Brand building tips

Rebranding of nations: Cyprus

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


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


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


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

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

1) Stay positive about the future

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

2) Identify your Unique Value Proposition

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

3) Identify your target audience

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

4) Create a unique brand personality and brand positioning

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

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

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

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

The Branding Bandwagon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of brand endorsements

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

The Thank You Economy
The Thank You Economy

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

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

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

Celebrity endorsements - the glitz and glamor of branding

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

Face value

Jimmy Wales Wikipedia
Jimmy Wales Wikipedia

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

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

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

Forget the rational

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


Famous faces help sell shoes

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

Persuasiveness of fame

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


Clearly defined brands influence purchasing decisions

running track
running track

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use (any) images to build your brand

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


Source: The Neuromarketing blog by Roger Dooley


Design thinking vs analytical thinking


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


A good metaphor for good (and bad) branding

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

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


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


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

Confused about your brand positioning? Stop advertising

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Source: The Truly Deeply blog



Building Russian brands

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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



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


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

Celebrities help startup brands reach for the stars

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


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


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


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


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


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


Also read:

Co-branding: Desigual and Cirque du Soleil

Another co-branding example: Missoni and Target

8 examples of co-branding and brand partnerships

Brand partnerships

Can laptops and nail polish complement each other? 

Naked Wines and Naked Chef

A  new kind of brand ambassadors: famous bloggers

A new kind of brand ambassadors: famous entrepreneurs

Funky Brands™ on Pinterest

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


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


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

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


2) Pinterest is all about playing games

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


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


Create powerful web content to build your B2B brand

Back in October 2011, published an article by Mikal Belikove, Why Content Marketing is King (you can see my comment underneath the article).  According to Mikal, content marketing has surpassed "search engine marketing and public relations". I fully agree that content marketing is one of the best cost-efficient tools available for those entrepreneurs who want to build their brands in the B2B environment (read more on how to build a brand for B2B here) and don't have the budgets for placing expensive ads in specialized ad magazines.


Here's how the author defines content marketing,


It's the creation and publication of original content -- including blog posts, case studies, white papers, videos and photos -- for the purpose of generating leads, enhancing a brand's visibility, and putting the company's subject matter expertise on display.


My clients, as well as people who find me on on the web, sometimes ask me how often they need to produce content in order to have positive results. Many of them, especially solo entrepreneurs and small startups, fear venturing into online content creation just because they think that they will not manage to deliver blog posts, tweets and YouTube videos frequently enough.


But how important is the frequency of posts, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and other updates for B2B brands? It all depends on your objectives. If you want a lot of traffic coming to your site, then you'd better deliver content frequently, and with predictable regularity. For big blogs like Mashable, TechCrunch, Trendhunter, this is crucial to their business model, which depends on the amount of of web visitors, which, in their turn, attract advertisers.


But for B2B entrepreneurs, it's content quality, not quantity, that should matter most. If their prospects visit the blog, it's mostly for the purpose of screening the level of expertise of the expert whose services they are looking for. If you are a lawyer, who blogs occasionally, bear in mind that your customers will want to see how convincing you are about your expertise. They want to trust you. And top content published on your blog can deliver just what they are looking for.


Here's my branding advice for B2B companies: concentrate on making top-quality content. It won't build your brand overnight, but it's a sure strategy to stand out from the crowd and build your expertise.

Why good packaging matters

Attractive packaging is very important in branding. This is a no-brainer, and if you've ever taken marketing 101, you might remember that lecture about the importance of packaging.


But did you know that, when buying food items, people are much more likely to chose shiny, attractive packaging over the actual taste? This phenomenon is referred to as visual saliency bias, and has been well described on the blog by Dan Ariely, in a post Why we really are distracted by shiny objects.


The visual saliency bias can be explained by how our brain processes information. It weighs different criteria (such as, color, taste, etc), and compares them to each other. Often, it seems, visual criteria weigh over others.  This goes back to my article Is your web site sticky enough? in which I showed the importance of visual brand communications, based on the fact that 65% of Earth's population are the so called visual learners.

What is the brand of ... branding?

If you follow my blog, you have probably noticed that I often like to explore quite intricate and quirky techniques used in branding. For instance, on previous occasions I've talked about international aspects of brand strategy, dynamics of co-branding, or the relevance of country of origin to product branding. All pretty advanced branding stuff.

But once in a while, I feel it's necessary to start anew, and go back to basics. I have done this on several occasions, for example in this short post about the difference between branding and marketing. 

Today,  let's go back to basics once again, and define the brand of branding. I've had this on my to do list for a while, and I even launched a LinkedIn discussion on the subject a couple of months ago.   During my experience of working with clients on branding projects, as well as talking about branding during workshops and conferences, I've come to realize that overall, people have no difficulty defining the concept of "brand".


There's usually a lot of agreement that "brand" stands for "promise", "trust", "personality", and other attributes that people can easily define.   However, when it comes to defining "branding", or "brand strategy", things start getting  a little bit more complex. I've often felt that, when people say, "Let's do some branding", they often mean, "Let's create a logo, and brand name." This is where the brand of "branding" gets really weak. Although logos and other visual identity attributes are very important,  and their creation IS certainly part of branding, they are not all there is to branding.  Moreover, logos should be put in place as a result of an in-depth brand strategy exercise, which centers around such elements as pricing and distribution strategy, brand positioning statement, and others.

It's only when the value proposition of your product, or company, has been defined, that you should think of how to translate it into visual form.  It's also much easier to work on your visual image if you know what your product, or company, stands for exactly.

Whereas branding is an excellent framework which can be used for overall business development, and creating excellence in organizations, its relatively weak brand positioning simply doesn't play to its strengths. Why is branding mostly perceived as work on logos, and what would you do to reposition branding?

Co-branding: Desigual and Cirque du Soleil

A nice recent example of a funky brand partnership has been the collaboration between Desigual, a Spanish fashion label (previously mentioned in my short post about funky brands from Spain) and the world-famous Cirque du Soleil from Canada.  The latter hasn't yet featured on my blog, but it's now part of my #funkybrands list on Twitter.  

From a purely creative and visually attractive point of you (which would make total sense to all of the visual learners), the brand partnership between Desigual and Cirque du Soleil is extremely successful, in my opinion.  If you know the outrageous character of Desigual clothes, you'd see that the clownesque fun flavor has been present in them for already quite some time, so the partnership with Cirque du Soleil is smack to the point.

But what does this partnership give to Cirque du Soleil?  My guess is that one of the main reasons for this brand partnership must be the target audience.   Desigual, well-known in Europe, gives the Canadian Cirque du Soleil better brand exposure in Europe.


Otherwise, there discourse in the video above is all about similarities betweent he two, whereas, for a brand partnership to be successful, it would need to focus on differences.   For more insights, read my aticle 3 co-branding rules for bigger profits.


Source: Brandchannel

Reverse product placements

Remember  Carrie Bradshaw wearing her favorite Manolo Blahnik shoes in Sex and the City?  This is an example of product placement, also referred to as embedded marketing.  

I've written about product placement in movies and novels (!), in songs and on TV.

But how about fictional products becoming popular in movies first,  to be launched and gain market success in real life later on? This phenomenon is called reverse product placement, and there was a good post on the subject appearing on Brandchannel last week.  There's a nice list of 5 reverse product placements for your perusal.  Whereas reverse product placement is certainly not the most common marketing phenomenon, it should surely be worthy of rememering by all funky brandsters.