Events

How Google keeps its Doodle funky

You might have noticed that Google displays different images on its homepage, depending on the zeitgeist. Sometimes it’s just a plain Google logo, but often it comes accompanied by the so called Doodles — images that express the holiday spirit, or important events. I wrote about it in one of my previous articles about brand mascots. In its recent initiative to promote young designers and inventors of tomorrow, Google has organized a competition for high school students asking them to submit their own Doodle designs. The winner is a 7-year old Matteo Lopez from San Francisco.

 

 

Nivea showcases its brand history in an art exhibition

 

There's an interesting trend that I've observed over the last couple of years: more and more brands are exploring art and design in a whole new way. Instead of spending extensive budget on advertising, many brands are finding ways of staying creative by expressing their values in more subtle, artistic ways. Some brands (like Swarovski and Kipling, for example) consistently upgrade their collections by involving well-known talented designers and artists in their product development. Others express their artistic and creative side by sponsoring art exhibitions. And yet another approach for brands is to showcase their history through art, whereby their own products, ads, packaging and photos feature as objects of art.

 

To illustrate this point, let me give you an example of Nivea, a German cosmetics brand with a 100-year long history. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Nivea wanted to show how the brand's visual expression (mainly packaging and ads) has evolved throughout decades. In an art exhibition that is taking place in Milan, Nivea has kicked off "a series of events and cultural initiatives aimed to enact the company's commitment in joining arts and industry." (For more, see this article on Coolhunting.com)

Astonishing product design & funky brands

Back in 2009, I wrote about Alessi and its ability to keep its brand alive through product innovation. While rereading that blog post, as well as looking back at the beginnings of SCHMOOZY FOX's blog, and the content that I've created over time, I feel like reiterating this important for me thought: product innovation and design are very powerful elements of any funky brand.  

Manyt of the funky brands that I've spoken about on this blog are good at design -- be it product design or visual identity. Think of Theo eyewear, Kipling bags,  Biomega bikes or Ice Watch -- product design is an important element of their brand DNA. Or, let's take, for instance, Mad Mimi -- a funky visual identity makes this email marketing service stand out from the crowd in a very refreshing way.

 

Many Funky Brands can be spotted at major events and conferences dedicated to design. I wish I was now at the Milan Design Week, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week. Alessi is also present there with its latest designs, check them out here.

Brands at the Oscars 2011

Since the Academy Award, or the Oscar, was established in 1929, it has become a strong brand (see my previous article Events as brands: Paris Fashion Week). Its brand image is the one of glitz, glamour and red carpets.  That's why this event has been so much liked by luxury brands that are all about glamour and exclusivity.

This year, however, along with Gucci and Prada, it seems like the Oscars is becoming a bit more funky and relaxed.

First, it  will attract an unusual participant from the world of brands -- Omega 3 snack mixes Planter, a Kraft Foods brand.  With its Nutmobile specially made for this and other promotional events, Planter will make a statement about its support for the green and eco-friendly way of life.

The Nutmobile  by Planters

View image source here.

Second, many brands that are tapping into the huge advertising potential of the Oscars, will be exploring social media on a much larger scale that they've done so far. The Academy Award itself has been actively engaged in generating buzz about the event with a series of videos that feature young and hip hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

Golden Globes strengthens Facebook's brand

Just a couple of days ago I blogged about Mark Zuckerberg, and showed how a serious of recent events (with the release of The Social Network movie among them) have positively contributed to his personal brand. And here you go, The Social Network movie was one of the big winners during last Sunday's Golden Globe awards.  As Mashable writes, "Mark Zuckerberg might take issue with how the film portrayed the early years of FacebookFacebook, but in truth, the film and its critical and commercial success has only reinforced Facebook’s place in the cultural zeitgeist."

Brands are not build overnight. It takes time for them to evolve. A series of recent events, such as the release of The Social Network movie, and others (read my previous blog post to get a scoop) have boosted both the personal brand of Mark Zuckerberg and that of Facebook. What would Zuckerberg need to do next in order to tap into all this good publicity and continue building his brand?

