Brand building tips

How to explain "brand" to someone?

As I wrote in my previous blog post about video, 65% of the global population belong to the so called group of visual learners. Visuals work for most of us, and that's why I find them the best option while explaining what the concept of b r a n d stands for.  

I'd like to share with you a video that I came across on the site thefinancialbrand.com. I think it is useful content for anyone who wants to understand what brand exactly means, or explain the concept to others.

 

5 reasons why branding works for B2B

Does branding work only for consumer goods? Does my services firm risk to be perceived as too funky if I start branding it? What are the advantages of branding a law firm, a raw materials supplier, or, to that matter, any company which provides services to other companies?  

These are the questions I often read in emails from people who are, on the one hand, attracted to the benefits of branding, but, on the other hand, hesitate that it's something relevant to their business-to-business activities. Some of them are concerned that branding can make them appear as unprofessional, over the top, and even too glamorous.

 

Why do such questions arise?

 

One of the reasons why B2B companies hesitate about the benefits of branding is, ironically, due to the vague brand of...branding.  The very concept of branding is often perceived as an activity to do with marketing beer, sneakers or chocolate bars. Here, I have to take a step back and make a reference to my article about the difference between branding and marketing.  To summarize, branding is all about getting your value proposition right - it's the WHAT of your business strategy. Marketing, on the other hand, is the HOW -- it's all about promoting the WHAT. Marketing tactics "become much more powerful when driven by brand strategy and aligned with business goals." (see source)

 

And isn't it of use to a law firm to get its value proposition right? The truth is, any B2B company can reap many rewards from applying the brand strategy framework to its business:

1) Your clear brand positioning will work as a form of shorthand to help you attract clients. Instead of spending hours searching, analyzing, comparing, and making decisions, people will be coming to your firm because they've already heard about it, and know in advance how you can help them.

 

2) Your strong brand will create barriers to competitors -- this logically follows from point #1.

3) Don't be afraid of infusing your brand identity with emotional associations. They work not only for consumer brands. The truth about B2B is that many collaboration and partnership decisions between companies are based not only on purely rational criteria. B2B is about forming relationships with people, and that's when branding can greatly help.

 

4) A strong brand will also allow you to command a price premium. If you are known to be an expert in your field, people would be willing to pay you the fee commensurate with your experience, and your brand.

5) Finally, a strong brand will create opportunities for growth. When you want to introduce a new product or service, a strong brand will serve you well. Even if you are a small company with clear brand positioning that you've made known to your target audience, you will find it easier to expand your services portfolio.

 

Your strong brand will help you build trust -- the essential ingredient of all good business transactions. If you are in B2B, go for smart branding -- you deserve it.

 

Social media with a human touch

Have you recently become a Facebook fan of a company? Or started following a brand on Twitter? If yes, chances are, you have no idea who's tweeting on behalf of these companies.  

There are a few exceptions to this rule. DKNY has recently revealed the real person behind its Twitter name. And it's done it by producing very personable, and sticky web content. Watch this video about Aliza Licht, the PR director of DKNY:

That's a pretty good way not only to gather more Twitter followers, but also to showcase, and build, your brand. Kudos to DKNY for this smart brand building activity.

 

I also recommend this article about real people behind companies' Twitter names, published by The Read Write Web, and this LinkedIn discussion.

 

My question is, why be dry and boring when you can be a little more personal and funky? 

 

Most companies, even the ones making funky products, often adopt a corporate tone of voice as soon as they start tweeting or facebooking. Only to have their fans hide them in their news feed.

 

But some brands, like DKNY, are beginning to understand that what we, fans, want to know, is something much more personal than product-related corporate speak and self-congratulatory retweets of brand mentions. Social media is, well, s o c i a l, and our expectations for something social and authentic are simply natural. That's why I expect to see more and more companies reveal the real people who tweet on behalf of their brands.

 

Is your web site sticky enough?

I don't know about you, but as far as my way of learning goes, the quickest way for me to acquire any new skill (from learning geeky social media tricks to painting with acrylics) is by watching a quick "how to" video on YouTube.  

