand mascots are, in fact, animals.

This prompted me to do a bit more digging into the subject, and here’s what I found: a very interesting paper by Professor Stephen Brown from Ulster Business School: Where the wild brands are: some thoughts on anthropomorphic marketing. (( Brown, Stephen., Marketing Review, Fall 2010, Vol. 10, issue 3, pp. 209-224 ))

The paper gives many examples of companies using animals as brand mascots, and discusses which beasts are most popular.

Ronald McDonald

Throughout history, humankind has had a love-hate relationship with wild animals. On the one hand, we fear and detest powerful predators, especially those that destroy our crops and kill our livestock. On the other hand, we envy and admire their speed and grace, adorn ourselves in their fur and feathers, and worship them as totemic deities who symbolise our tribes, our teams, our territories. (( ibid. ))

In branding, mascots became popular a century ago in France, when almost every company adorned its products with friendly looking cats, dogs and insects. Interestingly, fictional people’s characters have also been used quite successfully in branding. For example, the 116-year old Michelin man is still alive and well-known.

Brown concludes that fictional human characters are most popular brand mascots, followed by birds, domestic animals, and wild animals (so, SCHMOOZY FOX is still doing okay here!). Insects, aquatic creatures, vegetables and body parts (!) have much less popularity, although I would imagine that some friendly insects such as bees and lady birds are okay to use!

The main rule of thumb is that “Brand animal popularity is directly related to the species’ physiological and psychological distance from humankind.” (( ibid. )) The closer the species to the human kind, the easier it is for people to “process” a brand mascot.

In terms of animals, domestic and wild, it’s interesting to see that different countries might attribute different qualities to the same animal. So, study the character of your brand beast well before you go global!

burts_bees

Brand mascots

Photo by Bludgeoner86 on Flickr

You’ve ordered yourself a great logo. You’ve built an attractive web site. You’ve sorted out the look and feel of your distribution channels. And you even have a brand slogan that goes well with your funky brand name.

Provided that your business idea actually makes economic sense and that you’ve positioned yourself well against competition, chances are that you’ve built a good basis for your brand strategy that will lead to satisfied customers, and big profits.

And yet, you feel that there should be something else that will give your brand a personality.

Have you noticed that when you buy your funky Kipling bag, there’s a very cool little toy monkey that comes with it?

Or, when you buy your Michelin guide, it always has the Michelin man on its front page?

These cartoon-like characters are called brand mascots, and they are there to infuse your brand with that precious valuable personality.

Rather than part of your visual identity, brand mascots are essentially a marketing communications tool that gives your brand a more memorable and emotional character. Even if your brand mascot is actually an animal, chances are, it will give your brand a human touch.

Though brand mascots are becoming increasingly common, especially with the rise of social media (check out the Travelocity Roaming Gnome on Facebook), really good and effective ones are still rare.

kipling monkeyHere are some tips that will help you create a great brand mascot:

1) Think of your target audience -- will it be prepared to listen to your brand stories told by a cute mascot? If your company offers specialized software to accountants, don’t start pushing cartoon-like characters onto them to promote your stuff. The funky factor of your brand mascot needs to be consistent with the profile of your customers.

2) Don’t get obsessed with making your mascot look like your logo.

In fact, the role of the mascot is not to enhance your visual identity, but make your brand alive. Some companies change the appearance of their mascots, adapting it to the situation. For instance, different Kipling bags will have different monkey mascots, depending on the style of the bag.

Similarly, the Twitter bird often takes different shapes and forms, somehow still managing to look Twitter-like!

Twitter birds

3) Make your brand mascot connect to your customers emotionally. The main question you need to ask yourself is this, “What do I want my customers to feel when they interact with my brand mascot?” There should be something in your customers that resonates with the character of the mascot.

4) Consider a brand mascot only if your business makes economic sense.

This is a tough one! I’ve seen many startups invest tons of money into a lot of activity around their brand mascots -- only to realize that these cartoon characters alone neither  drove sales, nor built the brand. If you have nothing valuable to offer to your customers, they will be annoyed rather than delighted by your brand mascot.

5) Finally, make people remember your brand, not your brand mascot.

A brand mascot is only one element of your brand communications, but it doesn’t replace your whole brand strategy.  When people think of your brand, it’s okay if they first recall a funny cartoon-like brand mascot. What’s more important, however, is that they know what exactly this mascot exactly stands for! Remembering a cute furry animal, and not having a clue about what you actually sell, is not what you want from your consumers. Brand mascots enhance your brand, but they are not your brand.

