Olga Slavkina

How to brand a branding consultancy: SCHMOOZY FOX is featured in a new marketing book published by Routledge

Brand Mascot book cover
Brand Mascot book cover

A new marketing book “Brand Mascots and Other Marketing Animals", edited by Stephen Brown and Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe, both professors at University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, has been published by Routledge. The good news for me is that a whole chapter of this book is dedicated to the evolution of SCHMOOZY FOX's brand. I co-wrote this chapter in partnership with Dr. Adriana Campelo, a marketing lecturer at Cardiff Business School. The book is dedicated to an interesting strategy of using brand mascots to build a brand. Other brand mascots described in the book are Hello Kitty, Angry Birds, Mickey Mouse, and others.

Routledge is a global publisher of quality academic books, journals and online reference.

The press release with more details can be found here.

You can also read my past articles about brand mascots here:

Brand mascots: shiny happy creatures

Kipling customizes its brand mascot

How Google keeps its Doodle funky

Brand mascots in action: Travelocity Roaming Gnome

Online brand mascots

Why meerkats help markets

Beastly branding

Brand mascots

Skunkfunk: edgy fashion from Bilbao

It was my last night in Lisbon. I’d had a great short break in this fun city, full of exuberant graffiti and little cosy restaurants serving grilled fish. My usual hunting for local funky brands, however, didn’t produce too many fantastic results, and it was too late to hope for anything spectacular. It was the time to have the final drinks in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto, not go shopping. But around 10 pm, when we were hopping from one bar to another, I noticed a store that was still open.  Skunkfunk, the sign said.  There was no way that a funky fashionista would miss a quick peek inside.

What I saw inside of the store pleasantly surprised me. Very original and happy clothes, and great bags and accessories, made from recyclable materials. Having acquired several items, I asked the shop assistant whether the brand was Portuguese. “No, it’s from Bilbao,” he said with a lot of excitement. “And they are so great, they support artists, and have really talented designers working for them.”

If a shop assistant of your franchise outlet has that much enthusiasm about your products, then your brand is probably doing a lot of things right. I wanted to find out more about Skunkfunk, and am happy to publish an interview with its founder and CEO,  Mikel Feijoo Elzo. Olga: When was Skunkfunk founded?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews

Mikel: It was launched in 1999. Before founding Skunkfunk, I had been buying and selling clothes simply to support my habit of traveling. Then I started a line of Tshirts that I was selling to festival-goers, and later on decided to create a full range, a brand. Without too much experience in the fashion industry, I launched Skunkfunk, planning to manufacture everything locally. Olga: Can you describe the brand of Skunkfunk in three words?

Mikel: Different. Lifestyle. Cosmopolitan.

Olga: How important is it for Skunkfunk to follow trends?

Mikel: Actually, we don’t call Skunkfunk trendy -- we don’t follow trends. We follow our own unique style, which is supported by a large team of in-house designers . They take care of the colors, fabrics, trims, prints and styles.

Olga: In how many countries do you sell?

Mikel: We are present in 44 coutnries, selling our products in 22 brand stores.

Olga: How could you describe your “typical” consumer?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2

Mikel: I would say that it’s a lady who travels, cares about style and comfort. She is an independent woman, and she likes to be different, and show her unique personality. She’s also someone who dares to carry a round hand bag, which looks extremely funky, but, let’s face it, not very practical. (Laughing). Olga:  Some articles about Skunkfunk that I’ve read refer to Skunkfunk as a sustainable brand. Is it a good way to describe your company?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1

Mikel: I think a better word to use in relation to Skunkfunk would be “conscious”. There are many fashion brands that call themselves green, for example, but to be perfectly honest, if we followed the principles of sustainability, we wouldn’t need so many clothes altogether, would we?  Trends change way too often, and to comply with trends, more and more fashion is being produced, and transported around the globe. The fact that we consciously don’t follow the trends, contributes to sustainability. You can buy your clothes at Skunkfunk, and they will last several seasons.  We use sustainable fibers to manufacture clothes and accessories.

Olga: A shop assistant at your store in Lisbon was very enthusiastic about your collaborations with artists. How do you collaborate with them and what would you like to achieve through these collaborations?

Mikel: Since we have a large in-house team of designers, working with independent artists is a way of bringing in new inspiration to the company, and freshness to our collections. We don’t only work with graphic artists, by the way. We sometimes challenge other types of artists -- the ones who have never worked with textile before. We ask them to create art on a canvas that is going to be worn by people. They like these challenges, and they often result in freshness and creativity, benefitting the final consumers of Skunkfunk.