I must be one of those visual learners, and I am certainly not alone. Compared to verbal learners (they learn by listening) who constitute about 30% of the global population, and 5% of the so called experiential learners (people who learn through tactile experiences), visual learners are the biggest group, constituting roughly 65% of the global population.

 

Here's something visual especially for you, the visual folks:

 

This explains why visual identity and product design are so important in branding and marketing.  It also explains why videos are crucial in making online content sticky.

 

And here's something for all those visual learners, to illustrate the point -- a video about videos. I saw it during a session on social video advertising, presented by Andrea Febbraio during the iStrategy conference in Amsterdam. Andrea, a pretty engaging and sticky guy himself :) , co-founded ebuzzing -- a company which seeds the web with branded content.

6 things startups should consider when partnering with brands

Last week I attended the iStrategy conference in Amsterdam -- a digital marketing event which attracted about 300 senior executives, marketing VPs and entrepreneurs to discuss business opportunities on the web.  

From keynote speeches by Randi Zuckerberg and Jimmy Wales, to workshops on topics such as social advertising and social media in the offline world, to name a few, for me iStrategy was a great opportunity to get some good insights into the web dynamics of brand building.

 

It would be a challenge to review the entire conference (if you want to get a feel for what was discussed, check #istrategy on Twitter, or read the istrategy blog), so I am going to mention only a small -- but extremely interesting -- part of iStrategy, the panel discussion How brands can work with startups.

 

Moderated by CMO of an online French retailer Vente Privee,  Julien Zakoian, the panel consisted of Thom Cummings from Soundclowd, Chris Maples from Spotify and Anders Sjoman from Voddler.

 

The discussion focused on partnerships between startups and established brands such as joint marketing campaigns and advertisement deals.

 

Chris Maples from Spotify gave an example of a brand partnership between Volkswagen and Spotify, which started off as an ad hoc collaboration, and ended up as a show on MTV. Involved in the ideation stage of this joint project, Spotify helped VW create a social media campaign whereby VW fans with profiles on Spotify contributed to the list of Driving Track Confessions -- songs they would be embarrassed to admit they sang while driving.

Here's more scoop on this campaign:

The panel on brands and startups was extremely interesting for me mainly because 1) I often work with startups helping them create and implement brand strategies for growth and profits early on, and 2) because brand partnerships is such a hot topic in branding and marketing in general. You might have noticed this from my previous posts.

 

Is it important for startups to think strategically about their partnerships with brands?

 

My short answer is YES. Whereas from my experience I can say that most startups don’t think in terms of medium or long-term brand strategy, and often tend to go after opportunities which will bring cash fast, thinking strategically can help them create long-term brand value.  Having a brand strategy is not a luxury, it's an extremely useful and necessary framework for startups which enables them to decide upon each new partnership and select those which will enhance, not diminish, startup brands.

 

This is one of the main reasons I’ve intentionally changed the word order in the topic of this blog post. Whereas the discussion panel at iStrategy was called how brands can work with startups, I found it more logical to talk about how startups can work with brands. Big brands are in a good position to choose their partners, but as a startup, you also need to be perceived as an equal partner, and do what works for you in the long-term.

 

Here are some of my tips for startups which will help them consider brand partnerships that will work in their favor:

 

1) Keep in mind that each brand partnership with an established brand will signal something about your own brand and create brand associations for your consumers. To put it simply, their reputation will become part of yours.

 

2) Make a list of criteria for brands to partner with -- they should fall nicely into your overall brand strategy (and please don’t tell me you don’t have one! :) )

 

3) Don’t concentrate only on the big and powerful brands with lots of cash. Someone on the panel said that every startup brand would probably like to partner with brands such as Coke, but this is really not the only approach you should concentrate on. Focus on the brand power, not only cash, that your partner can deliver to you.

 

4) Explore the unexplored -- seek partnerships based on contrasts, not similarities.

 

5) Seek brand partners with different target audience than yours.

 

6) Finally, partner with authentic brands, leaders within their product categories. This is often easier said than done (the truth is, big brands like to partner with... other big brands, and in order for them to explore startups, the latter need to convince them of benefits), but you should set your goals high.

 

For more details on the last 3 points, check out my previous article 3 co-branding rules for bigger profits.

 

For more on co-branding, see my previous blog post 8 examples of co-branding and brand partnerships.

