Featured Funky Brands

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.

Keeping brands alive through product innovation: Alessi

alessi-the-chin-familyWhat comes to your mind when you hear the brand name Alessi? To me, it immediately signals, "Italian design". Functional, funky and beautiful. Alessi is an Italian family-owned company based near Milan. For its third generation owner, Alberto Alessi, getting design right is the main mission of the company.

For a company that is deeply rooted in the Italian tradition of artisanship, keeping the brand alive and contemporary through product innovation is crucial. Objects that bear the name Alessi are conceived by a large team of designers who have freedom to propose and implement innovative product ideas. But of course, there has to be some set of criteria which would make an object coming from the pool of ideas look truly Alessi.

What is the way of getting this task right? According to Alberto Alessi, each of the objects is assessed based on the so called Alessi formula -- a set of two main parameters which was put together in the 90-s, and which represents the main elements of what constitutes the Alessi look and feel.

"The first central parameter is the degree to which people say, "Oh, what a beautiful object," which represents the creation of a relationship between the object and the individual. We call this SMI, which stands for sensation, memory, imagination. The second is the use that people can make of an object in order to communicate with other people. By this I mean that objects have become the main channel through which we convey our values, status, and personality to others — fashion is a typical case in point. Objects can have status value or style value. By way of example, a gold Rolex watch is a status symbol, which suggests economic wealth, whereas a style symbol may be exemplified by an Aldo Rossi teapot, which reveals cultural sensitivity and familiarity with the architectural domain. Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist, brilliantly expounded concepts like these." (Interview with Alberto Alessi, McKinsey Quarterly; 2009, Issue 2, p22-23)

And here is a video in which Alberto Alessi gives some ins and outs of design management and product innovation:

Can a brand exist without a name?

no-name-restaurantYesterday I had dinner at a very nice restaurant in Brussels. The service was excellent, and food was enjoyable. A funky item on the menu was a mix-it-yourself salad. The waiter brought me a piece of paper with a list of ingredients, and all I had to do was tick off the ones I wanted in my gastronomic concoction. I liked playing the "ticking the box game" and was quite satisfied with the resulting salad.

A nice idea, which, combined with great service, led to a high level of customer satisfaction I for sure experienced.

This is all good, but what was the name of the restaurant?

Well, I have no idea!

The next time I go there, I'll invite my friends to a ¨place where you can mix your own salads", but I won't be able to give them its name. The thing is, I did look for the name of the place above the entrance , but simply couldn't see any. I am sure it must have been there, just well hidden.

The waiters' uniform didn't have any signs of the name either. One of the waiters was wearing a T-shirt with a logo of Havana Club, a bar in a totally different part of Brussels which probably had nothing to do with the "place where you can mix your own salads" .  Another waiter had an altogether different logo on his T-shirt. Total confusion!

This particular no name restaurant certainly has a lot of nice things about it, which for me personally resulted in the most precious thing all businesses should strive for: customer satisfaction.  With some help of a visual identity consultant, this particular restaurant can introduce some logic and consistency to its look and feel, including a logo, interior design, the way the menu looks and the style of the waiters' uniforms. Higher brand awareness is guaranteed!

But for the moment, could I say that for me, this restaurant has a BRAND, if I can't even remember its name? I'd argue that it actually does. Although there are very many definitions of "brand" out there, the simple definition is that of a "personality" of a company, human being, country, exposition, etc.  A set of unique character features, if you will.

The no name restaurant that served me dinner last night, has a "personality" of a friendly place that allows you some creativity and participation in making your meal. A good brand name, if easily detected and memorable, can only enhance this personality.

Good branding has nothing to do with trying to make a lousy business look nice. Chances are high that people will remember your name, but it will be tied to a bunch of negative connotations. Good branding is about first helping companies manage their business well, enabling them to provide good service and have authentic values and THEN translating this work into what's actually visible to the final customer. Trying to dress up a bad business into a nice package simply won't work.

So, the "place where you can mix your own salads", just sort out that name stuff, and the rest will follow.

Interview with Rowan Gormley, CEO of Naked Wines

An interview with Rowan Gormley, CEO of an online wine retailer, based in the UK: Naked Wines. In charge of Virgin Money and Virgin Wines in the past, Rowan Gormley started his own venture, Naked Wines, in 2008. He talks to Schmoozy Fox about the social networking features of his business, and the Naked Wines brand personality.