Online brand mascots

Recently, I've published several posts about brand mascots, cartoon-like characters that can infuse your brand with personality. In my first posts about brand mascots, I defined what they are. Further on, triggered by a reader's comment, I wrote an article Beastly branding, in which I concluded that most of brand mascots take shapes of people, animals, birds and insects.

Today, I want to talk about brand mascots that have evolved online.

Many online brands (and I've already written about the Twitter bird and Hootsuite owl) infuse some of that real-life personality by using brand mascots in their brand communications.

A good list of online brand mascots has been published in this article on Mashable. Here are the 8 mascots described there, apart from the already-mentioned Twitter bird and Hootsuite owl:

1) The Twitter Fail Whale

fail-whale

2) The Foursquare boy

foursquareThe name of the company is derived from a playground game with the same name, Four Square. My take on it is that Foursquare wants us all to "join in, and play the game", hence the mascot of a playing boy. The playground ball game Four Square, however, is probably mostly known in the US, where one would detect a subtle link between the ball game Four Square, and Foursquare's invitation to "play the game". I suspect this association might not be so apparent in other parts of the world, however.

In one of my previous articles, Learn to speak the language of your brand, I talked about brand naming for companies that want to expand internationally. The bottom line is that brand names (along with all the desired brand associations that they result in) should be understood in all countries where the brand in question wants to reach. Foursquare should have kept this in mind when naming its brand with potential to grow outside of the US.

3) Google "Doodles"

This one is very special. Probably everyone has noticed that Google displays different images on its homepage, depending on the zeitgeist. Sometimes it's just a plain Google logo, but often it comes accompanied by the so called "Doodles" -- images that express the holiday spirit, or important events.

I am not entirely sure whether Doodles are strictly speaking brand mascots, but this doesn't really matter. The point is, they add a bit of a zest to the brand, and entertain us all.

4) The Travelocity Gnome

travelocity gnomeI've mentioned the Gnome in the article on brand mascots, here he is, along with his Facebook fan page.

The remaining four brand mascots that have evolved online are the Firefox's fox, the Facebook "head" (used by Facebook in its early days), Myspace's people with headphones, and Reddit's Alien.

Swarovski: enchanting the world

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

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

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

NOBLY_Keyring Aqua

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swarovski Nymphe zip coin purse, SS 2011

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

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

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

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

Swarovski Nature brooch SS 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELIOT URBAN BEAT_Keyring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All images in this article are courtesy of Swarovski.

Why sweet Cheerios went sour on YouTube

ClickZ has recently published a post about Cheerios and its branded content on YouTube that I'd like to comment on. To make a long story short, Cheerios (a brand of cereal produced by General Mills) has uploaded several videos on its YouTube channel, and they resulted in a number of negative comments.

The videos don't actually make any references to the brand. They feature a tennis player who's healthy and full of energy (because she eats Cheerios, but this we can only guess) and a woman who likes to be healthy, enjoys watering plans and being outside (all thanks to Cheerios, I suppose!).

The videos resulted in a number of negative comments, and, even worse, an article on ClickZ (and yes, this blog post as well). Ouch! Even though Cheerios has only 31 subscribers on its YouTube channel, this is not very cheerful news for the brand.

What are some of the implications of this for Funky Brands?

  • Don't jump into social media just because everybody does it

It's very fashionable to be all over social media, whether it has anything to do with your overall brand strategy or not. I spoke about this at several events, and you can learn more about it in my post Is your brand ready to go online?

The bottom line is, social media is a very advanced and very sensitive media outlet to grasp and master, and you simply can't take it for granted. The problem is, many brands that want to explore social media go talk to social media, new media, or digital agencies or consultants, who, of course, will ensure the brand's presence throughout the web.

I'd suggest a totally different approach. First, figure out your brand strategy basics, and only then implement them through social media. Believe me, thinking and implementing works much better than just implementing!

Cheerios, for example, would have needed to do much better home work regarding its positioning before producing branded content and putting it online. The connection between their product and the fact that it prevents heart disease seems rather weak.  Even if we assume that Cheerios has some nutritional value that benefits health, this brand entry point is rather weak and may not be immediately understood by consumers. Hence all those sarcastic comments on YouTube mocking the connection between Cheerios and health.  This suggests to me that Cheerios would benefit from some smart repositioning to remain authentic and strike a cord with its real fans.