 

3 co-branding rules for bigger profits

I've recently blogged about an example of co-branding between Missoni and Target.  Co-branding can be an effective way to boost the brand of your product or service, and make your company more profitable.  

Although their positioning is quite different from each other, and they serve different types of customers,  Missoni and Target seem to go well together because they are part of the same industry -- fashion. Some other examples you've encountered on my blog -- for example a brand partnership between nail polish OPI and Dell laptops -- might seem less logical at first sight -- but they still work. Provided they have been formed in line with both parties' brand strategies.

 

What are the main rules of good co-branding?  An excellent article on the subject that I can recommend to you was written by Marc Ritson for Marketing Week.

 

The main example discussed in the article is the already mentioned partnership between Missoni and Target in the USA. Ritson refers to it as an "impressive demonstration of the commercial and strategic advantages of co-branding." He then proceeds to giving a set of co-branding rules, which I found important to summarize here for my readers:

 

Co-branding rule #1: Explore the yet unexplored

According to Ritson, for co-branding to work, it would need to be based on contrasts rather than similarities.

 

This indeed sounds like a no-brainer to me, although I've noticed that many companies have difficulties grasping this simple rule.  Many of them think that a win-win partnership is only possible  with brands similar to theirs.  Usually this kind of approach will waste you a lot of time with little return. Instead of reinforcing what you've already got anyway, why don't you explore something totally different? Of course, exploring the unexplored needs to be already part of your brand strategy -- co-branding is not good for experiments.

 

The way to go is to look for a brand partner whose strategic positioning will bring your brand to the area you haven't explored yet.  In other words, a smart brand partnership will help you implement your brand strategy quickly and efficiently.  For instance, in the case of Missoni and Target, Missoni got access to a huge US market which it would have otherwise needed to reach by very expensive and possibly lengthy campaigns, whereas Target strengthened its brand attributes such as design and affordable luxury in no time.

 

Co-branding rule #2: your co-branding partner needs to have a target market different from yours

 

If you plan to generate brand awareness about your product within a totally new target market, then partnering with a brand which already has this reach could be a very smart move.  I don't know the details of the agreement between Missoni and Target, but just imagine how big Missoni's US marketing budget would have been if the brand had decided to reach US consumers all alone, without Target's help -- it would have been simply astronomically huge.

 

Co-branding rule #3: your brand has to have a "legitimate fit within a product range being offered."

 

 

Your brand positioning within your product category needs to be well-known in order for you to start thinking about co-branding. This is why you usually see well-known brands entering into partnerships with each other, rather than one strong brand pulling along an unknown one. Exceptions to the latter could be partnerships between well-established brands and young artists and designers.  There are plenty of examples to prove this, and I invite you to have a look at the Kipling's Monkey Mashup contest for artists and designers. Whereas I wouldn't call it a long-lasting brand partnership, this kind of contest created a lot of buzz for the participating artists, and once again refreshed Kipling and its DNA of funky, innovative design.

 

Finally, on November 17th H&M is set to release a collection designed by Versace.  Do you think this will be a fruitful co-branding project for both brands?

 

 

French singer Zazie endorses Belgian brand Mais il est où le soleil

I’ve already mentioned upmarket Belgian fashion brand Mais il est où le soleil in my recent article How “Made in” labels influence purchasing decisions. With its brand name which describes the Belgian grey and cloudy weather pretty well (“Mais il est où le soleil” translates as “But where is the sun..”), the company makes colorful, vibrant and sunny clothes.

You must have noticed that brand partnerships are one of my big interests, so today here’s another example I want to share with you. Mais il est  le soleil has chosen French singer Zazie as its brand ambassador.

 

Cooperation between Zazie and Mais il est ou le soleil can indeed be called a true partnership, as the choice has been made bilaterally, in a most serendipitous way. I talked to Val Pollet, art director of the brand. Here are some insights into this partnership that Ms Pollet has shared with me.

 

“It was actually a matter of chance,” says Val Pollet. “Zazie passed by our shop in Paris (Odeon), and really liked our skirts. In the evening of the same day, Zazie was performing in Brussels, dressed entirely in Mais il est où le soleil. Our partnership was onto a good start, without even having been formally concluded.”