Olga: What are Skunkfunk’s plans for 2013?

Mikel: We’d like to start seling in East Asia  and Brazil. And of course, we will also seek continuous improvement in all areas of the business, trying to be better in terms of service delivery, sustainability, design -- everything you can think of.

Olga: Thank you, Mikel, and I wish you and the whole of the team at Skunkfunk a very productive and successful 2013.

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.

KimCattrall
KimCattrall

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.

Reaching_for_the_stars_schmoozy_fox
Reaching_for_the_stars_schmoozy_fox

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, http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/persuade-with-pictures.htm ))

 

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, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22869334 ))

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

 

MINI: an exciting drive

Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox
Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox

A small car with distinctive design, and a rich brand history -- that’s MINI. MINI, a brand owned by the BMW Group, has been on my funky brand radar screen for a while -- I mentioned it on my blog back in 2009, in my post On cute little brands and MINI.

MINI fits my Schmoozy Fox’s description of Funky Brands very well, as it owes its market success to a combination of outstanding design and smart brand strategies. An important part of MINI’s brand vision throughout the years since its launch in the 1950s has been careful nurturing of the fun and excitement factors, which are inherent to MINI’s brand DNA. Today, I am happy to bring to you an in-depth story about MINI, told by my interviewee Philipp Thomssen, Head of Advertising and Community marketing at MINI. Take a glimpse at what MINI’s brand managers have done in order to reinforce the car’s emotional appeal to its customers around the world.

Olga: The brand of MINI celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009. How does a brand with such a long history manage to stay contemporary?

Philipp: Launched in 1959, revived and reinvented in 2001, MINI has quickly evolved from a one-model niche player into a premium car brand with a diverse portfolio. In 2001 it was important to refresh the potential of the classical MINI, to make it a modern product and to build a strong brand by focusing on its emotional appeal. In the worldwide perspective it was necessary to position MINI in a coherent way as an independent brand, whose core was about excitement. The market introduction´s basics endure till today.

The premise was to link an outstanding product with a modern design which still takes up the old iconic character of a MINI. Our product is characterized by its emotional design, outstanding product substance and progressive technology, and agile driving behavior as well as his almost unlimited options in customizing the car. A further significant point is maintaining the right balance of continuity of a brand now going back 50 years and its innovative potential. It was a challenge to position MINI as the first premium brand in the small car market. This was achieved by a consequent brand management and highly motivated team.

Olga: How could you summarize the main characteristics of the MINI brand?


Philipp: A MINI is more than a car. It is like a friend! It is pure “Excitement”.
 MINI is positioned worldwide as a unique and fully independent brand in its own – a brand revolving around the concept of enthusiasm and thrilling lifestyle. Our communication allows us to position MINI in a coherent way – worldwide. The marketing and communication strategy is characterized by the alignment as a premium brand with an international positioning and a clear orientation towards the demands of our existing customers and extended target groups.

MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox
MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox

Olga: What is a profile of a typical consumer of MINI cars?

Philipp: MINI aims to take over new target groups in modern milieus. Those tend to be well-funded, very demanding based on a very individual lifestyle and their part of the population is growing.

The consumers are mostly 25 to 45 years old and work in a creative environment. They are open towards new trends and are spontaneous. Aesthetics and design looms large for them – in purchases decisions as well as in their daily life.

A MINI is not a status symbol, but an expression of personality.  It´s not about the size, it is about the substance and individuality. MINI is a car build for an urban area, no matter what country they live in.

 Olga: Does MINI have a “nationality”? Is it positioned as a German car with British heritage, or is the origin irrelevant in MINI’s brand positioning?


Philipp: Today’s MINI is not imaginable without its British origin and heritage. MINI has always been a British car and still today there are cars produced in the so called MINI Production Triangle (Plant Hams Hall, Oxford and Swindon). Of course MINI as a brand is managed in Germany. But beside these facts we understand and steer MINI as an international brand.

 Olga: What are the countries in which MINI is especially popular?

Philipp: In 2012 the U.S. of America has been the biggest market for MINI with 19.911(+6.0% compared to 2011) sold units till April. In Europe the UK (13.169 units) and Germany (12.385 units) registered the biggest sales. A plus of 25% in sales made China an exceptional market with already 6.911 sold MINIs.

MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox
MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

Olga: What are the factors that explain phenomenal success of MINI around the world?

Philipp: On the one hand, it might be explained by the fact that the audience is very similar all over the world. Hence this international identity offered a chance to position MINI worldwide in a very coherent way.