  • When not too sure about your overall brand strategy, use social media to tweak and explore it

At first, this tip might seem somewhat contradictory to the one above. However, the similarity is that you absolutely have to have a solid brand strategy in place, before you jump into social media.  However, often you will have assumptions that would need to be tested, and this is especially true for small companies that don't have lots of cash to spare on traditional market research. Then by using the social media slowly and carefully, they can get very good insights into their consumers and market trends. These insights can be then used to improve and tweak the existing brand strategy.

  • Think twice about branded content

Let me be clear: I am not a big fan of branded content in general.  Branded content is any kind of entertainment content sponsored by brands. Unlike ads which have explicit mentions of the advertiser, branded content usually has little or no mention of the sponsor at all. As a consumer, I'm more likely to watch an ad and know who's behind it rather than be fooled and even manipulated by carefully hidden messages. The problem is, people don't like ads, period. And if they discover that they are watching an ad, whereas they first thought it was simply an entertaining video, they won't be happy.  So, don't monopolize their time and pretend you are not there.

  • Don't forget that the power of social media is NOT all about numbers

The YouTube channel of Cheerios has only 31 subscribers, and yet look at all the fuss.  I feel that the concept of "numbers" in social media is becoming more and more blurry.  On Twitter, everybody seemed to be obsessed by the number of followers (the more, the better) until Klout concluded that one's influence does not solely depend on the number of followers. On Facebook, most people will keep your brand as a friend, to keep the numbers high and appear social, whilst hiding it to keep annoying updates at bay. Don't be seduced by high numbers, and if the numbers are low, don't take this as a guarantee that your brand is safe from bad publicity.

Ice Watch -- putting it all together

Jean-Pierre Lutgen CEO of Ice WatchThe sleek business card of Jean-Pierre Lutgen, CEO of Ice Watch, displays the addresses of his two offices: one located in Bastogne, a Belgian town near the border with Luxembourg, and another one in Hong Kong. From Europe to Asia, this funky brand has become true arm candy for millions of fans. Although the company was founded only 3 years ago, it’s difficult to refer to it as a startup, as the high brand recognition of Ice Watch internationally puts this company already in the league of well-established funky brands. Today, Jean-Pierre Lutgen, the creative and entrepreneurial founder and CEO of this funky brand, talks about his passion for Asia, plastic, marketing and putting pieces of the puzzle together.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s the concept behind the brand of Ice Watch?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: Ice Watch is based on two main elements: people’s desire to seize and express change, and a strong identity. To address the former, we have put together 10 different watch collections. Collections change twice per year, just like in the world of fashion. Their affordable price (staring at Euro 59 per watch) allows people to buy several watches at a time, so that they could match their different outfits, and different moods. We know that many of our customers like to collect different models of Ice Watch. Because they like change! Even our brand slogan is, “Change. You Can.”

The strong identity is seen not only in the funky and refreshing design of the watch itself, but also in its packaging, which has become an inseparable part of the product, and of the brand as a whole.

ice_watch packaging

SCHMOOZY FOX: To prepare for this interview, I’ve watched several videos about Ice Watch in which you talk about the company. But you rarely talk about yourself. What is your background, and how did you make Ice Watch happen?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: I studied at the university in Louvain-La-Neuve, and then I spent 10 years running a small corporate gifts company in Bastogne. I was quite different from my university friends, who all went on to work at established companies, and followed structured career tracks. My corporate gifts company had many ups and downs throughout the years, but I overall I enjoyed this highly entrepreneurial experience.

SCHMOOZY FOX: But besides studies and work, there must be other personal interests and skills that made Ice Watch possible?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen (smiling): You know, I think that success in life does not suddenly appear out of nowhere. Same with me, I can now see that a lot of my interests, passions and experience have developed over time. They were like pieces of the puzzle, lying around scattered on the floor. And finally, I put the puzzle together! For instance, as a small boy, I liked playing with pieces of plastic. I’ve always loved Asia. And I’ve appreciated the power of smart marketing. In addition to that, during my experience at the corporate gifts company, I made precious contacts in China, who later on became my very trustworthy manufacturers of Ice Watch. So, in the end, many of my passions, interests and skills fell into one place.

colorful ice watch

SCHMOOZY FOX: Often startups think that their brand will take care of itself. How did you approach the brand strategy of Ice Watch?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: My impression is that most startups apply brand thinking in the best case only to the product. This is not a recipe for success. For me, a strong brand concept was the starting point of the whole business. The raw idea was mine, but I bounced it off many knowledgeable people, and invested the necessary time into refining the concept over and over again. Afterwards, I made sure that each element of my business strategy supported the brand concept.

