Theo

Interplay between brand strategy and innovation

Many stories told by founders and top managers of Funky Brands in the Funky Brand Interview series have demonstrated that product design and innovation and brand strategy often go hand in hand.  A brand cannot be funky if a product itself has poor design. And vice versa, no matter how astonishing product design is, it's difficult to make a product known without a smart brand strategy that supports its development and launch.

According to the Brand Strategy Insider blog, although there is a close link between innovation and branding, the relationship between these two areas of business is often characterized by many tensions:

"In theory they work together, with the brand strategy providing the ‘face’ of the business’s growth strategy. Brand strategy helps companies bring innovation to the market. Innovation returns the favor by enhancing brand reputation. It sounds simple, but the partnership can be an uneasy one and it is particularly uneasy during a market downturn when investing in new brands or sub-brands can be perceived as ‘too risky’. The difficult choices imposed by hard times forces managers to confront the challenge of ‘brand stretch’ more acutely."

As the article suggests, tensions become especially strong while brand managers begin to play with the idea of introducing brand extensions (for more information about brand extensions, read my article Revitalizing tired brands: Chiquita's fruit bars).  Often,  brand managers are torn between the idea of staying consistent (consistency being one of the main goals of brand strategy) and temptation of delivering the new and unexpected to customers, which is the goal of innovation.

But can the surprise and novelty aspects of innovation become part of the brand DNA whilst allowing the brand in question to stay authentic and consistent? Although it may sound paradoxical, the answer is yes, and many Funky Brands have managed to embrace product innovation as part of their consistent brand DNA.

Many funky brands ensure consistent innovation by opening their companies to external talent. For instance, both Kipling and Swarovski often rely on the fresh inflow of creative ideas from outside of the company.  Both frequently strike deals with external designers in order to deliver constant surprise to their customers.  As a result, the surprise and novelty strategy of constant innovation has become a consistent feature characteristic of both brands. H&M has a similar approach to innovation by co-designing fashion collections together with external designers.

 

Opening your company to innovation does not only only happen at the level of product design.  When I join companies on branding projects in my role of a brand guardian, advisor or partner, I serve as a bridge between the company's existing know how and its potential to innovate.

 

 

Astonishing product design & funky brands

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

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

 

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

Best of SCHMOOZY FOX 2010

With this post, I want to bring to your attention the best posts that were published on this blog in 2010. They 've attracted most of the traffic because I think they give some of the most useful tips to anyone who wants to build a Funky Brand™. If you want to brush up on your knowledge of branding, here's your chance! BRAND STRATEGY

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

ONLINE BRAND STRATEGY

FUNKY BRAND INTERVIEWS

Photo collage

  • Theo loves you: an interview with Wim Somers, founder of a very stylish brand from Antwerp.
  • Interview with Anders Wall, CEO of a Danish upscale brand of bicycles, Biomega.
  • From Mallorca with love: interview with Camper shoes.
  • Interview with Jean-Pierre Lutgen, CEO of Ice Watch.
  • Interview with Isabelle Cheron, Creative Director of Kipling bags.
  • Interview with Nathalie Colin, Creative Director of Swarovski.

PERSONAL BRANDING

RE-BRANDING AND BRAND REPOSITIONING

BRAND NAMING

CREATIVITY AND BRANDING

taarten van abel

3 psychological reasons why low-income consumers buy status goods

Image by shannonkringen on Flickr

Here’s a fascinating study that many nerdy (and funky) marketers will find useful.

The study was written by professors Niro Sivanathan from London Business School and Nathan C. Pettit from Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell and it’s called Protecting the self through consumption: status goods as affirmational commodities. Professor Sivanathan from LBS has kindly shared the study with me, and today I’m happy to give you a short overview of its main findings.

Let me start by asking you this simple question: WHO are luxury goods produced for? If you think that it’s only wealthy folks who wear expensive clothes and go vacationing in the world’s best hotels, you will be seriously mistaken.

The truth is, low-income individuals often pay for luxuries that they can theoretically not afford.