 

 

After the concert, brand's representatives got in touch with Zazie, and as a result, a mutual decision to co-operate was made.

 

However, it wasn’t all due to chance that the Belgian brand decided to approach Zazie. “She’s certainly a character,” says Val Pollet, “and I like to create collections for women with a lot of character. These are women for whom it’s natural to have their distinctive style. One day, a woman like this can be a princess, the next day she’s a mother, and then on the third day, she’s a working girl. Always feminine, she stays true to her personality. For me, Zazie is the embodiment of exactly this kind of woman, the woman who’s got a lot to say for herself, and who wants to succeed in life. This is why this partnership makes perfect sense.”

 

The partnership, which is initially set to last through to the Summer 2012, has only just begun, but the brand can already see some good results. “We’ve already heard from many of the multi-brand shops which carry our items,” says Val Pollet, “that Zazie had validated Mais il est où le soleil as a very creative brand with a strong identity. The singer -- a woman of values, adored by her fans -- a woman with a strong personal brand -- is helping us to get into a whole new category of brands. Established and famous brands.”

 

Ms Pollet has also shared with me that the money that Zazie had received from this collaboration, was given to a charity organization.

 

 

Do venture capitalists ask startups about their brand strategy?

Last year, I wrote a blog article giving the reasons why VC's should ask startups about brand strategy. I would like to write a follow-up, and include a couple of examples of VCs looking at the brand potential of startups.  

Here is a link to the ongoing discussion on LinkedIn, please join in and participate.

 

 

 

6 brand endorsements gone bad

My last two articles were dedicated to the subject of brand partnerships. I gave several examples of brands which enhanced their positioning by having established short or long-term partnerships with other brands.

 

Although good brand partnerships can give your product or service a lot ofbenefits, badly selected brand partnerships are a danger to any company.  Whilst associating your brand with another product or service brand can be considered relatively safe (provided you've done all the required steps to select your brand partner correctly), celebrity brand endorsements which involve people are a much more risky thing to do.

 

Before you decide to sign a sizable check to a celebrity who'll be promoting your product publicly, make sure you have full trust in this person.  Are you confident that your chosen celebrity demonstrates the right mix of integrity, maturity and emotional intelligence necessary to represent your precious brand? If not, consider other options.  Here's a list of brand endorsements gone bad. Study these examples and avoid these kinds of situations as much as you can:

1) Abercrombie & Fitch pays a reality show star for not wearing A&F clothes

2) Kellog drops Olympic star Michael Phelps for smoking marijuana

3) Wrigley stops a deal with singer Chris Brown for his assault against Rihanna

4) Walmart stops selling a clothing line endorsed by American TV host Kathy Lee Gifford after it's discovered that the clothes are made by children in a Honduras sweatshop.

5) The brand of KMart never recovers after selling products by Martha Stewart

6) Chanel and Burberry drop Kate Moss for cocaine use

8 examples of co-branding & brand partnerships

I've put together a compilation of articles about co-branding and brand partnerships that I've written on this blog. It's usually quite established brands that  form partnerships with other companies. However, even if you are a startup, keep your mind open, and think in terms of brand partnerships early on. There are always opportunities for value creation out there, and learning to think of your brand development strategy right from the start can help you build a lot of value. Do some schmoozing for success, and form valuable partnerships!  

Another co-branding example: Missoni and Target

Veuve Cliquot and DKNY

Martini and D&G

Brand partnerships

Can laptops and nail polish complement each other? 

Naked Wines and Naked Chef

A  new kind of brand ambassadors: famous bloggers

A new kind of brand ambassadors: famous entrepreneurs

 

Another co-branding example: Missoni and Target

If you read my blog regularly, you might have noticed that I often post examples of co-branding. In fact, co-branding is one of the areas I particularly like. I truly believe that, if a branding partnership is selected correctly, the end result can be pretty powerful, making one plus one equal three, as they say.

 

A recent example of Italian luxury brand Missoni's partnership with the US retailer Target, and the resulting crash of Target's site (due to very high customer demand for Missoni items) made me think of a similar example in Europe.