On the other hand, the success of MINI can be explained by its emotional attraction and the nuanced product line-up. In the long term we aim to offer up to ten different versions of MINI, in doing so we want to grow at a steady and sustainable rate.

Olga: What MINI models exist now, and are there any plans to launch new models, or limited editions?

Philipp: There are six MINI models right now (Hatch, Convertible, Clubman, Countryman, Coupé, Roadster). The seventh family member, the MINI Paceman will debut in Fall 2012.

Our sub-brand John Cooper Works, which has its roots in racing, currently offers five models: The MINI John Cooper Works, the MINI John Cooper Works Convertible, the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman, the MINI John Cooper Works Coupé and the MINI John Cooper Works Roadster. Later this year, the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman and the MINI John Cooper Works GP will be introduced.

As MINI is committed to the environment and sustainability we launched the  MINI E global test-fleet back in 2008. Test-user all over the world have helped us to improve our first MINI powered only by electricity.

Olga: Could you share some of the marketing activities in 2012-2013 that you plan to carry out to sustain and grow the brand of MINI worldwide?

Philipp: There are more exciting brand activities to come. MINI will surprise with creative launch campaigns in those communication channels that we consider to be more and more important. In this context we will focus on online communications and social media, without ignoring the classic communication channels, such as advertising, commercials, sponsoring and cooperation, guerilla-marketing and others.

MINI_family_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox
MINI_family_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

All photos in this article have been provided courtesy of MINI.© 2012 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews™  is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

Alessi: passion for design

Alessi is a brand from Italy which has already featured in my list of Funky Brands™ on Pinterest and in one of my previous blog posts,  Funky Brands from around the world: Italy.  

Today I am happy to publish my in-depth interview with Matteo Alessi, the company’s director of marketing, international sales and development in Europe, and also the first member of Alessi’s 4th generation to work for this family business. I spoke with Matteo about Alessi’s brand strategy, the role of design and open innovation in its business development, and am happy to share this conversation with you today.

Olga Slavkina: Matteo, if you had to explain Alessi’s brand to someone who’s never heard about it, what would you say?

Matteo Alessi:I would probably focus on our mission on the market. I would say that Alessi is a mediator between the world of applied art and design on the one hand, and consumers, on the other hand. Alessi makes sure that great design finds its expression in products that people like you and me can buy, and use in their homes.

Olga Slavkina: In practical terms, how do you bring art and design to the market? Does Alessi employ a lot of designers?

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Matteo_Alessi_portrait
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Matteo_Alessi_portrait

Matteo Alessi:Not at all. In fact, we don’t have any designers working for us full time! Instead, we have a pool of about 200 independent designers that we work with. Whenever we have a request for a specific product, we tap into this pool, and work with someone who we think would be the best person to design it.

Olga Slavkina: What are the advantages of working with freelance designers as opposed to hiring them?

Matteo Alessi:the keyword here is creativity. We want to collaborate with creative people who are free in their own work. For us, it makes much more sense to work with freelance designers who work for different companies, not just one. We believe that this feeds their creativity, so their designs end up being very creative, too.

Sometimes we call Alessi a Dream Factory -- because we help designers realize their dreams, and realize themselves. We never tell them, “Please design a table of this color and this shape”. Instead, we say, “Do what feels right to you.” The key to achieving good results in our work with designers is simply to be open to their creativity.  Instead of doing extensive market research, asking our current and potential customers what kinds of products they would like Alessi to produce, we come straight to the designers and artists. We think that asking the market about what it wants, and then telling the designer what she needs to deliver, limits her creativity. Perhaps our approach is quite unconventional, but it is certainly a very important element of our brand strategy. We call it open innovation.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Girotondo_Tray_design King-Kong 1984
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Girotondo_Tray_design King-Kong 1984

Olga Slavkina: Do you work with designers individually, or do you also have any initiatives which allow them to work in teams, on larger projects maybe?

Matteo Alessi:As I mentioned, creativity is a very important word in the world of Alessi. It’s one of our key brand values. Of course, we work individually, but we also have large-scale initiatives dedicated to creativity. For instance, we often organize workshops on different aspects of creativity. They are attended by many artists, designers, sculptors and other kinds of creative people. Sometimes these workshops have very concrete goals, but sometimes we leave them a bit more open. They benefit those who participate in them, and of course, they also benefit Alessi. These workshops feed Alessi’s passion for creativity and design -- the values around which Alessi’s brand revolves.

Olga Slavkina: Could you give an example some of Alessi’s recent creativity workshop?

