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How Funky Brands can be creative: 7 insights from the Creativity Forum in Antwerp

A cake by Taarten Van Abel, a creative company mentioned during the conference. I thought it would be a good symbol for female creativity

A cake by Taarten Van Abel

On Thursday, I attended an event dedicated to creativity. The conference took place in Antwerp and was organized by an organization called Flanders District of Creativity. This year, Flanders DC gave the stage to creative and inspirational women.

Creativity fuels Funky Brands — innovative, edgy, contemporary products and services that stand out from the crowd. Funky Brands are worth experiencing over and over again, and importantly, bring positive functional and emotional benefits to those who use them.

For examples of Funky Brands, visit the Funky Brand Interviews section.

Here is my summary of 7 insights from the event that can be applied to Funky Brands:

Image by pumpkincat210 on Flickr

1) MAKE SURE TO INCLUDE CREATIVE, PASSIONATE AND KNOWLEDGEABLE WOMEN IN YOUR BUSINESS TEAM

Women’s signature style of doing business can be referred to as lifestyle entrepreneurship. This means that often, women’s main motivation behind starting a business is not just cash, but first and foremost, creating value for their customers.

If you are a team of men, invite at least one talented woman who will surely bring a different perspective to your business.

2) BE AUTHENTIC IN YOUR BRAND PROMOTIONS

Randi Zuckerberg, who’s in charge of the Creative Marketing department of Facebook, gave examples of authentic ways in which Facebook has communicated with its members.

In a short case study, Randi demonstrated a difference in reaction from Facebook fans to two photos of celebrity Eva Longoria. One photo of Eva was pure glam, whereas in another shot she looked more like someone you’d meet on the street rather than red carpet. Interestingly, the simple photo raised a massive wave of “likes” on Facebook. This taught Facebook itself to use friendly, amateur-like images of its employees in the company’s communications campaigns.

Don’t exclude glamorous and stylish visual expressions of your brand, but it’s worth exploring more authentic ways of connecting to real people, at least once in a while.

Here’s an image that captures the main points of Randi’s presentation:

Image courtesy of Visual Harvesting

Image courtesy of Visual Harvesting

3) IF YOU WANT ENGAGED CUSTOMERS, MAKE THEM PLAY A GAME WITH YOUR BRAND

Jane McGonigal, a game designer from the Institute for the Future, spoke about solving world problems by encouraging people to play more games. Jane defined games as “unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to overcome.

If we take the example of golf, what’s the fascination behind trying to hit the ball with a stick and make it fall into the hole, instead of just picking it up by hand and placing it there? But even if the final purpose is to make that ball fall into the hole, nobody would ever be interested in having no obstacle to overcome, and no thrill to experience.

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

The truth is, people like the excitementenergy and thrill of playing a game. In similar terms, nobody wants a dull and unmemorable experience of learning about your product, buying it in an unexciting environment, and experiencing its dull features.

Engage your customers in a thrilling game, and enhance the funky brand experience!

4) DEFINE YOUR BRAND NOT IN LINE WITH PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY, BUT WITH WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS REALLY WANT

Diane Nijs, a professor of imagineering1 , gave an example of the Dutch bakery Taarten Van Abel.

The bakery owner built a funky brand by redefining his product from simply a cake, to the expression of festive spirit. As Diane pointed out, people rarely buy cakes to eat them. They buy them as symbols of celebrationfeast, and enjoyment. Taarten Van Abel has grasped this and began to create cakes that are works of art. The brand of Taarten Van Abel has become so well-received by people that the company has decided to launch a TV channel for kids, in which its symbolic cakes have given ground to stories and fairy tales.

5) UNLOCK THE MEMETIC POTENTIAL OF YOUR IDEA

Memetics is a theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, which was originated by Richard Dawkins in the 1976 book The Selfish Gene.   Meme is a unit of human cultural transmission analogous to the gene, and psychologist Susan Blackmore talked about ways of how this sort of replication happens in culture.

Memetics would be worth checking especially for those who are fans of viral marketing. Why do some ideas fly and replicate themselves, and others just sit on the shelf unnoticed? Maybe memetics is a field that you should look into in order to understand why some brands just fly and become funky, and others never get noticed.