 

H&M, a Swedish fast fashion retailer, regularly partners with well-known luxury wear designers, causing major havoc in its stores. It's widely known that most of these collections are bought out in bulk, only to appear later on on ebay -- at much higher prices than originally sold for at H&M.

 

The Missoni/Target example is an example of Missoni's high brand equity. See some links to the articles about this partnership:

 

Overwhelming demand for Missoni's Target Line

Missoni buzz at highest point of year following Target retail launch

 

Richard Branson and the power of branding

This morning, I came across an article written by Richard Branson for Entrepreneur.com back in March 2011.  

In this article, Branson attributes success of his businesses to good branding. And this makes me happy.

 

I am happy about it because almost every day I come across companies which still don’t think that there’s a direct link between adopting and implementing a smart brand strategy for their product, and profitability. Thinking about brand still comes as an afterthought for many senior managers and company founders. Unfortunately, all too often, the importance of brand strategy begins to feature on their radar screens only when the brand in question needs to be fixed or even rescued.

 

Richard Branson (I keep typing BranDson) begins his article about branding by suggesting that a conventional approach taught at business schools is to stick to what you know, and specialize. And yet, Branson, who himself has never gone to business school, and hasn’t followed any typical “rules of business” either, can’t complain about the lack of business success. Look at Branson’s vast portfolio of companies, all united under the Virgin brand: Virgin Games, Virgin Trains, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Books, etc. What glues them all together is the Virgin brand.

 

Here are a couple of bullet points that I've put together based on Richard Branson's advice about branding. I hope that these tips will also help you build a successful business:

 

1) Build your brand around experiences. Richard Branson acknowledges that the Virgin brand has come into existence gradually. What connected all its different companies -- airlines, banks and music -- was Branson’s passion for selling products and services that could help people have a good time, in places they were least expecting it. Once this passion was identified, Branson made sure to turn it into a philosophy, and incorporate it into every Virgin venture that he launched later on. This philosophy based on well-defined experience became the necessary glue binding Branson’s companies into a coherent brand.

 

2) Invest your time and money into formulating your value proposition. Then turn it into your brand positioning.  In my experience, this is one of the most powerful drivers of your brand strategy. If done correctly and articulated well, you can’t even begin to imagine how big good brand positioning will be in helping you communicate your brand.

For Virgin, the brand positioning is about the promise of a certain customer experience. If you don’t define your brand positioning, someone else will do it for you. Your competitors, for example.

 

3) Wear your brand on your sleeve. Put your value proposition out there, and communicate it in an authentic way. To illustrate the point that Virgin “wears humor on its sleeve,” Branson gives an example of a Virgin campaign about its superior customer service, “British Airways doesn’t give a shiatsu”. Want to stand out from the crowd? Drop the boring, corporate talk, and introduce some funky branding into your brand’s DNA.

 

For more articles about the power of branding, visit my blog posts on the subject:

 

 5 benefits of strong brands

Branding creates, marketing competes

Interplay between brand strategy and innovation

Brand do not take care of themselves

Brand discourse

Is your brand ready to go online

Smart marketing is key to success on the web

Why venture capitalists should ask startups about brand strategy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Branding creates, marketing competes

  This morning, I was reading an article on the Branding Strategy Insider blog, and the following phrase struck me:

 

Many marketing people are obsessive about the urgent work of competing rather than the more important work of creating.

 

What seemed to be conflicting here, was the fact of attributing both "competing" and "creating" to the same business function -- marketing. True, very often marketers are given the task of creating a product, as well as promoting it. But way too often, marketers deliver the vehicles of product promotion, and  simply don't have enough time to reflect about creating new products, and new business opportunities. Except for some really lucky ones, of course.

 

In this respect, it seems important to point out the difference between brand strategy and marketing. I've done it already in one of my previous short posts, Marketing vs Branding, but I'll repeat it, because it nicely explains the difference between two very close, and in fact, complementary, functions.

 

Brand strategy, or branding, is all about knowing WHAT a company should say, what it stands for, and what kind of value it delivers to its customers.

 

Sounds too simple? Well, in fact this is one of the most challenging things to achieve -- knowing what your product or service is all about.  Think, for instance, about your personal life.  So many people spend years of their lives searching for their true selves, not knowing what they really want.  In the business world, the task of finding out the WHAT is a little easier than in personal lives, but still, it's rarely a piece of cake.