Matteo Alessi:Sure, I could mention a workshop that we ran with the municipality of Beijing in September 2011. The name of this project was (Un)Forbidden City. It involved work with 8 chinese architects who were our workshop participants. Alessi didn’t have any concrete objective in mind when we were organizing this workshop. Instead, we simply wanted to feel the pulse of the architecture in Beijing, we wanted to have a better understanding of it, so a creativity workshop was a good way of doing that.

Olga Slavkina: I’ve noticed that on your web site, products can be searched and viewed by the name of the designer who created them. This is actually the first time I come across a company which acknowledges the role of the designer to such an extent. It must be very valuable for the artists and designers who collaborate with you -- and for their personal brands.

Matteo Alessi:Indeed, all of the products that you can see on our sites are strongly associated with the names of those who created them. It’s simply Alessi’s way of showing our respect to the creative force which is at the core of our company. And of course, it also benefits designers and their careers. This is true both for emerging designers, and also for those who have already established themselves as well-known creatives.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Juicy Salif_Citrus squeezer_design Philippe Starck 1990
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Juicy Salif_Citrus squeezer_design Philippe Starck 1990

Olga Slavkina: Can you think of any cases when an unknown designer’s career and personal brand became famous as a result of a collaboration with Alessi?

Matteo Alessi:When we began to work with Philippe Starck in 1986, he was already establishing himself as a strong designer, but I think Alessi played an important role in helping him become very well-known. In fact, I think this is probably true to every collaboration between Alessi and each of the designers in our pool. It’s great to be able to play such an important role in the careers of so many creative people. Alessi certainly improves their personal brands by helping them associate their work with our brand name. Alessi is known for its truthfulness to designers, and their style and honesty in the way we work with them, so all of our collaborations are win-win.

Olga Slavkina: How can a company with such a long artisan tradition stay up-to-date and contemporary?

Matteo Alessi:Alessi was established 91 years ago, so indeed it has a long history of making high-quality products. At the beginning, it manufactured products for other companies, and actually, its own company name was different. It wasn't until the 80s that Alberto Alessi decided to make products under Alessi’s brand name.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_9093_Kettle_design Michael Graves 1985
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_9093_Kettle_design Michael Graves 1985

Our products have been and are hand made, with the help of machines. It is still all very artisan. In this sense, we stay true to our roots. This is because quality is very important for us, and we want to continue paying a lot of attention to details, durability, functionality and quality of the manufacturing process. On the other hand, the brand manages to stay contemporary through design.

There isn’t any particular “traditional” style that we want to preserve, on the contrary, we are interested in bringing very avant-garde, unusual products on the market. Perhaps this is Alessi’s style!

Olga Slavkina: Are Alessi’s most avant-garde products sold under the Officina Alessi line? Which other product lines can you mention?

Matteo Alessi: Alessi has 3 different product lines, depending on the average price point, and some other factors. Officina Alessi is our line which offers exclusive products sold as part of limited editions. This line allows us to experiment with new materials, and gives us an opportunity to try very innovative, avant-garde, designs. As the other two lines -- A di Alessi and Alessi, Officina Alessi is available in each of our 25 flagship stores worldwide, as well as some other carefully selected points of sales.

Olga Slavkina: How could you describe Alessi’s “typical” consumers? Could you call them design aficionados?

Matteo Alessi:Yes and no. I think that besides being knowledgeable about design, these are the people who simply have an emotional reaction to our products. In other words, you don’t need to be a specialist in design in order to appreciate the presence of Alessi’s products in your home.

But if you simply like our products, and can connect with them emotionally, and you feel that they are part of you, and your home, then you’ll probably be attracted to many of Alessi’s products.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Magic Bunny_Toothpick holder_design Stefano Giovannoni 1998
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Magic Bunny_Toothpick holder_design Stefano Giovannoni 1998

Olga Slavkina: Could you share with the readers of the Schmoozy Fox Blog your vision -- personal and professional -- for Alessi’s development in the near future?

Matteo Alessi:On a personal level, I would very much like to establish distribution of Alessi’s products in Russia and Eastern Europe. On a broader, company level I’d like to continue with the open innovation approach, and explore such trends as eco-design, minimalistic design, and other contemporary styles and trends.

Olga Slavkina: Thank you very much for this interview, and I wish you a lot of success in your very creative job.

All photos in this article have been provided courtesy of Alessi.© 2012 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews™  is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

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.

 

RUSSIAN BRANDS GLOBALLY

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.

BRAND STRATEGY IS THE ANSWER

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.

IMPORTANCE OF SUCCESS LOCALLY

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.