How can this be explained? The main reasons are, according to the study, psychological.  Sometimes, buying a luxury good, or indulging in a luxury service is the simplest way to repair our egos.

This can take several forms:

1) People seek status goods when they experience self-threat and need to heal psychological wounds. This is true for both high and low-income individuals.

For example, if you are a woman who has just gone through a divorce, you’d be likely to find yourself tempted to spend significant amounts of money on new clothes, beauty treatments, gym subscriptions and exotic vacations. Because this can make you feel good about yourself -- and this is worth paying a high price for.

Interestingly, the study showed that when individuals have another route to repair their self-integrity -- an alternative to acquiring status goods -- they tend to be less interested in seeking these goods.

2) Status goods serve the purpose of protecting an individual’s ego from future self-threats. They often serve as a buffer, or armor, against things that can go wrong in the future. In the study, those individuals who were asked to imagine that they had an expensive car, felt less threatened to face future self-threats than those without a car.

3) Some individuals’ lowered self-esteem drives their willingness to pay a premium on status goods. This explains economists’ observation that it is “often those earning the least that spend the greatest fraction of their income on conspicuous consumption”.  They acquire goods not for their functional properties, but to signal social status.

I remember witnessing my friends spending all their annual savings in one go (!) on a pair of shoes or jeans right after the Soviet Union collapsed. Status was everything and people were prepared to give all the cash they had to signal their associations with expensive and, importantly, famous, brands.

What might be the implications of this study for those who want to build Funky Brands™ ?

  • First of all, a status good is technically speaking not only simply a very expensive and good quality item. It is first and foremost a strong b r a n d. From the consumer’s perspective, there’s for sure no reason to spend any money, especially if her income is not that great, on something that is not known by others.
  • It’s often not just luxury, but affordable luxury goods producers, who are able to deliver on two important aspects. First, they can sell their products at prices which are not as high as pure luxury. And second, they are able to infuse these goods with an aura of style, luxury and status.

So, if you urgently need to repair your ego, you can do it perfectly well by getting yourself a Victoria’s Secret lingerie set, and skipping La Perla altogether.

Join the Affordable Luxury group on LinkedIn, and share the news and opinions about this exciting segment.

How Funky Brands can be creative: 7 insights from the Creativity Forum in Antwerp

A cake by Taarten Van Abel, a creative company mentioned during the conference. I thought it would be a good symbol for female creativity

A cake by Taarten Van Abel

On Thursday, I attended an event dedicated to creativity. The conference took place in Antwerp and was organized by an organization called Flanders District of Creativity. This year, Flanders DC gave the stage to creative and inspirational women.

Creativity fuels Funky Brands — innovative, edgy, contemporary products and services that stand out from the crowd. Funky Brands are worth experiencing over and over again, and importantly, bring positive functional and emotional benefits to those who use them.

For examples of Funky Brands, visit the Funky Brand Interviews section.

Here is my summary of 7 insights from the event that can be applied to Funky Brands:

Image by pumpkincat210 on Flickr

1) MAKE SURE TO INCLUDE CREATIVE, PASSIONATE AND KNOWLEDGEABLE WOMEN IN YOUR BUSINESS TEAM

Women’s signature style of doing business can be referred to as lifestyle entrepreneurship. This means that often, women’s main motivation behind starting a business is not just cash, but first and foremost, creating value for their customers.

If you are a team of men, invite at least one talented woman who will surely bring a different perspective to your business.

2) BE AUTHENTIC IN YOUR BRAND PROMOTIONS

Randi Zuckerberg, who’s in charge of the Creative Marketing department of Facebook, gave examples of authentic ways in which Facebook has communicated with its members.

In a short case study, Randi demonstrated a difference in reaction from Facebook fans to two photos of celebrity Eva Longoria. One photo of Eva was pure glam, whereas in another shot she looked more like someone you’d meet on the street rather than red carpet. Interestingly, the simple photo raised a massive wave of “likes” on Facebook. This taught Facebook itself to use friendly, amateur-like images of its employees in the company’s communications campaigns.