 

If you've ever taken part in launching a start-up, you must remember the painful decisions about 'what exactly is our value proposition?' or, 'what exactly our product is all about?'. For many entrepreneurs bringing new products to the market, the WHAT becomes the decisive factor which can determine future success, or kill it from right from the start.

 

Good branding addresses the WHAT. Based on customer and market research, brand audit is done to pull together all the required bits and pieces of what can constitute the WHAT. Based on this, a brand positioning statement is crafted. In fact, your brand positioning statement becomes the most crucial element of knowing your WHAT. It's one of the most powerful aspects of branding, and if done correctly, it delivers amazing value. Why? Because, every positioning statement is (or should be) the result of massive work. It's a result of your analysis, creativity, market research and financials. It's your guiding principle which can help you make business decisions for several years to come. I spend quite a bit of time and effort getting my clients' brand positioning right, and it does pay off wonderfully.

 

Once you've understood the WHAT, it becomes so much easier to turn it into the HOW. And this is where the role of marketing kicks in. As I wrote in my previous post,

 

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.

 

If you are ready for the challenge to uncover your product's WHAT, the HOW will be such an easier task to pursue.

Scandinavian brands are driven by design

As I wrote in my recent newsletter which some of you have received, I’d just come back from my holidays in Sweden and Finland. Besides going from one island to another on the way from Stockholm to Turku, I also spent some time discovering local brands.

As far as my funky brand spotting goes, the first thing that caught my attention in Stockholm was the abundance of design-focused shops selling everything to do with design. Design furniture, design lamps, design toys, books about design -- the buzz word of my entire shopping experience was design. But not just any sort of design -- it was all about Scandinavian design.

 

Before taking off on holidays, I published a Funky Brand Interview with the manager of The Cube by Electrolux -- a stylish restaurant in Brussels, built as a temple to the brand values of this Swedish company. An important feature of this restaurant is that it was built in the best traditions of Scandinavian design -- the latter being one of the sources of inspiration for Electrolux which prides itself about its Nordic roots.

 

All of this made me think that the notion of Scandinavian design played a very important role for many companies from that region, and I wanted to find a proof of my hypothesis.

 

And bingo, my own observations about the role of design for Scandinavian companies were proven right. It is absolutely true that design plays an important role in branding strategies of many Scandinavian companies.

An interesting study I can recommend in this respect if you're interested in the subjects of country branding and country of origin is Nordic brands towards a design-oriented concept by Ana Roncha (( Journal of Brand Management (2008) 16, 21–29 )).

 

Having looked into the brands of 3 companies -- BoConcept, H&M and IKEA -- the author of the study concludes that the notion of Nordic design plays to the advantage of these companies as an overarching aspect which signals, above all, quality. Nordic is a signal of country of origin (here, rather, region of origin) which by itself has a certain set of brand associations. In the minds of those people who purchase brands which have associations with "Nordic" or "Scandinavian", these notions stand for:

  • good design
  • functionality
  • superior quality.

As you can see, Nordic has a direct association with design. Furthermore, Nordic design or Scandinavian design has a further layer of associations, which are:

  • ergonomics
  • use of natural materials
  • simplicity mixed with a sometimes edgy approach
  • innovation.

 

All excellent brand qualities to communicate to your customers! This is why H&M, IKEA, Electrolux and others are smart to use the country brand associations in their positioning and brand communications. In other words, the concept of Scandinavian, or Scandinavian design, serves as a meta-brand which gives positive perceptions to the products it is attached to.

 

Yet another good example of a great Scandinavian company built around design is Biomega. I've published a Funky Brand Interview with the bicycle brand Biomega before. Watch a video with the brand's creator Jens Martin Skibsted here, in which he talks about the role of design:

 

London Design Festival 2010: Jens Martin Skibsted from Dezeen on Vimeo.

So, if you live in one of the Scandinavian countries and want to build a company, consider an idea which has to do with design, and you'll have a whole set from positive brand associations right from the beginning.