6) IN ORDER TO STAY CREATIVE, BE WHO YOU REALLY ARE

According to Baroness Susan Greenfield, a UK neuroscientist, the essence of creativity is daring to be who you are, your individuality.

eccentric dude

Some of you might know that it’s not always easy to stand out from the crowd and be different. Sometimes, the simplest thing to do is to conform and have an easy life. That’s why there are so many dull and unexciting brands out there!

But sticking to who you really are, daring to be, can also come across as magnetically charismatic if you manage to find creative ways of getting your value across. Your Funky Brand might not be liked by everyone, but those who’ll notice you, might fall in love, and isn’t it a huge reward?

7) BRING STRUCTURE TO CREATIVE PROCESS

Christie Hefner, Playboy’s former CEO, talked about structured creativity. Creativity is often associated with wild out-of-the box thinking, and structure is probably the last word that comes to mind in this respect. And yet a rigorous approach to the creative process is always beneficial to building a successful brand.

This is a very valid point in relation to Funky Brands.

When you build a Funky Brand, combine teams of creative people with experts in brand strategy. This can be especially powerful when you want to build a strong brand through online channels. A lot of brands nowadays want to splash out all the creativity they have, and expose it through social media, without having a rigorous brand strategy in place. Don’t fall into the trap of unstructured creativity, be funky and be smart!

Image by wilgengebroed on Flickr

Image by wilgengebroed on Flickr

Zumba sells branded merchandise

I first wrote about Zumba, a funky Latin workout, almost a year ago.  In that post, I talked about the challenges that any services organization can encounter in its attempt to build a funky brand. The main challenge for Zumba, I said, was to ensure that its main customer touch points (places and ways in which people experience the brand) remain consistent. Which seems like a big task given millions of Zumba-like, or Zumba-inspired, courses currently offered around the world by external fitness instructors. Since then, I've taken several Zumba classes myself -- and not only out of my desire to do non-stop funky brand research! :)  I also wanted to ditch the workout, and join the party. ((Zumba's brand slogan)). My personal observation is that many of these classes had very little Latin about them, featuring non-Latin music, and non-Latin dance moves.

In other words, my own Zumba experiences have been patchy, and differed from one place and instructor to another.

Perhaps Zumba management (to learn more about the company, see an article about Zumba's founder Alberto Perlman published by Sprouter)  decided that keeping the brand consistent throughout its customer touch points was a difficult task to carry out.  Perhaps they thought that it would be a good idea to build the brand by selling Zumba merchandise not only online, but also in real life.

IMAG0462In any case, I am not familiar with Zumba's selected strategy, but here are a couple of observations.

I came across Zumba-branded merchandise on the shelves of Di a couple of days ago.  Di is a Belgian chain of shops that sell inexpensive cosmetics and home cleaning products. Di has also been expanding its health and wellness section by adding vitamins, food supplements, and slimming shape-wear.  This section is where I spotted sizable Zumba-branded boxes, sold at retail price of Euro 69.95 per piece (pictured above). They were placed on a shelf underneath a TV screen that featured a demonstration of a Zumba workout, with the message "as seen on TEK TV " ((a Belgian TV store)) running across the screen.

Each box contained 4 Zumba workout DVDs, as well as a set of small weights.  The packaging displayed a TEK TV logo.

What are the implications of this on Zumba's brand?

First of all, the importance of selecting appropriate distribution channels is crucial for building a strong brand.  Even though the idea of selling Zumba-branded merchandise seems  attractive  ((at least on the local market, it could be a way of tapping into existing awareness about the brand name that has been created through workout courses, whether "real" or not))  per se, where it is sold, is of even major importance!

What strikes me as quite inconsistent with what could be a very funky brand, is the association of Zumba with a TV shop.  I don't personally know very many funky brands that have been built through this not-so-funky distribution channel (but if you know, please submit a comment!)

I would question whether TV shops can reach the kinds of customers Zumba needs to be reaching.   I saw lots of professional women "ditching the workout, and joining the party" after office hours. Which means that they probably don't have the time to watch TV shop sales sessions during the day.  I suspect that an additional endorsement of a product by a TV shop means little to them.