Don’t exclude glamorous and stylish visual expressions of your brand, but it’s worth exploring more authentic ways of connecting to real people, at least once in a while.

Here’s an image that captures the main points of Randi’s presentation:

Image courtesy of Visual Harvesting

Image courtesy of Visual Harvesting

3) IF YOU WANT ENGAGED CUSTOMERS, MAKE THEM PLAY A GAME WITH YOUR BRAND

Jane McGonigal, a game designer from the Institute for the Future, spoke about solving world problems by encouraging people to play more games. Jane defined games as “unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to overcome.

If we take the example of golf, what’s the fascination behind trying to hit the ball with a stick and make it fall into the hole, instead of just picking it up by hand and placing it there? But even if the final purpose is to make that ball fall into the hole, nobody would ever be interested in having no obstacle to overcome, and no thrill to experience.

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

The truth is, people like the excitementenergy and thrill of playing a game. In similar terms, nobody wants a dull and unmemorable experience of learning about your product, buying it in an unexciting environment, and experiencing its dull features.

Engage your customers in a thrilling game, and enhance the funky brand experience!

4) DEFINE YOUR BRAND NOT IN LINE WITH PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY, BUT WITH WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS REALLY WANT

Diane Nijs, a professor of imagineering1 , gave an example of the Dutch bakery Taarten Van Abel.

The bakery owner built a funky brand by redefining his product from simply a cake, to the expression of festive spirit. As Diane pointed out, people rarely buy cakes to eat them. They buy them as symbols of celebrationfeast, and enjoyment. Taarten Van Abel has grasped this and began to create cakes that are works of art. The brand of Taarten Van Abel has become so well-received by people that the company has decided to launch a TV channel for kids, in which its symbolic cakes have given ground to stories and fairy tales.

5) UNLOCK THE MEMETIC POTENTIAL OF YOUR IDEA

Memetics is a theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, which was originated by Richard Dawkins in the 1976 book The Selfish Gene.   Meme is a unit of human cultural transmission analogous to the gene, and psychologist Susan Blackmore talked about ways of how this sort of replication happens in culture.

Memetics would be worth checking especially for those who are fans of viral marketing. Why do some ideas fly and replicate themselves, and others just sit on the shelf unnoticed? Maybe memetics is a field that you should look into in order to understand why some brands just fly and become funky, and others never get noticed.

6) IN ORDER TO STAY CREATIVE, BE WHO YOU REALLY ARE

According to Baroness Susan Greenfield, a UK neuroscientist, the essence of creativity is daring to be who you are, your individuality.

eccentric dude

Some of you might know that it’s not always easy to stand out from the crowd and be different. Sometimes, the simplest thing to do is to conform and have an easy life. That’s why there are so many dull and unexciting brands out there!

But sticking to who you really are, daring to be, can also come across as magnetically charismatic if you manage to find creative ways of getting your value across. Your Funky Brand might not be liked by everyone, but those who’ll notice you, might fall in love, and isn’t it a huge reward?

7) BRING STRUCTURE TO CREATIVE PROCESS

Christie Hefner, Playboy’s former CEO, talked about structured creativity. Creativity is often associated with wild out-of-the box thinking, and structure is probably the last word that comes to mind in this respect. And yet a rigorous approach to the creative process is always beneficial to building a successful brand.

This is a very valid point in relation to Funky Brands.

When you build a Funky Brand, combine teams of creative people with experts in brand strategy. This can be especially powerful when you want to build a strong brand through online channels. A lot of brands nowadays want to splash out all the creativity they have, and expose it through social media, without having a rigorous brand strategy in place. Don’t fall into the trap of unstructured creativity, be funky and be smart!

Image by wilgengebroed on Flickr

Image by wilgengebroed on Flickr

Creativity forum in Flanders -- celebrating the female power

Funky Brands are fueled by c r e a t i v i t y. After all, it takes a great deal of imagination and thinking out of the box if you want to get noticed, stand out from the crowd and create a truly Funky Brand.

Creativity is the reason why I plan to attend the Flanders Creativity Forum on October 21st in Antwerp. Organized by the Flanders District of Creativity, an organization that promotes creativity in entrepreneurship, this year, this annual event will be dedicated to women, and their ways of being creative.