I did think through the brand strategy early on, indeed. I also knew that expansion of the brand, and the growing demand for the watches had to match our ability to scale up production very quickly. And this is when I could rely on the already established network of reliable business contacts in Asia. A combination of brand thinking and dedicated production facilities was really powerful.

SCHMOOZY FOX: It’s hard to believe the amount of press coverage internationally that Ice Watch has received since its launch. Can you attribute this success to a single event or a series of activities?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: I worked with PR firms in each of the countries where we were launching Ice Watch. But instead of fully outsourcing press relations, I myself was fully involved in organizing events and press conferences for journalists. I guess, as a complete outsider, I just thought out of the box all the time and spotted unexplored ways of connecting with journalists. For instance, instead of inviting them to the Ice Watch launch events by email, I insisted that we send them empty Ice Watch packaging boxes. When they received attractive boxes, of course they were curious to see what was inside. And when they opened them, they saw a custom-made invite which replaced the actual watch. They were intrigued, liked the packaging, and wanted to discover the product as well!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Who is the blond lady who features on almost all ads of Ice Watch? Is she a celebrity?

Melissa Ice Watch ad

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: She certainly has the looks of a celebrity! Her name is Melissa, and she is very far from the world of fashion and modeling. She works in her mother’s restaurant in the Netherlands. I had a very clear idea of what kind of woman could be our brand ambassador. I explained what I was looking for to a well-known fashion and art photographer from Antwerp, Marc Lagrange, and he found Melissa. The photos, as well as the rights to use them, cost me 10 000 Euros, which was a ton of money for a startup! But in reality, it’s very affordable compared to what I would have paid for a well-known celebrity!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s behind the name “Ice Watch”?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: Brand naming was an important aspect of the overall strategy for us. Initially, we wanted to make transparent watches, and “Ice” was a good match. But even though we extended the concept to a variety of materials, not only transparent, Ice Watch was still our top choice. “Ice” represents purity. Nowadays, when humanity has to deal with the problems of rising temperatures and climate change, ice has become a luxury! In other words, Ice Watch is pure, democratic, transparent in the way it communicates and connects to people, and luxurious at the same time!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Where do you get so much energy to develop your funky brand?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: From working with people! I travel all the time, and I don’t sleep very much, but once I start working with passionate people around me, I find the energy back.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And finally, why is Ice Watch a funky brand?

Olga Slavkina & Jean-Pierre LutgenJean-Pierre Lutgen: The watch industry is rather traditional and somewhat conservative even. Ice Watch has stormed this product category by a refreshing concept, and its democratic values. “Funky” also signals “affordable” to me, and Ice Watch has become a true affordable luxury, able to brighten up the mood of many people around the world.

True luxury: inclusivity vs exclusivity

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

Snapshot of Pod's online forum for registered guests

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

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

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

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

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

A snapshot of KLM's online community for frequent flyers

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

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

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

Snapshot of the invitation-only site of Claseo

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

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

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

Lotty Dotty: an up-and-coming funky brand discovered during Paris Fashion Week

LottyDotty founders showing their products. Photo by SchmoozyFox As mentioned in the article Events as Brands: Paris Fashion Week , I promised to shed more light on some of the brands I discovered during my recent visit to Paris. Lotty Dotty, a Paris-based start-up that manufactures funky T-shirts, is one of them. Having heard about Lotty Dotty prior to visiting Paris, I noted down the address of its showroom near the Pompidou center in Paris, and got in touch with Lotty Dotty's co-founder, a Paris-based US born fashion designer Shevanne Helmer.