3 psychological reasons why low-income consumers buy status goods

Image by shannonkringen on Flickr

Here’s a fascinating study that many nerdy (and funky) marketers will find useful.

The study was written by professors Niro Sivanathan from London Business School and Nathan C. Pettit from Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell and it’s called Protecting the self through consumption: status goods as affirmational commodities. Professor Sivanathan from LBS has kindly shared the study with me, and today I’m happy to give you a short overview of its main findings.

Let me start by asking you this simple question: WHO are luxury goods produced for? If you think that it’s only wealthy folks who wear expensive clothes and go vacationing in the world’s best hotels, you will be seriously mistaken.

The truth is, low-income individuals often pay for luxuries that they can theoretically not afford.

How can this be explained? The main reasons are, according to the study, psychological.  Sometimes, buying a luxury good, or indulging in a luxury service is the simplest way to repair our egos.

This can take several forms:

1) People seek status goods when they experience self-threat and need to heal psychological wounds. This is true for both high and low-income individuals.

For example, if you are a woman who has just gone through a divorce, you’d be likely to find yourself tempted to spend significant amounts of money on new clothes, beauty treatments, gym subscriptions and exotic vacations. Because this can make you feel good about yourself -- and this is worth paying a high price for.

Interestingly, the study showed that when individuals have another route to repair their self-integrity -- an alternative to acquiring status goods -- they tend to be less interested in seeking these goods.

2) Status goods serve the purpose of protecting an individual’s ego from future self-threats. They often serve as a buffer, or armor, against things that can go wrong in the future. In the study, those individuals who were asked to imagine that they had an expensive car, felt less threatened to face future self-threats than those without a car.

3) Some individuals’ lowered self-esteem drives their willingness to pay a premium on status goods. This explains economists’ observation that it is “often those earning the least that spend the greatest fraction of their income on conspicuous consumption”.  They acquire goods not for their functional properties, but to signal social status.

I remember witnessing my friends spending all their annual savings in one go (!) on a pair of shoes or jeans right after the Soviet Union collapsed. Status was everything and people were prepared to give all the cash they had to signal their associations with expensive and, importantly, famous, brands.

What might be the implications of this study for those who want to build Funky Brands™ ?

  • First of all, a status good is technically speaking not only simply a very expensive and good quality item. It is first and foremost a strong b r a n d. From the consumer’s perspective, there’s for sure no reason to spend any money, especially if her income is not that great, on something that is not known by others.
  • It’s often not just luxury, but affordable luxury goods producers, who are able to deliver on two important aspects. First, they can sell their products at prices which are not as high as pure luxury. And second, they are able to infuse these goods with an aura of style, luxury and status.

So, if you urgently need to repair your ego, you can do it perfectly well by getting yourself a Victoria’s Secret lingerie set, and skipping La Perla altogether.

Join the Affordable Luxury group on LinkedIn, and share the news and opinions about this exciting segment.

Need rebranding? Don't just change your logo, think brand strategy

Old Apple logoI am often asked to explain what brand strategy stands for. In my experience, many people still associate branding, and brand strategy, with graphic design -- logos, web sites and other elements of visual identity. Whereas visual identity is absolutely essential in branding (and SCHMOOZY FOX works with a great team of designers to take care of it!), it's just one step in a broader activity which is brand strategy.

Brand strategy is your overall business strategy that has an objective of building a  S T R O N G  B R A N D.

This may sound rather simple, but in reality, a good brand strategy is a very complex exercise.  A good brand strategy can determine your success, and no brand strategy is often a recipe for a failure (see my previous blog post Brands do not take care of themselves).

Rebranding is a good chance to sort out your overall brand strategy. Often, companies feel like getting away from a tired image, and creating something more consistent with market needs.  This "something" is often, in their view, a change of look and feel. Often, their rebranding efforts are only about changing a logo.

But the reality is, even after improving their logos, many companies don't sort out their bad customer service, or improve product functionality. It's astonishing that many companies simply do not think that these strategic elements have anything to do with their brand!

Today, I want to share with you a story  published on Inc.com, How to rebrand your business successfully. It summarizes a rebranding project that was done by Seattle's Coffee Company (part of the Starbucks group). See how the company measured the size of their market, did competitor research, re-thought their customer base, and improved distribution channels.

All of these activities are characteristic of brand strategy and should be considered within any rebranding project.