Selling Zumba merchandise at a rather unexciting Di (think of it as an equivalent of the UK Boots, but with a somewhat duller product selection) would not be my top choice either.

To conclude, Zumba would be much better off building a funky brand through better selected and more exciting distribution channels.

NOTES

Why venture capitalists should ask web startups about brand strategy

Photo by Jus' fi on Flickr

Should startups worry about brands?

This is the question that a venture capitalist from Silicon Valley, Larry Kubal, asks in his thought-provoking article. ((The article was published by The Venture Capital Journal in November 2005. You can download the full text from this page , scroll down to “November 2005”, it’s there!))

Kubal’s short answer is YES. According to him, venture capitalists should make sure that brand is taken care of by web startups before any investments are made, “For VCs currently paying far more attention to consumer facing Internet businesses than they have in quite some time, ‘word of mouth’ has taken on a whole new meaning.”

ELEMENTS OF BRANDING

The elements of branding that Kubal gives as important to consider by startups (and venture capitalists who assess them) boil down to:

  • viral marketing
  • intuitive messaging
  • word of mouth branding

But are these the only elements of brand that startups should worry about? In my experience of working with companies seeking market entry, the notion of brand goes much deeper than this.

DIG DEEPER!

Venture capitalists should dig much deeper into brand strategy when they do their due diligence on startups.

Especially when it comes to web startups, my experience is that techies may well think about going "viral", but what they are often not well equipped to think about is the consumer, as well as product design suited for the consumer! They often assume that consumers are as "geeky" as they are themselves!

So, it is not only a detailed plan of how a startup plans to be viral that venture capitalists should look for when they do their due diligence about brand.

They should dig much deeper than that. Good branding is not only about promotions and word of mouth. The key is to assess whether a startup thinks in terms of brand strategy or not.

WHAT IS BRAND STRATEGY?

A brand strategy begins with product design and consumer intelligence, and continues through the design and delivery of promotional materials, promotional strategy, customer dialogue, distribution…. All of which is important if you want to build a funky brand.

Importantly, a good brand strategy should be embedded within the company’s DNA. If you don’t get the DNA right from the start, it will be very hard to fix later - you simply can’t afford your company DNA, and with this, your brand strategy to be an afterthought!

WHY STARTUPS RARELY THINK ABOUT BRAND STRATEGY

Unfortunately, thinking in terms of brand strategy is very rare among web startups, for various reasons. I’ve touched upon some of them on several occasions. For instance, see SCHMOOZY FOX’s thoughts about web and mobile startups here or check our tips on how to craft a smart marketing strategy if you are a web startup.

Of course, VCs might themselves be more attentive to these aspects than the average techie. One would certainly hope so. Nonetheless, the fact remains that huge amounts of time and money – including VC money – are poured into web enterprises that have no chance of taking off because they have not thought through consumer needs, product design and communication.

SCHMOOZY FOX works with web startups to help them incorporate brand strategy early on into their recipe for future success.

True luxury: inclusivity vs exclusivity

I've just come across a series of thought-provoking posts on springwise. Their common theme is brands trying to build loyalty with online tools. Whereas some of them do it in a democratic and "inclusive" way, others opt for "exclusivity". Let's see how this might result in their brand positioning. One article describes a hotel in NYC which has set up an online forum for its guests. The Pod Hotel offers budget accommodation for young travelers, and the forum is a brilliant solution to help them connect to each other in real life, and have fun together in NYC. It clearly addresses the pain particularly of those who travel alone and don't know anybody in New York City.

Snapshot of Pod's online forum for registered guests

This is a brilliant idea, and The Pod Hotel is surely on the good track of creating some valuable loyalty with this simple online solution.  My advice is that it should definitely do a bit more to make this feature known on its website. As it stands now, the site fails to communicate it. I don't know if it's a planned move or not. If yes, I suppose that the reason might be that the hotel works at capacity most of the time, in which case the forum is only there to trigger repeat visits rather than recruit first-time customers.

Another idea featured on the same site is an online social network launched by the airline KLM. The online network is not targeted at all KLM's customers, but only frequent flyers.

For the moment, KLM has set up two online communities -- one for China, and another one for Africa. Essentially, the main target is entrepreneurs who all share the same challenges working in emerging markets.  They can discuss issues of common interest and network online, which triggers encounters offline.