On cute little brands and Mini

Red Mini CooperIn my previous post I discussed the "smallness" in brands and listed some of the possible reasons for our liking of small objects. A comment posted in response to that article gave a reference to an interesting article in NY Times, The Cute Factor, that the readers of this blog might want to check out to get a scoop of more possible reasons of why we like small cute things. Sean, thanks for posting a nice link! :)

By the way, did you know that Mini Cooper which I mentioned in the previous post as an example of "little" brands, is turning 50 this year? Launched by in 1959 by British Motor Corp., it was taken over by BMW in 1994. Actually, the correct name of the car is simply Mini, not Mini Cooper any more.

The car is now sold in 62 countries, at an average price of 20, 000 USD. Interestingly, Mini's sales in the US are about 25% of its total global sales -- which is a curious fact given the all-pervasive opinion that people in the US like big cars.

The cute and small factor works well, it seems!

Got something to say about cute little brands? Post a comment!

Abercrombie & Fitch store in London: analyzing brand touch points

abercrombielondon Last week, I went to London to take an executive education course in customer focused marketing at London Business School. After we've had a series of very inspirational sessions, the program director Professor Nader Tavassoli sent our group on a shopping journey around London in order to analyze the so called brand touch points of different shops.

As Tavassoli explained, brand touch points are essentially the ways in which we discover, experience and eventually buy products or services of a certain brand. Brand touch points are usually experienced during the following three phases:

Rational: this is the consideration phase during which we decide that we need, new clothes, for example. Emotional: this is the phase during which we pre-select those clothes shops we will be going to based on deep emotional associations that we have about our brands of choice.

Experiential: this is how we consume products and services. And this phase was the one we were analyzing during our London shopping trip.

One of our destinations was the European flagship store of Abercrombie & Fitch, a popular US fashion label.

Even before arriving to the Abercrombie store in London, my work group spotted what at first seemed like a large  group of teenagers moving in the direction of the shop. They looked like they were on an organized school trip, or at least so they appeared, all dressed in Abercrombie sweatshirts. It later occurred to me that it was exactly this Abercrombie relaxed sporty look that made them look similar, but in fact these were all separate groups of teenagers.

Finally, we reached the store and were greeted by a young man sporting his muscular shirtless body. He was gladly accepting customers' requests for a photo. Anyone could pose next to him and have a Polaroid photo taken, which was carefully put in an Abercrombie envelope to dry. I've got one of those, too. Certainly a very tangible brand touch point.

The whole shop looks like a night club. It's dark inside, the music is loud, young and gorgeous shop assistants are dancing. As a matter of fact, clothes displayed on dimly lit shelves appear secondary to the whole experience of simply being in the shop. Youth, beauty, party atmosphere, great music were certainly more important reasons for being in the shop. But in any case, the lines to fitting rooms were quite long, on a Wednesday afternoon.


I guess now I know what's so special about the brand which seems to be a must in my young daughter's local school in Brussels. A couple of abercrombieschoolweeks before doing the marketing course at LBS, I'd gone to a kids' party at her school, and noticed the name Abercrombie proudly displayed on paper figures made by the school children. No other brand names were spotted. Luckily, my daughter is only 3, and is not yet asking me to get the school "uniform" -- Abercrombie clothes.

Abercrombie is the brand that gets the power of brand touch points. I certainly had fun doing my homework at its London flagship store!

On line extensions and Starbucks Via

Massively criticized, the launch of its first instant coffee by Starbucks might be successful long-term, provided the company chooses its target markets well, and pursues the right pricing strategy in relation to its freshly brewed coffee.

Turkish fashion in a tiny box

A couple of weeks ago I came back from my trip to Istanbul. I spent a week of great vacation there, exploring this wonderful city and its historical tbox1monuments. Apart from that, I (of course!) had to check the local brands, preferably funky and innovative ones. Prior to going to Turkey, I'd asked my friends, as well as posted questions on various social networks (notably asmallworld and LinkedIn), asking to suggest some funky Turkish brands for me to check out. Believe it or not, pretty much all answers had to do with something called T-box.

Having learned that T-box's main point of differentiation is packaging, or, rather, its size (you can buy your T-shirt wrapped in a tiny bag size of a matchbox), and having the impression that I'd certainly bump into a T-box shop somewhere in the city, I didn't even bother to note down any exact addresses. It turned out though that it wasn't easily findable, and it took me about 4 days before I bumped into it on the main shopping street of Istanbul. Unfortunately, the shop was closed -- on a Tuesday afternoon -- because at that time it served as a venue for some PR event of sorts. So, i didn't get to have a close look at those tiny packages.

And it's a pity. Because T-box, launched in 2003 in Turkey, has quickly expanded abroad, and currently has about 5000 stores on 4 continents. The whole concept is based on squeezing normal size clothes into abnormally tiny boxes, cone-shaped packages and purses. Apparently, it's the only Turkish brand which never has to lower its prices during sales seasons.

Do you know any other business idea based almost entirely on innovative packaging? Post a comment!