Shevanne and her business partner Maya Persaud greeted me in a showroom full of colorful T-shirts featuring Lotty Dotty dolls dressed up in fashionable outfits. What's so special about this new funky-to-be brand and how does it intend to stand out from the crowd? While Lotty Dotty's founders are working on its brand new web site, here is already a preview of the concept.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What's the main concept of Lotty Dotty?

Shevanne Helmer: Lotty Dotty has developed a new T-shirt concept that allows one to change the look of one’s t-shirt by using detachable parts. The basis of our t-shirt is the screen printed doll with a sewn on Velcro bathing suit.

EachT-shirt will be sold with detachable mini outfits. This will give our customers the flexiblity to change the doll's clothes – undress and dress her. Our mini clothing collections are designed by unknown and up-coming designers.

This concept is so new and original that we have acquired a design patent.

LottyDotty mini dresses

SCHMOOZY FOX: How did you come up with this name, and what brand values does Lotty Dotty communicate?

Shevanne Helmer: Maya came up with the name Lotty Dotty. It is a name that invokes souvenirs of our childhood, and it is all about being playful!

We wanted to offer several T-shirts in one. This coincides with our will to do as much as we can to preserve our environment. Our T-shirts are made of organic cotton and bamboo and we try to use recycled materials whenever possible. Our ideals represent an increasingly growing trend for responsible consumerism.

LottyDottyTshirts

SCHMOOZY FOX: What is your business model?  Will you sell through Lotty Dotty branded boutiques or will you rely on distributors? Are you thinking of going into e-commerce?

Shevanne Helmer: As of today we begin by marketing 2 products: the first is our T-shirts for women and girls and the second is our “mini-clothing” collection. We are also thinking of introducing boys' and men's collections in due course.

We aim to sell our tee shirts in specialty and upscale department stores. We will also sell on our web site and are considering possibilities for mass-customization.

Shevanne & Maya, LottyDotty's co-founders

SCHMOOZY FOX: in my previous blog post about Paris Fashion Week I talked about the importance of meta-brands, overarching, superior concepts that add usually positive associations to other brands that want to relate to them. Paris Fashion Week is certainly such a meta-brand. Even though you did not present your new collection in a catwalk show, what benefits did you have from presenting Lotty Dotty in this showroom during the Paris Fashion Week?

Shevanne Helmer: Participating in Paris Fashion Week is very important because it gives a certain legitimacy to one’s company. It announces to the world that they have joined the “elite” corps. A certain glamour seems to rub off on your brand or line. I certainly felt compelled to launch our line at this event because it signaled, “Lotty Dotty is here!”

Aside from this, many buyers and press people from around the world are present in one place for a week. I met buyers almost everyday – they were just walking around the neighbourghood.  In this respect, we found it important to choose a strategic location for our showroom. I was able to lure some of them in and present them our tee shirts.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And finally, what's the brand vision that you have for Lotty Dotty? Why do you think customers will like it?

Shevanne Helmer: Lotty Dotty is truly a new concept. There is nothing like it! During the 6 months Maya and myself spent trying to figure out how to “dress and undress” the doll, we searched everywhere to find examples of something like this and we did not find anything. As already mentioned, we also patented this concept.

We hope that our customers will also find Lotty Dotty fresh, new and colorful. We also see  the potential   to develop our dolls, add more dolls,  as well as discover new designers!

In this economic climate, where everyone has to downsize, spend less, the idea of having several tee shirts in one can be very appealing.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thanks, and the best of luck to Lotty Dotty!

A sleevless T-shirt by LottyDotty

Events as brands: Paris Fashion Week

I just came back from Paris, where I attended the show of a talented Belgian designer Tim Van Steenbergen and discovered some up-and-coming funky fashion brands.

While experiencing the Paris Fashion Week first-hand, I thought of the importance of such an event which has a very distinctive brand. It is in fact what one could call a meta-brand. In other words, it' s an overarching, superior concept that adds usually positive associations to other brands that want to relate to it.

Think of the Oscars. Taking part in the Oscar ceremony, being nominated for the main prize, and of course, winning the Oscar gives huge credibility to those movie industry participants who are lucky to be part of this event. The Oscars nomination ceremony is a meta brand for all those that can and want to benefit from it.