Kipling customizes its brand mascot

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

 

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

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

 

SCHMOOZY FOX in FT's Business of Luxury edition

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

Perils of lifestyle brand positioning

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

 

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

Lifestyle brands expose themselves to cross-category competition

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

 

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

 

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

 

Competition across product categories

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

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

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

 

What should brand managers do?

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

 

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

 

 

Skip a milkshake, order a smoothie

I've just read an interesting post by Roger Dooley, The Power of Positive Names. In his review of an upcoming study about the power of naming products and product categories (to be published later this year in the Journal of Consumer Research), Dooley gives simple but quite powerful examples.

 

It turns out, we are much more likely to indulge into cakes for breakfast if cakes are called muffins.  In a similar way, we appreciate a dish of pasta, meat and vegetables if it's called pasta salad rather than simply pasta. And yes, a smoothie definitely sounds more healthy than a milkshake, notwithstanding the fact that it's essentially the same product.

 

Behavioral economics in branding

 

Over the last few years, a growing number of brands and agencies have been applying principles of behavioural economics to position and build brands.

 

Behavioral economics is all about considering social, cognitive and emotional factors in understanding consumer behavior.

 

Behavioral economists are interested in the same things that standard economists are interested in: Why do people buy certain things? What are the market forces behind their decisions? But as opposed to standard economics that assumes that people behave rationally, behavioral economics does not have this starting assumption. Watch this video by Dan Ariely, a professor of Behavioral Economics from Duke University, who gives a good summary about the subject:

Behavioral economics has been slowly but gradually prompting marketers to take a step away from simply promoting a certain message, towards looking for more subtle and less invasive ways of finding connections to consumers.  According to this article on brandrepublic.com, digital marketers have been early adopters of behavioral economics in its application to user experience and design of web sites. And in fact, it makes perfect sense -- in the online environment, it's often about a choice between clicking on one link as opposed to another. Understanding irrational factors which drive people's choices on the web is crucial in building good brands online.

 

Buzz around Tintin

In my recent post Country branding: Belgium I discussed an important brand entry point for Belgium -- design. To come back the theme of country branding, today I'd like to share with you the news about The Adventures of Tintin, a highly anticipated Hollywood movie to be released later this year. Because apart from design, beer and chocolate, Belgium has yet another important feature -- comic strips.  

Tintin is a character created by Hergé, a famous Belgian comics writer and illustrator.  Tintin comics have been translated into many languages, with the little Belgian adventurer's personality turning into an international brand.

I'll be curious to see this Steven Spielberg's movie and observe to what extent the Belgian roots of Tintin find its way into the movie. Will be an example of country branding in action?

 

Tribal marketing for Generation Y

A couple of months ago, I attended a book launch event dedicated to the recent publication of How Cool Brands Stay Hot by Joeri Van den Bergh from Insites Consulting and Mattias Behrer from MTV Europe. ((How Cool Brands Stay Hot, Kogan Page, 2011))  The book gives an insight into Generation Y, or Millennials: teenagers and young adults born between 1980 and 1996 .  Web savvy, wary of marketing “tricks” and highly authentic, they are “on a mission to become special and unique.” ((ibid., p. 3)) Besides, these youngsters are just beginning to shape their relationships with brands, and provided that you get your brand on their radar screen, and make it appealing and “cool”, chances are, they will like it for quite some time to come. This is why it is so important for any company that wants to market to Generation Y, to know what it takes to become a truly cool brand.

The authors have structured the results of their detailed 5-year long research, that I finished reading a couple of days ago, around the so called CRUSH model.  It is an acronym of Coolness, Realness, Uniqueness, Self-identification with the brand and Happiness, which are the main requirements for any brand that aspires to be considered “cool” by youngsters. Whereas the book is packed with useful marketing advice (did you know, for instance, that teens actually do trust their parents more than one could ever imagine, and that they don’t like to buy "ethical" and "green" products because they are fed up with marketers telling them what’s ethical and green?) from beginning to end, I’d like to share with you the main findings about the part on teen self-identity (The S in the Crush model). It resonated with me particularly in view of my recent talk on Personal Branding.

 

How big is the role brands (especially clothes, accessories and gadgets) play in constructing self-identity and personal brands? To answer this question, it's important to point out that identity is always connected to the body, “Identity is always about the body, the bodily states and desires of being, becoming, belonging and behaving.” ((ibid., p. 148)) That’s why fashion, and tatoos play such an important role in self-expression. What your customer wears or carries often becomes part of his or her personal brand.  And because personal brands are shaped and influenced by the external social environment (which forms the so called social identity), it’s extremely important for marketers to understand the dynamics of self-identity formation.