Flanders Creativity ForumSome of the speakers who'll present at the Forum will be Randi Zuckerberg (who happens to be the sister of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook), Cristie Hefner, the former CEO of Playboy and daughter of Hugh Hefner, and Jane McGonigal, a game designer and Director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future (I love the name!) in California.

This year, the event is called Creative Minds Leaving an Impact. It's inspired by "cleverness, intuition, originality and other female qualities".

I am looking forward to getting inspired, and doing some  funky schmoozing with talented people.  After the event, I plan to blog about "lessons learned", applied to Funky Brands.

Funky Brand Interviews are one year old!

Photo by Theresa Thompson on Flickr Today, SCHMOOZY FOX's  Funky Brand Interviews are turning one!

Since last June, we've interviewed founders and top managers of some of the funkiest brands out there. In each of these interviews SCHMOOZY FOX has tried to uncover personalities and interests of real people behind brands, as well as learn insights into these innovative companies from a personal perspective of people who work there.

From the Dutch lingerie queen, to a talented photographer who helps people build funky personal brands, to a funky T-shirt brand and a top luxury fashion designer -- all of our interviewees could identify with SCHMOOZY FOX's concept of funky brands. And this is definitely something to celebrate!

Below is the list of all SCHMOOZY FOX's Funky Brand Interviews to date, and there will be more funky ones coming soon!

And don't forget, we'll continue to celebrate throughout the summer! If you are a funky (or funky-to-be) startup, you can learn how you can benefit from some top-notch brand strategy coaching that we've arranged for you FREE of charge! Learn more here.

OUR FUNKY BRAND INTERVIEWS TO DATE

Interview with Rowan Gormley, CEO of Naked Wines

Interview with Marlies Dekkers, the Dutch "lingerie queen"

Interview with artist Thaneeya McArdle

Interview with Kyan Foroughi, CEO of Boticca,com, an online jewellery market place

Interview with James Payne from Baileys Irish Cream

Interview with Tekin Tatar from BeFunky.com

Interview with Wim Somers from Theo

Interview with founders of Lotty Dotty

Interview with Michael Chia, a photographer who helps build funky personal brands

Interview with Martin Bachmann, CEO of Maurice Lacroix watches

Interview with Anders Wall, CEO of Biomega bikes

Interview with fashion designer Tim Van Steenbergen

Celebrating one year of Funky Brand Interviews

Photo collage

Today I have some important news for you!

At the end of June, SCHMOOZY FOX will be celebrating one year of its Funky Brand Interviews.  And in this respect, we have some great gifts to offer to those who want to build a funky brand!

Last June, an interview with Rowan Gormley, CEO of Naked Wines, a UK-based online wine retailer, marked the start of the new category on our blog, Funky Brand Interviews. Since then, SCHMOOZY FOX has published interviews with founders and top managers from such famous brands as Marlies Dekkers, Baileys, Tim Van Steenbergen, Theo , Biomega and others.
Today, we’re announcing a call for up-and-coming funky brands!

If you know talented and passionate entrepreneurs setting up an innovative brand, please spread the news to them!

Rules of the game

Very simple! All that we require is:

That you are a start-up, either just launched, or seeking market entry That you want to build a very successful brand to fall in love with

That your main industry is Consumer Goods or Services, particularly in the "affordable luxury" segment

Our prize

SCHMOOZY FOX will identify three semi-finalists, all of whom will be interviewed for our blog. Out of the three interviewees, we will select 1 finalist, who will also receive a:

FULL DAY OF BRAND AND MARKETING COACHING by SCHMOOZY FOX

It’s a great way to start building your brand awareness online through SCHMOOZY FOX's social media channels.  It's also a fantastic opportunity for ideas-rich and cash-poor start-ups to get smart advice on how to get on the right brand & marketing track right from the start!

How to apply?

Please write an email to olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com with the subject “Funky Brands”, or publish a post on our Facebook page, and tell us why your company is, or has the potential to become, a funky brand. For funky brand criteria, visit our blog.