In a similar way, Paris Fashion Week is another such meta brand that helps participating brands propel to the fame and greater brand awareness. Paris Fashion Week is the fourth in a series of other major semiannual fashion weeks. The "big four" take place in New York, London, Milan and Paris.  Fashion collections are shown several seasons in advance so that fashion buyers have a chance to prepare their stock in a timely manner. For instance, right now in Paris designers are already presenting their Autumn-Winter collection for 2011.

After catwalks are over, designers and their teams quickly prepare show rooms that are visited by fashion buyers from the world's leading boutiques and luxury department stores. Some successful fashion brands manage to ensure their annual turnover just in a matter of a few days, with all of their stock being ordered by a handful of leading fashion boutiques.

In this sense, there are many immediate and tangible benefits from taking part in fashion weeks, as they are a great way to ensure sales for participating brands.

It's only the world's leading fashion houses that present their collections during Paris Fashion Week. But curiously, the spill-over effects of this meta brand can also be beneficial for some much smaller brands and fashion start-ups. It seems that many rent small show rooms and promote this fact within the framework of Paris Fashion Week, even without being able to afford higher level participation in catwalk shows. In this sense,  even without a guarantee of large-scale sales, such small brands can benefit from intangible spill-over effects on their brand awareness from the Paris Fashion Week meta brand.

Also see my funky brand interview with co-founder of a funky-to-be T-shirt brand Lotty Dotty that I discovered during Paris Fashion Week.

Funky dog food: Bit-O-Luv

While searching the web in the hope to spot yet another funky or would-be-funky brand, I came across a site of a US pet food company, Bit-O-Luv. The last time I had a pet was many years ago, and pets don't quite fit my current hectic lifestyle, unfortunately. So, I feel fairly remote from the whole pet food thing. However, what I found on the Bit-O-Luv site is an example of very good brand differentiation and positioning which caught my attention.  Have a look at the following images of popular pet food brands, for example:

Natural Balance dog food

Or this selection of pet food brands:

Selection of pet food brands

They look kind of familiar, don't they? Even if you have neither cats nor dogs, you've probably seen those ads with a dog running through forests and lakes, ending up on a top of the mountain. All due to the dog's consumption of an X dog food brand. I haven't actually witnessed other pet food brands positioned in a slightly different way. Before I saw Bit-O-Luv. Look at this snapshot taken from their site:

Bit-O-Luv pet food

The site, and the product range, is built around three dog characters: Maddie, Otis and Louie. Here is the profile of Maddie, the spaniel:

Maddie the cocker spaniel

The Bit-O-Luv positioning is supported by cartoon-like characters, fun site and product design, and love for dogs. The company frequently organizes fundraising events to show support to local animal charities. The Bit-O-Luv comes across as an authentic brand, and I have ticked off at least several boxes that qualify it as a funky brand.

When I have a better idea about the Bit-O-Luv's profitability and growth potential, I will give you my final funkiness verdict.

Marlies Dekkers talks about her lingerie revolution

Second in the SCHMOOZY FOX funky brand interview series, this article reveals the personality of the Dutch fashion designer and entrepreneur Marlies Dekkers, creator of the successful lingerie brand marlies|dekkers. In this interview, Marlies Dekkers shares her enthusiasm, drive and passion for the fashion empire she has created from scratch and turned it into a successful business and lingerie brand of choice among many celebrities. It's an inspirational story for all women entrepreneurs who dare to be.

Italians, Paris Hilton and Prosecco

This post discusses the D.O.C.G. quality assurance label used for Italian wines, and discusses whether it will have repercussions for the Paris Hilton Rich Prosecco brand.

Right moment, right message, right place: how to build luxury brands using social media

Is it time for luxury brands to get engaged in more pro-active marketing in social media, or does the concept go against their brand values? This blog posts addresses these issues and gives a couple of examples to illustrate them.

Chocolate and Online Branding – Sweet Dreams or Bitter Reality?

I couldn’t resist an impulse purchase of two tiny boxes of Pierre Marcolini chocolates on Place du Grand Sablon in Brussels this morning; even though I had to pay 16 Euros for the pleasure! I wandered around the stylish shop, carefully examining nicely wrapped chocolate goodies displayed on its two floors and wondering about the relevance of brand building in the chocolate business.