KLM even organizes offline networking events for the online community members both in China and throughout Africa.  KLM says that its online social community is "exclusive" and by invitation only.  My guess is that this exclusivity is tied to KLM's reward program which actually makes sense.

Think of it: the more you fly, the more chances you get to meet like-minded entrepreneurs. And the better you should get rewarded by an airline company for your loyalty.  So, this kind of "exclusivity" achieves both goals -- it rewards frequent flyers whilst giving them a possibility to socialize.

A snapshot of KLM's online community for frequent flyers

I also want to address another kind of "exclusivity" which rarely does anything good if a brand seeks positioning in the luxury or affordable luxury segments.

I've come across many brands, especially various online shops, which try to create an aura of exclusivity out of .... well, pretty much nothing.  I find it amusing when some freshly launched site writes  me to become their member "by invitation only"and start shopping there.

In this respect, the example mentioned on springwise is Claseo, a recently launched "luxury" label. Unfortunately, it's not possible to have any idea about how luxurious its designs are because you can't enter their site. The reason is that the site is "exclusive" and by invitation only.

Snapshot of the invitation-only site of Claseo

I think it's counterproductive to seek positioning as a luxury brand through such self-limiting "exclusivity".  Whereas this might be feasible in instances when brand equity is already at its peak, this move is rarely a good solution for a start-up.  This is particularly true for web start-ups.  Building a user base is of ultimate importance for them, and certainly a key to creating a strong brand.  I have written and spoken about this on several occasions.

Looking at three examples above, the "inclusivity" of the budget hotel in New York in fact makes it truly exclusive. By solving the real need of its customers -- a simple human desire to socialize -- the hotel succeeds in occupying a very lucrative segment of affordable luxury.  The same refers to KLM's online social network for frequent flyers, which helps entrepreneurs connect and socialize in real life.

Funky brands are smart because they understand what true luxury is, and although it may sound counter-intuitive, in many cases being inclusive and democratic, rather than "exclusive", is what really helps build a great brand!

Brands do not take care of themselves

After a couple of weeks of silence due to my exciting vacation in Morocco, I am back with this short post in the category of Funky Schmoozing. Right before taking off on holidays, I presented SCHMOOZY FOX and its approach towards building funky brands to an audience of web start-ups at Beta Group in Brussels (to find out more about Beta Group, see this post).

My main message to the audience was this,

"Brands do not take care of themselves."

In practical terms, it means the following:

  • many start-ups, both in the online world or otherwise, may have a brilliant technology and a great business idea to kick off.
  • however, they rarely think about their business development in terms of B R A N D
  • which is a pity, because intuitively, pretty much everybody knows that a strong brand means more customers, repeat visits to your web site, and importantly, a profitable business.

Great brands do not happen due to pure magic and serendipity.  Although it may sound paradoxical, funky brands are not only all about fun and creativity -- there's a lot of nerdy, I may say, and rigorous framework that supports their success.

Funky brands do not happen by themselves, they get the nerdy stuff such as a solid brand strategy, sorted out, and then follow the set course with dedication.

This is quite a simple message, but you'd be surprised to find out that only few companies actually think in these terms.

Here's a video interview with me that was filmed by Freshup.tv after my talk. Enjoy!

Diffusion brands vs parent brands

A significant advantage that successful luxury brands have, is that they have a good chance to launch diffision brands. Diffusion brands are a form of a line extension, discussed before.  They are “step-down line extensions of existing  luxury brands, normally less expensive than the  main-line merchandise.” ((How Young Adult Consumers Evaluate Diffusion Brands: Effects of Brand Loyalty and Status Consumption, Ian Phau Edith Cheong , Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 21:109–123, 2009))  They are often called second lines, subbrands and endorsed brands. Think of them as “children” of their more established “parent brands”.

Armani dot com screenshot

Examples of diffusion brands abound in the fashion world, for instance. Armani launched  Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein introduced CK, and Prada started a diffusion brand with a whole new name: Miu Miu. In all of these cases, the important condition for introducing diffusion brands was very high brand loyalty and brand recognition of parent brands. In other words, unless the brand equity of your parent brand is high, it might not be even a good idea to start considering diffusion brand launches.