Timeline

Submissions will be accepted until July 17th, and winners will be announced in August.

Please note that SCHMOOZY FOX’s past and present clients, as well as interviewees, are not eligible for participation! :)

Please spread the news, and happy schmoozing!

Interview with Belgian fashion designer Tim Van Steenbergen

Tim Van Steenbergen I love Antwerp. It’s a city of great fashion, outstanding design and funky shops. My discovery of funky brands from Antwerp began with an interview with Wim Somers, founder of Theo. It was at the very end of that interview that Wim mentioned Theo’s collaboration with a talented young Antwerp designer, Tim Van Steenbergen, who worked on Theo’s sunglasses collection.

I noted down Tim’s name with the intention of finding out more details about him later. While I was waiting for my train to Brussels at the Antwerp Central Station, I was browsing through magazines at a press kiosk, and the first article I randomly opened was... an interview with Tim Van Steenbergen!

I don’t quite remember which magazine it was, but here’s my very own interview with Tim.

Tim’s professional credentials are outstanding -- the prêt-a-porter collection that bears his name is on the radar screen of many Hollywood celebrities, he’s Creative Director of the successful upmarket fashion label Chine, and he creates costumes for performances at La Scala. Given the wide range of projects Tim Van Steenbergen is involved in, I thought that an interesting topic to talk about would be his personal brand.

Olga from SCHMOOZY FOX and Tim. Image courtesy of Tim Van Steenbergen

SCHMOOZY FOX: Tim, how do you present yourself to someone who has not heard about you and your work?

Tim Van Steenbergen: (smiling) It’s actually a difficult question since I do so many different things! A good way to present myself is to say that I create a universe of style, a way of dressing, based on classic traditions of craftsmanship. Fabrics and their texture play a very important role in this universe. Sometimes I feel that I use fabrics in the same way as a sculptor would use marble, clay or metal to create something from scratch. I remember being fascinated by fabrics when I was only 4 years old!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What makes you passionate about your work?

Tim Van Steenbergen: Emotions! I love the fact that my designs are able to provoke very strong emotions in people who wear them. And it actually doesn’t matter if these emotions are negative or positive -- it’s often the controversy that matters. When my designs shake people up, bring exuberance in their lives, and don’t leave them indifferent, I feel like I’ve achieved something very important.

Rihanna in Tim Van Steenbergen. Image courtesy of Tim Van Steenbergen

I also like to get to know the people who will end up wearing the clothes I make. In this sense, working with the actors at La Scala has been very satisfying as I was making each costume for a particular person. In the theatre environment, I want to understand actors as people, making costumes that fit their personalities, and the roles they play.

Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen for La Scala

SCHMOOZY FOX: I can see that this can work well in the theater, but in fashion?

Tim Van Steenbergen: In fashion, it is of course rarely possible to create prêt-a-porter collections with every individual customer in mind. I often come across my clothes worn by people on the streets worldwide. It’s rather easy to spot them on celebrities, but what’s more exciting is when “ordinary” people wear them. It makes me want to know more about these people, and their feelings when they wear my designs.

Jennifer Lopez, Misha Barton and Princess Claire of Belgium alike have been spotted wearing Tim Van Steenbergen

SCHMOOZY FOX: I guess that all of the above refers to your label, Tim Van Steenbergen. How does the work at Chine fit into your overall personal brand?

Tim Van Steenbergen: I think it benefits my personal brand. I think it’s important for any designer to demonstrate that he or she can come into another company, with its specific corporate culture and ways of doing things, jump in and deliver good results. This shows that I can successfully collaborate and inspire another brand, and it’s a valuable skill for any designer. The designs I create for Chine are different from the ones I create for my own label. The style of my clothes is architectural, structural, if you will. Chine’s style is fluid, poetic, inspired by the 19th century.

Fluidity of Chine and geometry of Tim Van Steenbergen, created by the same designer

SCHMOOZY FOX: It sounds like you appreciate getting into different roles -- maybe that’s why you like your project at La Scala? Perhaps you have the talent for acting too?