For my other articles on meta-brands and country branding, here are some of the previous posts I can recommend:

 

Country branding: Belgium

Philippe Starck gives a boost to photo booths

Events as brands: Paris Fashion Week

How "Made In" labels influence purchasing decisions

 

© 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

 

 

 

How "Made In" labels influence purchasing decisions

Have you ever thought what kind of associations come to mind when you discover that a bottle of wine you are considering buying comes from France? Or a pair of very pricey, but very fancy and good quality shoes was made in Italy? How does this information influence your decision to buy, especially if there are other bottles of wine on the shelf, from Spain and Chile? And other pairs of shoes in the shop, made in China. Would you ever base your purchasing decision on the information you read on the made in label?  

Even in the age when the majority of European and North American companies outsource manufacturing to Asia, the Country of origin (COO) remains a very important concept in international business. It plays a significant role in shaping a brand image, and influencing purchasing decisions. As authors of a study on country of origin’s influence on customer perception ((Perceptions of country of origin: an approach to identifying expectations of foreign products, by P.A.P. Samantha Kumara and Kang Canhua, Journal of Brand Management 2010, 17, pp 343-353 )) write, “By understanding the dynamics of how different consumers respond to country-related information, managers can make more informed choices about the risks and benefits of locating various stages of the value chain in different parts of the world.”

 

The COO is closely related to the notion of country brand. When you read a made in label, what pops into your mind is the “picture, the presentation, the stereotype that businesspeople and consumers attach to products of a specific country.” (( ibid. )) In other words, that country’s brand.

 

The study by Kumara and Canhua reveals a wide spectrum of associations which go through our minds when we discover the COO of a product. As you can see in the image below, their scope is very wide. (( ibid. ))

 

But the main four categories into which our mind starts to put information related to the COO are:  Economic, Information, Conviviality and Personality.

 

“This finding reveals that when a consumer buys a foreign-made product, he considers the economic value of the product, wants more information about the product, and considers to what extent the product has an impact on social status and how the product enhances consumer personality," say the authors of the study. (( ibid. ))

 

The concept of country of origin should feature in your marketing mix along with the famous four P’s (price, product, place and promotions), as it can greatly help you differentiate your product. But how can companies differentiate their products, made in China, if pretty much every company in Europe and North America outsources manufacturing to Asian countries as well?

 

I’ve seen some creative examples which illustrate this point. Most of them use designed in rather than made in, in order to stand out of the crowd. Here's an example of a made in tag which I found on the reverse side of my Mais il est ou le soleil dress:

 

Kipling customizes its brand mascot

I've written extensively about brand mascots which can play an important role in making your brand funky and remarkable. I've also interviewed Kipling in my Funky Brand Interview series. Today, I will show you how Kipling keeps us all engaged in its brand by allowing artistic and creative people (like myself :) ) customize its brand mascot -- the Kipling Monkey. In the UK, Kipling has organized a Mashed Up Monkey contest in collaboration with the Dazed and Confused magazine. If you want to create a unique Kipling Mascot, then submit it for review on the Mashed Up Monkey site, and maybe you will be the lucky winner. The winner will receive worth of £ 500 Kipling goodies, have his or her design displayed in the window of Kipling's London shop, and get featured in Dazed and Confused. I've customized a monkey, and the result is a very foxy orange monkey that you can see here. Unfortunately, I can't submit it for the competition as I am not a UK citizen, and don't qualify.

 

As I wrote in the Funky Brand interview with Kipling, innovation through collaboration with artists lies at the core of Kipling's brand strategy. Allowing artists and creative people to customize its brand mascot is yet another step which supports this strategy.

In France, Kipling has collaborated with 10 designers and stylists who have customized the Kipling Monkey.  All of the customized designs will be displayed at the Galerie de la Tour in Paris from June 1st till June 26th. The proceeds from this exhibition will be donated to Red Cross in Japan.

 

SCHMOOZY FOX in FT's Business of Luxury edition

On June 6, 2011 he Financial Times' Business of Luxury supplement featured an article about diffusion brands and affordable luxury (you might need to register with FT to view the article). The article addresses benefits and possible disadvantages of introducing the so called diffusion brands -- a strategy often used by luxury brands to cash in on their well-established image and boost revenues by positioning a new, more democratic, child brand as affordable luxury.  An example of this strategy is the luxury brand Armani launching its more affordable diffusion brand Armani Exchange. I was interviewed for this article, and you can read my views there. Whereas launching affordable luxury brands as diffusion lines is often practiced by luxury companies, creating an affordable luxury brand from scratch is also possible, and in many cases very successful. An example is Victoria's Secret in the United States.