 

Perhaps one of the most profound lessons for anyone who wants to understand consumer dynamics of Generation Y, is to step away from traditional psychographic segmentation which is a "method to simplify reality by assigning individuals to groups of homogenous persons who share the same characteristics. In reality, the members of segments are not connected to each other and take no collective action." ((ibid., p. 157))

 

Instead, it’s important to explore the teens’ search for a lifestyle that enables them to become part of a “tribe”, express their self-identity and construct their personal brands.

 

The concept of tribal market segmentation becomes easy to grasp if we take into account the following main elements of identity formation:

 

-The personal identity: the identity a person believes he/she has

-The social self: the identity he/she has in the eyes of others and that can be discovered only through social interactions. Given that there may be several social groups each person interacts with, that person can, in fact, has several social identities.

-The aspired self: the ideal identity a person would like to have

-Non-identity: the non-wanted self  ((ibid., p. 150))

 

Tribal marketing explores relationships that teens have within networks of heterogeneous people linked by a shared passion or emotion. For a very detailed, and very useful example of tribal mapping within Gen Y, have a look at the image below.

 

The table summarizes results of joint work between Insites Consulting and MTV Networks. The horizontal dimension of the image represents “me”-centered tribes on the right, and “we”-centered tribes on the left. The vertical dimension groups extroverts above and introverts below.

 

As a result, each of the quadrants in the model groups youngsters whose identities have a lot in common. For instance, the upper left quadrant groups people who like to react to the world around them through their own creativity. Indie kids, rockers and new ravers are part of this group, for instance.

 

What kinds of insights does the tribal marketing approach give to brand builders?

 

First of all, it’s important to understand that it’s rarely possible to appeal to the entire Gen Y with a single brand. If may be, however, possible to have several brands at your disposal within the same company.  Nike Inc. has understood it well by using two different brands — Nike and Converse — to appeal to different tribes within Generation Y. The Nike brand, which focuses on athletes, appeals to the upper-right quadrant (status-seeking youngsters). This tribe will find Nike’s notions of excellence, importance of fashion highly appealing. Converse’s fans — mostly in the upper left quadrant — will appreciate the simplicity, creativity and art: values that fuel the Converse brand.

 

Another interesting example described in the book illustrates how to create appeal across H&M's Generation Y customers. ((ibid., see p. 168))

 

Second, do not structure your brand communications around the tribes that are most located on the outskirts of the tribal model. This means that whereas the “mainstream” tribes (located close to the center of the model) are relatively “safe” to portray in your communications, the outskirt tribes, such as gothics, may be a stretch, because they are often perceived as non-identities to many tribes, especially diagonally opposite. So, if you consider running an ad in which a pair of gothic youths drive your new funky car brand, think twice and consider a pair of fashionistas instead.

 

Third, explore a close fit between online and real life identity formation. Notice what different tribes like to do online, and you should not be surprised to find out that fashionistas like to watch glam YouTube videos, whereas introverts are big time into games.

 

Belgium: no government, but great shirts

 

When Belgian actor Charlie Dupont went to a party together with his friend Nicolas Borenstein, he was struck by the dull parade of sweatshirts worn there.

“Why is it that even here in Belgium, all these guys wear sweatshirts with Harvard University and I love NYC slogans?” Charlie asked Nicolas. “Let’s make inexpensive T-shirts with the names of small Belgian towns written on them, and sell them in tourist shops.”

At the party, Nicolas only chuckled at the idea. But when he woke up the next morning, he recalled the discussion. He liked Charlie’s inspiration, but he had a different vision: to create a brand of superior quality premium T-shirts and sweatshirts that would communicate all things Belgian, not only names of towns. Just 3 years later, BShirt is a successful Belgian premium fashion brand, sold in almost 70 distribution outlets across Belgium and planning to grow internationally.

I met Nicolas Borenstein in his stylish and funky office in downtown Brussels to discuss BShirt and to get to know the creative and entrepreneurial spirit that drives the brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Was BShirt your first entrepreneurial project?

Nicolas Borenstein: No, it wasn’t my first idea. When I had this idea, I was already running a graphic design studio in Brussels. One could say that I am a 100% entrepreneur, since I’ve never worked for anyone apart for myself.

SCHMOOZY FOX: After that conversation with your friend Charlie, how long did it take you to have the concept of your brand ready, and then launch it?