Tim Van Steenbergen: (laughing) I’ve never thought of it this way, but yes, I guess you are right! I like having all these different roles and exploring them.

SCHMOOZY FOX: By the way, how do you manage to stay creative when you do so many different things?

Tim Van Steenbergen: I think I am creative BECAUSE I do so much. I manage to separate all the different projects I am working on. Each of them requires different approaches and results in different “end products” . I am pretty good at organizing myself: whenever I need to tap into my creativity and work for Chine, I can do it, and when I am building a new collection for my own label -- I can jump into it easily as well!

What breeds my creativity is also doing sports and reading novels. The latter is like entering another universe, and exploring it can be a very special journey that inspires my work.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you tell our readers about your plans for the near future? What professional universe would you like to explore?

Tim Van Steenbergen: As already mentioned, I would like to find ways of creating clothes with concrete people in mind. All of my collections are sold through high-end boutiques worldwide. I am thinking of offering them very exclusive limited collections in due course. Boutiques know their clients very well, and there’s certainly scope to make limited collections tailored to these customers, their personalities and lifestyles. And this is certainly a very funky and exciting universe to explore!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thank you Tim, enjoy this funky journey of creativity!

Diffusion brands vs parent brands

A significant advantage that successful luxury brands have, is that they have a good chance to launch diffision brands. Diffusion brands are a form of a line extension, discussed before.  They are “step-down line extensions of existing  luxury brands, normally less expensive than the  main-line merchandise.” ((How Young Adult Consumers Evaluate Diffusion Brands: Effects of Brand Loyalty and Status Consumption, Ian Phau Edith Cheong , Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 21:109–123, 2009))  They are often called second lines, subbrands and endorsed brands. Think of them as “children” of their more established “parent brands”.

Armani dot com screenshot

Examples of diffusion brands abound in the fashion world, for instance. Armani launched  Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein introduced CK, and Prada started a diffusion brand with a whole new name: Miu Miu. In all of these cases, the important condition for introducing diffusion brands was very high brand loyalty and brand recognition of parent brands. In other words, unless the brand equity of your parent brand is high, it might not be even a good idea to start considering diffusion brand launches.

There are several observations that I want to make in relations to diffusion brands:

  1. By launching a diffusion brand, a parent luxury brand de facto enters a whole new world of new luxury (also referred to as mass luxury and affordable luxury). I wrote on this subject before. New luxury is where many funky or funky-to-be brands develop.  If done properly, the new luxury positioning can bring enormous benefits to both: a child brand and the parent.
  2. Diffusion brands are a good way to target consumers who are usually much younger than the main target market of parent brands. They can tap well into the trend of status consumption, “The motivational process by which individuals strive to improve their status through the conspicuous consumption of consumer products that confer and symbolize status both for the individual and surrounding significant others.” ((Status consumption in consumer behavior: scale development and validation, Eastman, J. K., Goldsmith, R. E., and Flynn, L. R.  Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice. Summer 1999, 41–52.))
  3. Empirical research demonstrates ((Phau, Cheung, Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 21:109–123, 2009)) that diffusion brands have the same quality and status perception among younger target market as parent brands. This is a great way to appeal to a younger audience, and chances are that it will later on develop preferences for the parent brand as well.
  4. Importantly, the success of diffusion brands is often determined by a brand naming strategy. To put it simply, if a child brand bears the name of the parent (like Armani Exchange has a name of the parent brand, Armani), the benefits reaped from the existing status of a parent brand are almost immediate. If, however, a child brand is given a totally new name (Miu Miu vs Prada), such benefits are much less apparent. ((ibid.))

Armani Exchange screenshot

Diffusion brands are not a phenomenon characteristic exclusively for luxury products and services. On the contrary, they frequently occur in a very vast and complex area of brand architecture.