If buying chocolate has mostly an impromptu character, isn’t it just enough to care about having attractive shop windows that are enough of a catch to lure customers in, or do chocolate producers need to care about building longer-term relations with their customers? While the latter option seems obvious to me, Belgium is full of small shops with a very local reputation that sell superior quality chocolate, but who have probably never considered setting aside a chunk of their budget to try to build a brand – or wouldn't know where to start.

Some “chocolatiers”, like Pierre Marcolini, and some others, have embarked on the path of trying to make their names known across Belgium and abroad. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, at least on the local Belgian scene, Marcolini has succeeded in making its name known to chocolate-loving connoisseurs. The major achievement of Marcolini in this respect has, in my view, been an attempt to give its shops an ultramodern look that immediately set them aside from smaller old-fashioned competitors. But if Pierre Marcolini cares about its further growth and international recognition – after all, it has opened stores in the US, Kuwait, Japan, UK, Luxembourg and France –it might consider giving a bit more thought to improving its online presence and making it part of its wider brand-building strategy. In order to do so, it would first of all need to take a fresh look at its web site.

Let’s look at the Belgian site of the chocolate producer -- www.marcolini.be (why not include the name “Pierre” in the domain name?) -- from the usability point of view;

The main page brings us to a flyer for the recently published book “Eclats” that is said (in tiny text that I could read only by moving my face very close to the computer screen) to be available in a range of shops. There are no details about the contents of the book (I suppose it has to do with chocolate) and reasons why anyone would want to buy it.

The main page then gives you some further options for surfing: three language options (French, Dutch and English), as well as “Site Map”. A click on the English version leads to the story about Pierre Marcolini himself, and “Company” provides a snapshot of the main achievements of the brand in chronological order. The tab “Collections” is empty for the moment, and “Events” hasn’t been updated for a while. The page “Contact” briefly mentions a possibility of buying corporate gifts, but the link where further information about them is supposed to be displayed, is “In the construction.”

As I am very used to the fact that on web pages in Belgium content information often differs depending on the language, I attempt to reach the Pierre Marcolini page in both French and Dutch. But it’s not an easy task! I can’t access the language options by clicking on “Home”, so I need to shorten the now expanded domain name address to www.marcolini.be again, in order to reach the main page with the info about “Eclats”. Voila! The French version of the page contains a new tab unavailable in English, “Solutions enterprise” or “Company gifts”. It contains a small collage of chocolate boxes with text below them mentioning that these, indeed, are company gifts. However, no further information is provided on how to order these gifts! Same thing on the page in Dutch – no further info on the subject.

Given its international presence, I was hoping to come across a corporate site of Pierre Marcolini, but what I´ve found was a number or local, country-specific sites. For instance, the US site www.marcolinichocolatier.com gives some facts about the business, but looks quite incomplete. The tab ¨online shop¨ redirects you yet to another site, www.pierremarcolini-na.com. The latter, in its turn, does not seem to be fully functional as some of the goods described just don´t want to go into the shopping cart!

Apart from the imperfections of the mentioned sites, someone at the company must have nevertheless thought about the consistency of visual identity – the shop design, packaging and some elements of the web sites follow more or less the same color and style pattern.

What strikes me in particular, is the discrepancy between Marcolini´s grandiose shop in a stylish location, and its quite undeveloped web sites, mediocre both from the conceptual and technical points of view. Even if strengthening its brand through a variety of online initiatives might not be Marcolini´s strategic priority at the moment, the company should at least boost the look and feel of its web sites, as well as think of using the brand name consistently throughout the country-specific sites. This seems especially important since the chocolate maker is pursuing the path of e-commerce. Imagine how important it would be to help foreign visitors to Brussels relive their pleasant chocolate shopping experience online! Then, thousands miles away from the gorgeous flagship store, they would continue being fans of the brand. And aren´t most brands dreaming of such a ¨lovemarks¨ effect?1

1. Described by Kevin Roberts in “The Lovemarks Effect”, PowerHouseBooks, NY, 2006

The post-MBA reality or how job search can be “not-so-funky”

With an exciting, invigorating, inspiring and very intensive MBA program behind me, I enthusiastically embarked upon a job hunting journey. I thought, with my quite interesting resume, a freshly-baked MBA, cool events I organized under the auspices of the Funky Business club, plus some good publicity I received through my FT articles, finding a cool job in marketing and brand strategy would be a piece of cake.