The brands we love and what we call them

heartsLast night I decided to glance through one of the books on my branding bookshelf where I keep my favorite sources of marketing, brand strategy and social media. It's a usual “exercise” I do once in a while to refresh my knowledge of some important branding concepts, and a way of getting inspiration for this blog, for example. Nerdy kind of stuff.

The first book I pulled out from the shelf was The Lovemarks Effect by Kevin Roberts. I've already referred to the concept of lovemarks in some of the previous posts. This time, the book made me wonder how we, the marketers and brand strategy geeks, refer to those superb brands which have managed to capture the precious attention of their respective consumers. I did some search of relevant branding terminology which in one way or another refers to such great brands, and here is what I found:

  • So, lovemarks. This term was coined and made known by the CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, Kevin Roberts. The book on my shelf describes the ways in which consumers build emotional attachments to some brands, and why that happens. Definitely something to learn for anyone who is interested in building superb brands.

  • Another reference I found is CoolBrands. CoolBrands UK is an annual survey of the brands most appreciated by the UK consumer. It is an initiative of a branding agency Superbrands. A panel of independent brand judges – marketers, creatives, chiefs of advertising and communications agencies – assess a pool of preselected 1,500 leading brands on the UK market. They then come up with a shortlist of what they call CoolBrands: stylish, innovative, original, authentic, desirable and unique names which have captures minds and hearts of consumers.

  • The Schmoozy Fox blog is dedicated to funky brands – high quality products or services that are innovative, original, zesty and have the potential to delight their customers (in case of start-ups) or have already become widely accepted and appreciated by the market (in case of more established brands).

Are there any other ways of referring to the brands we love? Post a comment!

Can chewing gum be stylish?

The short answer is yes. Or at least this is how the brand managers of Wrigley's “5 gum” want to position it: a stylish premium product for the stylish wrigley5cobalt_wallpaper consumer.

I am not easily convinced to make impulse purchases. Displays of chocolate and chewing gum next to check-outs in supermarkets usually leave me pretty indifferent. Which doesn't prevent me from making mental notes about any new products appearing amongst the usual KitKats and Juicy Fruit. I have to say, for a long time I haven't seen anything strikingly new in these rather predictable displays. Now I hear that this may change soon as Wrigley is about to launch in the UK a new range of PREMIUM chewing gum called 5 gum. It is already sold in the United States. I suppose, five is a reference to the number of flavours in which the product is available:

Lush -- “crisp tropical”

Elixir -- “new mouthwatering berry sensation”

Cobalt -- “cooling peppermint”

Flare -- “warming cinnamon”

Rain -- “tingling spearmint”

The numer 5 is also a reference to the five human senses.

What's so premium about this new brand? First of all, the packaging is indeed very stylish, complete with “embossed black gloss packaging and sharp eye catching bursts of colour”. And apparently, this is Wrigley's response to the increasing demand of stylish consumers for a wider range of available flavors, or “taste sensations” as Toby Baker, marketing director at Wrigley, puts it.

How “premium” will the retail price of 5 gum be in the UK? And will Wrigley sell its 5 gum at any “stylish” distribution channels? Post a comment!

Funky shoes for funky people: Camper

Girls love shoes. In my case, this is an understatement of the century. I sometimes even dream about shoes. And, as any other girl, I have to have lots and lots of them to make sure they match every possible outfit I can think of. But I am not the kind of woman who's crazy about sky-high heels. Well, I've got several pairs like that of course, for special occasions, but I am more into shoes which make me feel connection to the Earth, enable me to actually walk, and contribute to my sexy and trendy look.

In fact, it's not that easy to find such shoes. Think about it – finding a pair that is funky, has heels (sometimes) and enables you to walk at a normal human pace rather than move at a speed of a snail seems a bit of a challenge. But last weekend a Spanish friend of mine walked through my front door wearing a pair of blue-heeled funky shoes. When I looked at them, I recognized the brand immediately: Camper, a cool and edgy shoe producer from Mallorca.

How could I have forgotten about Camper? It is one of the few brands that can tick all the boxes of my shoe requirements. Three years ago, a very fashion-conscious friend of mine who lives in Berlin took me on a shopping tour spree in the city. Our first destination was a Camper store, and it almost turned out to be our last destination as well, since we just couldn't leave it for a long time. And it wasn't just for the cool shoes. The store itself was a great place in which the Mediterranean spirit of Camper's Mallorcan origins mixed well with the unique creative spirit of Berin. I left empty-handed though, just because my size of the shoes I liked was sold out.

Later on, during my MBA studies in Madrid, Camper was occasionally mentioned in my marketing and strategy classes although we have unfortunately never discussed the company in detail. It was mostly Zara that was brought to our attention again and again, as an illustration of a successful Spanish brand, but somehow, Camper was left out.