There are several observations that I want to make in relations to diffusion brands:

  1. By launching a diffusion brand, a parent luxury brand de facto enters a whole new world of new luxury (also referred to as mass luxury and affordable luxury). I wrote on this subject before. New luxury is where many funky or funky-to-be brands develop.  If done properly, the new luxury positioning can bring enormous benefits to both: a child brand and the parent.
  2. Diffusion brands are a good way to target consumers who are usually much younger than the main target market of parent brands. They can tap well into the trend of status consumption, “The motivational process by which individuals strive to improve their status through the conspicuous consumption of consumer products that confer and symbolize status both for the individual and surrounding significant others.” ((Status consumption in consumer behavior: scale development and validation, Eastman, J. K., Goldsmith, R. E., and Flynn, L. R.  Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice. Summer 1999, 41–52.))
  3. Empirical research demonstrates ((Phau, Cheung, Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 21:109–123, 2009)) that diffusion brands have the same quality and status perception among younger target market as parent brands. This is a great way to appeal to a younger audience, and chances are that it will later on develop preferences for the parent brand as well.
  4. Importantly, the success of diffusion brands is often determined by a brand naming strategy. To put it simply, if a child brand bears the name of the parent (like Armani Exchange has a name of the parent brand, Armani), the benefits reaped from the existing status of a parent brand are almost immediate. If, however, a child brand is given a totally new name (Miu Miu vs Prada), such benefits are much less apparent. ((ibid.))

Armani Exchange screenshot

Diffusion brands are not a phenomenon characteristic exclusively for luxury products and services. On the contrary, they frequently occur in a very vast and complex area of brand architecture.

Carrefour needs brand repositioning

In Belgium, the chain of Carrefour supermarkets is in trouble.  Fourteen out of fifty six supermarkets are to be closed down due to miserable financial results (if you read French, check out this article in Le Soir) which will result in major layoffs of staff. The mentioned article in Le Soir, as well as this very insightful blog post, suggest that one of the main reasons for the problems Carrefour is experiencing on the Belgian market is unclear brand positioning.

I fully agree with this. According to the blog post on Caelum Novum, the Carrefour brand has lost (or perhaps never even had from the beginning) the "French spirit" behind it. Perhaps it's due to the fact that Carrefour has entered the Belgian market by acquiring a Belgian chain GB, and didn't tap into the French gastronomic tradition at all. It is possible that in the minds of consumers, it still has the "aura" of GB -- not even the rather unglamorous interior has changed that much since the name changed to Carrefour.

Some international brands choose the so called "glocal" (global but local) strategy when they launch their presence in new markets. But there should always be the right balance between how much of the "local" needs to be infused into the brand and how much of the original heritage should remain alive. It seems like Carrefour should at least bring in some more of the French gastronomic heritage into its brand, among a long list of other things, to make its revival possible on the Belgian market.

Dinosaur brands

Photo by Mykl Roventine on Flickr I'd like to bring your attention to a recent post by Chad Levitt published on the Personal Branding blog (where I have also previously featured with this guest post). In his article, Chad focuses on companies that still think that they are in full control of their corporate brands. Eloquently, he calls them dinosaurs.

But what's wrong about controlling your brand, you may ask?  Is it really so bad to have a clear idea of what you want your corporate brand to represent? Once defined, your employees will be asked to support your corporate brand vision, as simple as that.

The truth is, things simply do not work like that any more. Your employees, just like your customers, are not there simply to restate the bullet points your corporate marketing department has put together to define your brand. Just like your customers, your employees shape your brand. They are your brand. And they are for sure the ones who own your brand. This loss of control is pretty sad news for dinosaurs!

Photo by .faramarz on Flickr

Although you might think that dinosaur brands have to be old-fashioned, old and big corporations, it's not always so. In fact, even a freshly baked start-up can fall into the trap of becoming a dinosaur brand. I don't think that anybody would pro-actively wish to become a dinosaur brand, but sometimes all it takes is to get disconnected from your customers and their passions. Ignore personal lives of your employees. Imagine that you are in full control of your brand and know better what your customers and employees need.

But brands can be coached away from the dinosaur mentality!