Notwithstanding my self-confidence, I have had some …. well, not too “funky” job interviews that resulted in rejections. Let me give you some examples of bizarre HR practices some companies seem to be pursuing in their war for talent.

I never had a lot of interest in working in management consulting, so, I was quite surprised when a representative of a well-known management consultancy that came to the on-campus recruitment event seemed very interested in my profile. “This is great,” he said, “we are looking for people exactly like yourself!” “Can I have your CV?” I gave my CV to him without showing too much enthusiasm, but he insisted I could be a really good match. After a couple of weeks, I received a message from this company which “combines deep industry knowledge with specialized expertise in strategy, operations, risk management, organizational transformation, and leadership development”, with a ….. rejection. The usual message stated that after “careful consideration” of my CV, their company realized that I didn’t “match the criteria required for the jobs” there. Err…I was slightly annoyed at the rejection of the post I had never applied for, and wrote back expressing my disappointment. As expected, I never heard anything back.

An HR representative of another well-known company, a French producer and marketer of milk products, had only a quick look at my CV to conclude that I would not be a good fit there due to my lack of working experience “with milk products”. Wow, I thought, they have very precise and rigorous criteria for candidate selection! How many of their current employees had the “milk product experience” before joining the company, apart from their daily portion of cereal with milk or an occasional yoghurt? And what does the mysterious “milk product experience” really stand for? Perhaps someone could clarify that for me!

Then, I received an unexpected invitation for an interview (unexpected, because it resulted from CV submission on-line, the practice I don’t normally follow very often, as it always results in the “thank you for your application, but…” responses) with a global advertising conglomerate that calls itself “a world leader in marketing communications” and “Britain’s most successful advertising company.” I was invited to London to be interviewed by their HR representative for about 1.5 hours. Fortunately, at least I wasn’t asked the usual types of questions either about my strengths and weaknesses, or the vision of myself in 5 years. In fact, it was quite a mellow interview: we went over my CV, then chatted about various brands, such as Jimmy Choo, Dove, Benetton, etc. At the end of the interview I was surprised to find out that the hiring decision would be entirely up to the interviewer to make, which, on the one hand, could suggest great efficiency of the company in question. On the other hand, given lack of too much chemistry between myself and the interviewer, I thought it was a pity I wouldn’t get another chance to talk to anyone else. As expected, in a couple of days I received a rejection for the position. It looked like the lady (who was polite enough to call me instead of sending the usual email) tried hard to find reasons not to hire me. Apparently, the reason for rejection was that during the interview I did not give any examples of “integrated campaigns” launched by the company. “Hmm,” I said, “but I was never asked any questions about the company and your integrated campaigns.” Plus, how would this easily obtainable information demonstrate if I had any skills this company could benefit from?

The good news about these rejections is that in the end they’re all for the better. Would I really want to work for someone who thinks of the world through a narrow focus of “milk products”? Or a company that thinks that only their “integrated campaigns” are worth talking about? Most likely not! In this sense, perhaps I should’t be criticizing the short-sightedness of their human resources, but on the contrary, congratulate them for their amazing ability to spot the people who would not fit into their corporate cultures anyway?

The Funky Business Club

Yes, I finally have a blog! I´ve been reflecting upon the necessity to have one, and I am glad I have finally made this step. I have no choice, really: having a blog is simply a requirement for the course entitled Television, movil y lo que viene. I am taking this class (among many others) at Instituto de Empresa (IE) in Madrid where I am finishing up an International MBA program.

I´ve called this blog The Funky Business Club. The reason is simple: I am founder and president of The Funky Business Club at Instituto de Empresa, dedicated to talent and creativity in marketing-focused organizations. I have created this club in order to combine my two big professional interests:

-Marketing
-Helping people develop their talents.

Under the auspices of the club, I have organized a range of funky events, one of them being a speech by a prominent brand strategist from London, Wally Olins, who came to speak at school last summer. You can read a news brief about Wally´s visit here.