And that's a pity. Because Camper, launched in 1975 in Mallorca, has managed to create a very distinctive brand identity based on fun, creativity and spontaneity. It would have made a great MBA case on how to create and manage a successful brand. Camper is modern, trendy and just....lovable. No wonder it has so many fans on Facebook, and rightly so!

First, there is superb quality. My friend, the owner of the blue heels, says she's had her Campers for 7 years with not too much change to the original shape and color. Second, there's funky design. Third, Camper shoes have managed to communicate well its dreamy and exotic Mallorcan origin. It is, let's agree, quite refreshing, especially for the inhabitants of grey and cold parts of Europe. Finally, Campers are worn by fashionable, funky and REAL people. These people are busy individuals, like you and me, but yet they are able to slow down, take it easy and enjoy the moment. After all, the company's great motto, “Walk, don't run” rightly pinpoints the necessity of slowing down in our often frenetic and busy lives.

Freedom, being down-to-Earth, creativity, surprise and spontaneity are the main brand values of Camper shoes. Pleasantly surprising its customers is one of Camper's values that draws numerous fans into its stores (and online) back and again. Often, this is demonstrated through spontaneous partnerships with artists and designers -- check out, for example, Camper's Together initiative at http://www.camper.com/together/en/ which focuses on collaboration among various designers in order to create unique shoes.

Camper is a funky company that has embraced the importance of brand positioning. Recently, it has invested into e-commerce which has allowed it to take better control of the brand evolution in the online world. Lucky are those people who are confident enough to buy shoes online without trying them first. As to myself, although I love shopping online, I usually stay away from buying shoes. I guess I'll just wait for Camper to open up a shop in Brussels some time soon!

Brand names and what’s behind them

I’ve recently noticed that a couple of my American girlfriends with whom I keep in touch via Facebook have been posting status updates related to their craving of cupcakes. One was craving them, and another one became their fan. There is a Send Cupcakes application on Facebook which had 7, 391 active users on March 30, 2008. Familiar with these cupcake cravings of my American girlfriends, I couldn’t left unnoticed an article related to cupcakes published on http://www.springwise.com/ (a site dedicated to new business ideas spotted around the world). In fact, the featured business, called Cupcake (http://www.cupcakemum.com/), doesn’t sell these pastries, and is in fact a child-friendly hangout place and a health club for pregnant women and new mothers that will soon open in London. It’s a fitness club, a spa and an organic café with a crèche where mums and dads can drop off their offspring and enjoy the club’s facilities. As Springwise suggests, the owner of Cupcake plans to open more of similar establishments in affluent areas across London in the nearest future.

A mother myself, I find the business idea of Cupcake clubs quite appealing. As someone who’s into branding, I wonder though if the name Cupcake really pinpoints the real identity of the club, and communicates everything it needs to communicate. According to Springwise, the owner of the business is an American, maybe this explains her attraction to cupcakes, just like in the case of my American Facebook friends? I tried to find some information about the cultural connotations that cupcakes have for Americans, but all I could find was that these small muffin-like cakes, often covered with sweet frosting, are usually served at children’s parties. Is it just something festive, or something to indulge into once in a while, or something else?

I didn’t grow up eating cupcakes (an equivalent in my case would probably be Russian-style “pryaniki”), and, just like many of my international friends living in London would probably have no idea what a “cupcake” stood for if I hadn’t lived in the US for a couple of years.

Without going much deeper into the cultural connotations of cupcakes for Americans, I am wondering whether the name selected for the business will trigger similar feelings among all of potential club customers. Many new mothers are concerned about their post-pregnancy figure and want to get back into shape quickly – this is probably why they would go to a health club in the first place. “Cupcakes”, however, suggest extra calories and, in my mind, are not a particularly gourmet kind of dessert. Will the affluent new mothers (the target market of the Cupcake clubs) want extra calories from not-so-gourmet desserts? And what’s the connection between sweet cupcakes and the organic food café that is part of the club?

Still, I find the idea of this child-friendly club very appealing to new mothers. Would I not go to the club just because of its “calory-rich” name? Not at all, I’d still check it out. My point has been to illustrate that choosing a name for your new business can be a very tricky and difficult path. Even if you think that you’ve come across a “bingo!” name, others might not find it clear, especially if the name is full of cultural connotations not known to everyone. What’s the suggestion then? If you don’t have the cash to hire a naming agency, brainstorm with your friends and try to choose a name that would communicate a similar concept to a lot of people. For instance, I would probably not call a new health club “Sladky pryanik”, you know what I mean!

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:

-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.