After all, a bit of more free thinking, and allowing your employees to access their Facebook accounts during the day gives you a good chance to fall into a very attractive, and by the way also lucrative category, funky brands.

Is your brand ready to go online?

Last week, I attended a business development conference in Brussels. Although not exclusively, the majority of the conferences and mini-talks were about e-marketing and online channels in general. The main focus was on tips and tricks of using online tools in order to achieve results. DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE BEFORE GOING ONLINE

What results? This, of course, depends on each individual company, but you'd be amazed to know that only very few companies know what they want to achieve before establishing online presence. Often, they gotta be online just for the sake of it, because it's en vogue, or because hey, all of their competitors are already jumping on the bandwagon of all things web.

FIRST, THINK BUSINESS STRATEGY

Indeed, tapping into social media for brand-building purposes should be for sure on any brand's radar screen these days. But it's how you use it, and how you link it to your overall business strategy, that's important. If you haven't figured out your brand's DNA yet, and have a vague idea of what your customers love (or hate!) your brand for, it's not yet time to engage in high-intensity Twittering! Read my article Why sweet Cheerios went sour on YouTube to learn what can go wrong if you jump into social media too fast.

On many occasions at the afore-mentioned event, several people came to me asking how to use Twitter or Facebook, and were not able to explain why they wanted to do that. One guy gave me a fancy answer, "To show that we know how to do that".  Show to whom? He wasn't so sure.

DEFINITION OF BRAND STRATEGY

Unfortunately, a holistic strategy approach towards online brand building -- the kind that involves thinking through the basics of one's overall business strategy before starting a Facebook fan page -- is still very rare.  In this sense, a smart brand strategy, which is essentially your company's business strategy that focuses on building a strong brand on all levels of your company, from logistics to customer service to web design, can definitely be the way to go.

SOME TIPS BEFORE YOU GO ONLINE

To give you some tips on what should be kept in mind before launching your brand's presence on the web, here is a short presentation that I had prepared for last week's business development conference.   These slides are pretty general, but if applied in the right way to YOUR company, they can create amazing results.

Learn to speak the language of your brand

Photo by eperales on Flickr When you start a new business, one of the first things on your very long to-do list will be choosing a good brand name for your product or service. Deciding on a brand name often ends up being a very painful process. It's almost as hard as choosing the right name for your newborn, but in some cases, even more complicated than that!

This is especially true if you plan to build your brand internationally.

But first, what is, anyway, a good brand name?

The basic rule of thumb is that your consumers, not just yourself, have to find it pleasant (or, shocking, surprising, attention catching) to the ear and as a result, m-e-m-o-r-a-b-l-e. But  what if your present or future consumers are in France, Australia and Japan? Which ears will the name have to appeal to?  And how to make sure that a brand launched on the French and Japanese markets doesn't have any hidden “surprises” in either of them?

A good rule of thumb is to invest some time and rigor into the choice of your international brand name right from the start. Often, simply being aware of potential differences between how your brand name might be perceived in different countries is a good start. If you keep this in mind, you are likely to avoid a situation of finding out that your brand name has undesirable associations in a language different from your own.

For instance, a German brand of home accessories called Koziol sounds quite remarkable in Russian! Although a direct meaning of “koziol” is “goat”, in familiar Russian this word is often used to refer to someone who is a bit of a … loser. I already mentioned this example in my previous article on brand names, Baboushka Branding or a bit of Russianness in Marketing.

Here are some considerations that might help you navigate through complicated issues of international brand building:

  • First, choose a temporary brand name that sounds good to you. It's easier to think through your business strategy when you have at least some sort of name in place! Don't order any logos or buy URLs associated with this name before you have more clarity about your overall business strategy. I often deal with situations when a company that makes great products with a lot of potential, comes to me for brand strategy advice after already having selected a dubious name, and done all the graphic work around it.
  • Prepare a business plan:  A business plan is an excellent framework that allows you to think through many aspects of your business, including overall business strategy, marketing, financial forecasts, risk scenarios, as well as your company values. Once you have the values clear, they might trigger further ideas for a good name!
  • Think internationally: It's good to have an idea about the international scope of your business from the start. This is especially important to remember for a company that originates in a relatively small market. For European companies which often trade across borders, the question of choosing a brand name that is easily understood across the whole of Europe is essential. The same goes to any e-commerce business that plans to sell goods across many geographies.
  • Build a multilingual team: Once you've established the geographical scope of your main markets, get some help from people who can speak the corresponding languages. You can use the Questions and Answers in LinkedIn, or even experiment with language teaching sites such as busuu.com or myngle.com in order to identify such people and ask their opinions. The aim is simply to get some flavor of how your brand name will sound in the language of your customers across the world!
  • Develop cultural awareness: A somewhat more challenging  task that should nevertheless be on your radar screen is thinking through the cultural associations that your brand name might have in your target markets. Even if you try to introduce your US brand in the UK or Australia, check whether the existing name will be perceived the way you initially intended, even if the language spoken across these countries is the same. Hire good people who have highly developed cultural sensitivity skills -- this investment will be extremely important in your international business development.

This list is not exhaustive, and selecting a good name for your international brand that would sound equally successful in different geographies is a very complex issue. If you want to navigate through this complexity gracefully, don't hesitate to contact SCHMOOZY FOX for advice, and make sure you implement that new year's resolution to learn a new language soon enough!

Smart marketing is key to success on the web

Photo by Jus' fi on Flickr

Let me ask you this question: how many successful web start-ups do you know? In the sense of actually known by sizeable audiences. Selling useful products and services. Providing great user interface. Encouraging people to come back to their sites time and again. And check this one out: p-r-o-f-i-t-a-b-l-e.

Yes, there are a few. But the truth is, thousands of software developers, engineers, web designers and other technically gifted folk spend lots of time and money every year to launch new businesses but are unable to connect with their target audience – or launched a service for which there is no real demand.

Many of these start-ups end up being simply web sites, with no valid business idea associated with them. And even if some do have a sound business model, they still don't make it because they don't have any skills in customer-oriented marketing.

Why does this happen?

Dave McClure, author of the blog "Master of 500 Hats", argues that the main reason for this is this: most web start-ups are designed, implemented and managed by techies and lack marketing talent.

The main arguments he puts forward here are:

-Addictive User Experience (aka Design) & Scalable Distribution Methods (aka Marketing) are the most critical for success in consumer internet startups, not pure Engineering talent

-If investors don't have operational backgrounds in design, development, or marketing from proven consumer internet companies, you probably don't want their money

Photo by jeffwilcox

I fully agree and this is in fact one of the reasons I decided to focus part of my brand strategy business precisely on web startups. Have a look at SCHMOOZY FOX'S thoughts about web and mobile start-ups .

It must be said that interface design and useability do sometimes get attention, as at least "enlightened" techies are aware of their importance. In my experience, though, product design and positioning, brand strategy and promotion are frequently an afterthought, implemented ineptly or forgotten about entirely.

However, it's an area where investments can pay huge dividends.

In fact, given the economics of the Internet, it can make all the difference between an out-and-out success story and complete failure. Some online businesses are figuring this one. But for now it's still very much the exception to the rule.

Technical skills and talent are very important in building an online business, but they are only one element. It takes two to tango: only a combination of technology and marketing can make all the difference and propel your online brand to success!

Photo by Kjunstorm

Luxury brands are embracing social media, finally

Chanel has a Facebook fan page In December 2008 I published a post called Right moment, right message, right place: how to build luxury brands using social media. It seems that only a year ago most luxury brands were so hesitant to embrace the power of social media and the Internet in general!

Back then, I personally had a bit of a challenge to spot the funkiest first-movers in social media among luxury brands. There was a good debate on some LinkedIn groups related to my search for such pioneers, but the overall opinion of those I asked to share their examples was this, "Luxury brands won't embrace social media because they fear to lose their exclusivity appeal."

And look what's happening in December 2009!

Stefano Gabbana, a co-creator of the Dolce&Gabbana brand, is on Twitter (@stefanogabbana).

Chanel and Alexander McQueen have Facebook fan pages.

It looks like luxury houses have taken note of the fact that even people with the biggest purchasing power -- their potential customers -- hang out on various social media platforms.

"(The web) is very important by the sheer fact people are spending more time online, on Facebook, Twittering," said Emanuel Ungaro's chief executive, Mounir Moufarrige, quoted on brandchannel.com.