Nicolas Borenstein: The concept itself came together very fast. I think that Charlie triggered something in me, with his idea of putting names of Belgian towns on T-shirts. But I definitely wanted to dig deeper, and create a product that was artistic, funky and high quality. I also thought that Belgium has a lot of quirky local concepts that are worth talking about – its own brand if you like – and yet nobody has tried to apply this to a fashion brand. There was definitely something unique in there. I am a graphic designer by training, so it was easy for me to come up with ideas for each T-shirt and turn them into visual forms. That took some time and a lot of brain-storming with myself as Charlie was busy and I ended up doing this project on my own.

I think an important decision that I made was to use old-fashioned loom weaving technology to produce BShirt garments. The reason why I wanted it was because the quality and feel of the T-shirts is much better as a result, although the downside is that production cannot be scaled up in the same way as more modern technology allows. Finding an appropriate factory that could create top-quality cotton garments took a while, and finally I signed a contract with a manufacturer in Portugal.

Then I spent the whole year working on prototypes, and in 2008, I was ready to order the first batch of 1000 BShirts and show them to shops.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Getting your distribution channels right is crucial if one wants to build a good brand. What were your criteria in selecting the desired shops?

Nicolas Borenstein: I wanted to choose the kind of shops that would sell premium trendy and quirky garments. Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of interest in the fashion industry in general, not least because my family had a fashion business. So, by the time that I had to introduce the first BShirts to stores, I had a clear idea where to go, and which stores would be in line with the brand image I wanted to create.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And what was the reaction of the stores?

Nicolas Borenstein: To my surprise, the reaction was very positive. Out of 15 stores that I visited, 10 decided to order BShirt garments! So, my first 1000 shirts were sold out in no time. But there was a little problem -- I needed to deliver another batch fast!

SCHMOOZY FOX: But you had a manufacturing facility in place, so it shouldn’t have been a problem?

Nicolas Borenstein: Indeed, except the factory turned out not to be a very agile entreprise, to say the least. It took them forever to produce the next batch, while the shops were waiting impatiently. On top of that, the buzz around BShirt was already spreading into the press and I could already boast a good number of positive reviews that appeared in fashion magazines.

SCHMOOZY FOX: That’s quite an achievement! All of that just after selling the first batch?

Nicolas Borenstein: Yes, pretty much so. Right before the launch, I asked a friend of mine to recommend me the best fashion PR agency in Belgium, and he said, “Go talk to UPR. They are the best, but they have to like you, they turn many clients down.”

But UPR liked BShirt, and I was happy that they helped me generate the buzz so quickly. (O.S.: This reminds me of another brand that I interviewed, Ice Watch, which also relied on PR early on).

SCHMOOZY FOX: Positive buzz is great, and it can certainly trigger demand for products. But you need to be able to deliver to support this demand. Did your factory score well in this respect?

Nicolas Borenstein: In fact the factory continued to be unreliable. There were further problems with timely delivery, and in the end I had to skip a whole season. This kind of thing can be deadly for a fashion brand -- especially if there’s clear demand for your items, and you just can’t meet it! It was frustrating not to be able to do anything!

SCHMOOZY FOX: How did you solve this? Did you find a better factory?

Nicolas Borenstein: Yes, now I work with another factory. While searching for a better factory, I also realized that I needed a partner who could help me by bringing investment and business know how into the company.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And you found such a person?

 

Nicolas Borenstein: Luckily, yes. I brought him some shirts, and a big stack of press clippings, and I said, do you want to work with me? He agreed.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How big is your company now?

Nicolas Borenstein: We have 10 people working at BShirt. Our products are now sold in almost 70 stores in Belgium, and there is certainly potential to sell it in many more. And it’s just the beginning. In due course, I hope that funky BShirts will also be in New York, Paris and other cosmopolitan places around the world.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How would you describe BShirt?

Nicolas Borenstein: I actually like your term, Funky Brands. BShirt is exactly that -- funky, with a lot of character. It’s certainly different -- as I’ve said, nobody has yet made a fashion brand based on Belgium. BShirt is a mood-booster, it brings a smile to the faces of those who wear it. In some press reviews, it was called a “funny brand”, but I think that this is not right. A “funky brand” is certainly much more correct.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Why do you think people like to wear BShirt?

Nicolas Borenstein: They probably feel that it’s just the right thing. Somehow, I think that everything falls into place when you put on a BShirt -- the texture, smell, color... It’s all about that feeling of old-fashioned, high quality cotton on your skin, in combination with the novel Belgian fashion concept.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What do you do in order to stay creative, and full of energy to run your company? Where do you get your inspiration?