Perils of lifestyle brand positioning

Lifestyle and self-expression Have you noticed that more and more brands position themselves as lifestyle these days? You wander into a store thinking you’ll be checking out home decoration items, and instead, you end up browsing seemingly unrelated goods -- books, clothing, food -- at a lifestyle boutique, or lifestyle concept store. It reminds me of my my recent visit to Merci Merci, a concept store in Paris. There, you can even sit down and have a cup of coffee whilst looking at flowery aprons and dresses displayed in the shop. Another one, Cook and Book in Brussels, offers a possibility to express your artsy lifestyle by having lunch while surrounded by art and style books, which one can also buy.

 

Ways of expressing one’s lifestyle have become abundant. As far as selecting products goes, consumers are presented with endless flavors, designs and scents to choose from, mix and assemble into unique combinations which express their unique lifestyles. In fact, so many brands offer mass customization, that ways of self-expression have become all-pervasive. When so many brands are trying to tap into people’s needs for self-expression and strive for lifestyle positioning, maybe it’s time to find other ways to make your brand stand out from the crowd?

Lifestyle brands expose themselves to cross-category competition

A study published this month in Journal of Marketing (( Competing for Consumer Identity: Limits to Self-Expression and the Perils of Lifestyle Branding, Alexander Chernev, Ryan Hamilton, & David Gal, Journal of Marketing, May 2011)) concludes that by positioning their brands as lifestyle, companies “expose themselves to much broader, cross-category competition for a share of a consumer’s identity.” ((ibid.)) This goes against the widely accepted belief that lifestyle brand positioning is less likely to bring products and services into direct confrontation with competing brands.

 

At first sight, the logic of the latter seems clear. Let’s say, you are launching a soft drink in a very competitive market. How would you position it? Even if it has an amazing taste, the tendency nowadays is to avoid simply positioning it as a tasty drink. That’s just too plain vanilla. Instead, you might want to tap into the lifestyles of your consumers, trying to understand how your drink will allow them to express themselves. By positioning a drink not just as a tasty drink, but something else -- let’s say, a way to express one’s energy, creativity, sportiness, sense of achievement, etc. -- your company wants to signal that it has a great product to offer.  It also wants to avoid somebody else coming to the market with a tastier drink.

 

However, by positioning your drink as a lifestyle product, you enter into competition with other products as well -- branded and non-branded -- that compete with each other as means of facilitating consumers’ self-expression. In fact, your drink may very well be competing with a car, a mobile phone and a local trendy restaurant, all at once.

 

Competition across product categories

In the not-so-remote past, the common approach amongst marketers was to take for granted the fact that “consumers’ brand preferences are not likely to be affected by their actions in unrelated product categories and/or domains.” (( ibid. )) Drinks were positioned against competitor drinks, and cars were positioned in ways that made them differ from competing cars. In contrast to this approach, the study shows that this is no longer the case.

According to its authors, "Consumer brand preferences are a function of the activities they were involved in prior to evaluating a given brand—more specifically, the degree to which these prior activities afforded the opportunity to express their identities. ((Ibid., p 67))

In other words, consumer’s choice of a certain brand of mobile phone with lifestyle positioning can be influenced by his or her self-expression activities undertaken prior to making that choice. For instance, writing a blog article, creating a painting or sharing news with friends on Facebook could have already addressed your potential consumers’ needs for self-expression before your marketing message has reached them. In other words, self-expression is finite and can be satiated by very many different things, not only branded products.

 

What should brand managers do?

First of all, it’s simply helpful to be aware of the dynamics of self-expression among your consumers. By realizing that your consumers’ self-expression is finite, and that your brand competes with other brands, concepts and activities far from your product category, you will be well prepared to create smart brand strategies.

 

Second, rethink the lifestyle positioning of your product. Does it really make you stand out from the crowd and be truly funky? If everybody is doing it, maybe it’s time for another big thing. Like launching a really tasty soft drink.