As I mentioned in that article a year ago, even if resistant, luxury brands would eventually explore social media, because their customers would digitalize their brands for them. It looks like SCHMOOZY FOX's predictions are coming true to life! ;)

Is this democratization of luxury? Let's watch this trend and see what shape it takes next December.

How funky brands can be profitable

D&Gperfume In one of my previous entries, called Funky Brands Defined, I published a list of attributes shared by most Funky Brands™.

An important one is the fact that they are not driven by innovative and creative ideas alone, but are or have the potential to be profitable. This, of course, requires a good deal of  business development and brand building work done.

In today's post, I want to talk about how your brand can benefit and become profitable from mass luxury brand positioning.

Mass luxury (often referred to as affordable luxury or new luxury) brand management essentially combines characteristics of building brands that have the luxury and exclusivity appeal, with techniques that can lead to relatively high sales volumes.

My marketing professor at ESSEC (a Paris-based business school famous for its luxury marketing program) was a former Armani guy. He certainly knew a lot about sustaining those "old luxury" brands like Chanel and Gucci (and Armani, of course). But he was nevertheless fascinated how some innovative companies managed to combine classical Kotler marketing with  the know-how of luxury brand management by building extremely funky brands in the mass luxury segment.

Some of these brands were created completely from scratch (for example, Coach and Victoria's Secret in the US, Agent Provocateur in the UK, and a Dutch brand Marlies Dekkers whose founder spoke in an interview on this blog), and others were born under the umbrella of already existing "true luxury" brands (for instance, Armani Exchange as a modest brother of the brand Giorgio Armani).  Over the past decade or so, many brands were launched to satisfy a desire for a better lifestyle expressed by wealthier middle class eager to splash out on previously unaccessible items.

So, what can you learn from mass luxury brands in order to make your brand profitable? You'll be surprised how many potentially funky start-ups fail just because they are disconnected from their potential customers. So, the most important rule of thumb is that you gotta get to know your consumers, their lifestyles and their desires as much as you can.

Stop for a moment doing this tedious market segmentation based on geographical location, age and gender. This stuff tells you nothing about your consumer's deep emotional needs and desires. Unless you've understood what emotional connections they can make with the products you sell, you'll be wasting your time.

Besides that, keep in mind the following factors which, in my view, may trigger consumers' interest in purchasing your funky mass luxury goods or services:

  • The lifestyle factor: Whereas splashing out on a single Gucci outfit is an extremely rare occasion for most people, and buying a Lamborghini is simply out of the question, a sizable market out there still wants to have a luxurious lifestyle. "Luxurious" can mean different things for different customers, and the trick is to find your loyal segment for whom your product will be a luxury. The right combination of such items as furniture, consumer electronics, food and drink, beauty products and fashion can do wonders and make our lifestyles luxurious and enjoyable. Not every item in your customer's home has to be of super funky design and great quality, but make sure your brand can end up on your customers shelves!
  • The self-worth factor: people appreciate goods and services that can contribute to their enjoyment of life (e.g. high quality perfumed candles, a meal at a gastronomic restaurant, or a visit to a spa) and feeling of self-worth. Do you know what contributes to the feeling of self-worth within your customer segment? If not, the first step towards making profits is to find that out fast and act on it.
  • The funky factor: people like standing out from the crowd, and making a statement about who they are. They often express themselves through the clothes they wear, or items they use (computers, phones, cars).  If your customers have created emotional connections with the products you sell, and even made them part of their personal brand, you've for sure kept the funky factor in mind successfully! Again, if you know how the attributes of your brand can enhance the funky factor of your customers, you've certainly moved forward towards a beefed up bottom line.

Mass luxury is the most profitable segment of many markets because attractive margins can be combined with sales volume. But the challenge is, mass luxury brands do not sell themselves . They are driven by hard-to-define factors like fashion, word-of-mouth, and constantly evolving preferences of your customers. If you've managed to apply a rigorous framework to identify these factors, and closely monitor them, you'll certainly be on the path towards making sizable profits and building funky brands.

Finally, a good article on the subject that I can recommend is "Luxury for the Masses" by Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske, published in Harvard Business Review in April 2003. Have fun learning the tricks of the funky brand trade!