Nicolas Borenstein: I think I owe my creativity to the fact that, deep down, I am still a bit of a kid. I also work very fast, which helps a lot. I can do a day's work in 3 hours. Yesterday, i worked for 11 hours, and I accomplished my tasks for the whole week. So, now I can concentrate on other things, and even go to my Qi Gong course (smiling). And this, in its turn, might trigger a new wave of creativity and inspiration.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you tell me about BShirt’s future plans?

Nicolas Borenstein: We’ll soon be opening a flagship store in Brussels. And we also plan to launch four collections per year instead of the current two. In fact, these will be two big and two smaller collections. And of course, we’ll continue creating new collections to sustain and build the funky brand of BShirt!

 

Philippe Starck gives a boost to photo booths

Probably everyone has at some point of his or her life had to get a passport photo taken at a photo booth. I bet,  the experience was nothing spectacular, and most certainly far from funky. You sit down, try to look the best you can, and then follow the instructions of a metallic voice that directs you not to smile, take off your glasses, and click OK if you like what you see.

All of this in a rather dull environment.

In France, the chain of photo booths Photomaton has recently decided to move away from boredom, and provide a nice ambiance to its customers. For this purpose, Photomaton has hired the famous Philippe Starck who, a strong brand himself, has a golden touch as far as giving a boost to tired brands goes.

To address the requirements of its young customers (young people are the ones who change their passports and other documents most frequently), Photomaton has integrated touch screen technology and a possibility to upload the freshly taken photos on Picasa and Facebook.

Getting an object designed by Philippe Starck can give a huge boost to any brand. In this sense, I would not just call the Photomaton-Starck co-operation a deal between a brand and a designer. It goes much farther than this. It's essentially a brand endorsement, in which the personal brand of Philippe Starck serves as a powerful meta-brand which boosts the brand image of Photomaton.

A snapshot of Starck from an article in Management

Original source (in French): Photomaton s'offre un nouveau look avec Starck, by Olivier Marbot, in Management, February 2011

The power of personal branding

Build your personal brand and show it off on the red carpet! Image by Fascinating Girl on Flickr In my blog post The Zuckerberg Brand I talked about the recent positive buzz that has surrounded Mark Zuckerberg, and how it has boosted the brand of the company he had founded, Facebook.

Paraphrasing myself, Facebook is known pretty much by everyone on planet Earth. Facebook’s business model relies on people to trust it with their data. If they trust the CEO, they are much more likely to trust the platform.

The blog post about Zuckerberg resulted in some friends’ comments posted directly on my Facebook profile.  To summarize, there was general hesitation towards powerful CEO brands. One of my Facebook friends argued that the "CEO star syndrome would eventually hurt the company in question".

Sure, there are, of course, certain risks involved when you embark upon a thrilling mission of building your personal brand. This is especially true when you are an entrepreneur. You might doubt if it's the right strategy to be known for being yourself first, and only then for being a company founder and CEO. All kinds of concerns might be running through your head...

What happens if I build a lot of personal brand equity and then decide to leave my company? What if this will leave customers dissatisfied? And what if the business loses its appeal and its brand image changes and becomes worse?

There may be many what if's one could come up with. And here's my advice to you: dump the what if’s. Build your personal brand, and invest in it as much as you can.  The Funky Brands philosophy applies also to your personal brand: it's better to stand out from the crowd than be like everyone else.

Image source: http://blog.careergoddess.com

And hey, if you are a cool and famous person, it’s just so much better than the opposite, right? It will also help your business, too.

A couple of Funky Personal Brands of successful entrepreneurs that come to mind are Oprah Winfrey and Gary Vaynerchuk.

Oprah herself (www.twitter.com/oprah) has almost 5 million followers on Twitter! Her businesses, such as Oprah magazine and Oprah radio, have significantly fewer followers. However, Oprah might also tweet about her businesses from her personal account, so the cross-promotional opportunities between herself and her businesses are enormous.

Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee on Twitter) is a personal branding phenomenon. Gary grew his dad’s liquor store in New Jersey into a multi-million dollar online wine retailer by understanding the essence of social media. I think his secret is dedicated engagement with his customers and fans throughout social media channels, and an edgy personality that he’s not afraid to broadcast on the web.

He’s genuine, and it shows. He might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his honest and direct style is impossible to copy. It’s key to his funky personal brand. Read Gary's tips on building your personal brand here.

So, dear entrepreneurs, understand who you are and what drives you. Get into your full personal power. But don’t set the goal of being liked by everybody -- this is not going to happen.

Simply be yourself, and express your passions. And then think of the best ways to get your personal brand known to others.  You’ll have fun, and meet like-minded individuals.

And you know what? Your business brand may get an incredible boost from your funky self-expression. Have fun!