Theo loves you

Photo courtesy of theo: view from the top floor of theo office to the patio

As I was walking through the windy Antwerp streets yesterday, I quickly gave in to the overpowering atmosphere of design, fashion and great interiors typical of this great city. I was on a mission to meet one of the important players on the Antwerp fashion and style scene, as well as internationally, Wim Somers, founder of a funky eyewear brand, theo. At the end of my journey through Antwerp's most fashionable streets that are host of great shops and funky cafés, I reached theo's office building. As I entered it, the exuberance of colors struck me with a good dose of positive energy, that I especially appreciated on a cold and grey day. My funky journey began, and here's an account of what I discovered by talking with Wim Somers, who had founded theo back in 1988.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Wim, the main reason I am here is that a couple of weeks ago I went to my favorite optician's store in Brussels, Capelle Opticien, to get a new pair of glasses. After having a little chat with the shop owner, I was recommended this great pair of theo glasses. Its design, a big edgy and unusual, and yet extremely elegant, prompted me to find out more about your company.

The frame came in a bright box, which displayed a very simple yet quite powerful message: theo loves you. Could you tell me the story behind this brand slogan? Wim Somers: We have been using this slogan for over 20 years now. It began as a memo on an order form and has developed into the slogan of the brand theo. This phrase communicates theo's core philosophy quite well. Since we distribute our glasses through opticians' stores, we rarely touch the final consumer.  By stating that theo loves our final consumers, we have a better chance of connecting with them closer, and communicating the fact that we have first and foremost their interests and their tastes in mind when we design our glasses. The phrase theo loves you encapsulates the spirit of the company, which is loving and friendly.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What makes theo so different? How do you make sure you stand out from the crowd?

Wim Somers and Olga Slavkina

Wim Somers: I guess, I can mention strong recognition of our brand, and our distinct style, by the end user. This is our strength and differentiating factor.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And who are your customers? What is the profile of theo's “typical customer”?

Wim Somers: For theo, the most important characteristics of our customers have to do with their emotional profile. By the way, these days more and more business people talk about emotional marketing, but when we started the company, it wasn't so common. However, already at that time, we thought of our customers in terms of their emotional profiles, not only gender, age and location. When we started, we served a very narrow avant-garde niche. With time, the niche expanded greatly, and now I can say that our customers are people with personality, those who prefer top-quality design that allows them individual expression of style and personality to the power of “labels”.

Photo courtesy of theo: Flandria model

SCHMOOZY FOX: I have the impression that most of the big eyewear brands are actually brand extensions of big fashion brands. Since theo is purely an eyewear brand, what are the advantages of that?

Wim Somers: Our advantage is that we are very strong at superior design, something that big fashion labels, that usually work through licensing agreements, do not often have.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Do you think of yourself in terms of geographical scope? For instance, do you say that you are an international brand, a Belgian brand, an Antwerp brand? Wim Somers: Well, I often associate theo with Antwerp, but we're often approached by opticians from many different countries who have heard of us as an international brand.

Photo courtesy of theo: Andalouse model

SCHMOOZY FOX: theo is for sure an important player on the Antwerp fashion scene. How does actually the image of Antwerp, you can say, the Antwerp brand, help you? Do you think that Antwerp has a strong image internationally?

Photo courtesy by theo: another snapshot of theo's funky office

Wim Somers: An interesting fact is that our end consumers usually know about Antwerp, and the fact that it's a style, design and fashion city. In fact, the end consumer is much more aware of Antwerp, and the fact that theo comes from Antwerp, than our collaborating opticians! The latter have rarely heart of Martin Margiela or Dries Van Noten, who are  famous fashion designers from Antwerp.

We often tap into the great fashion and style resources that exist in Antwerp. For instance, we have recently collaborated with an Antwerp-based rising star of fashion design, Tim Van Steenbergen, to create a spring-summer 2010 sunglasses collection.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the values of theo brand, and how do they correspond to your personal values? Wim Somers: Positive attitude to life, quirkiness, and fun.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you give your personal advice to anyone who wants to build a funky brand? Be different. Observe. Look at people in the street, see what they like and dislike doing.  I do most of my “customer research” in modern art museums around the world. Just by looking at their visitors, I can definitely get a good feeling forhow popular theo  is in that particular country!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thanks for this  interview, and stay funky!