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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!

 

The dangers of Groupon for your brand - and its own

Last November, Google was trying to buy Groupon for $5.3 billion, in what would have been its largest acquisition yet. To everybody’s surprise, Groupon said No.

The deal-of-the-day site, which offers one deal per day in each of the markets it serves, was launched in 2008. By the time of Google’s attempts to buy it, it was operational in 150 markets in North America, and 100 markets in Europe. Its popularity and quick growth was mainly due to supposedly big rewards for the site users, who could get access to various services (such as massage, yoga courses, meals) and products at heavily discounted prices.  It was said to be the result of “buyer power” but obviously had more to do with sales promotions for the brands in question.

I also tried out Groupon on two occasions.

Once, I bought a coupon for a massage at what was presented as a Brussels-based beauty salon. The price I paid was 19 Euros, “instead of the usual price of 70 Euros” charged by the said salon.

When I arrived, I found out that the beauty salon was anything but beautiful itself... Just by looking at the shabby interior, I thought that I would have never been tempted to step in, let alone pay 70 Euros for an hour of massage, which is considered a price above the market in Belgium. But given the context, I was curious.

During the massage, the masseuse spent a lot of time telling me how much work she had to do after her service had been promoted on Groupon.

“And I earn nothing for working non-stop,” she kept exclaiming (the chat itself distracted somewhat from the experience).

An immigrant from Congo, she has 4 children to feed, and is prepared for a lot of work, “as long as there is work.”

The massage was okay. That is, okay for the price of 19 Euros. Unfortunately it also fixed in my mind that the reference price was 70 Euros - so I’ve never been back and the investment that the beauty salon made in sales promotions through Groupon must have delivered minimal, if any, results.

My second (and perhaps last) experience with Groupon took place this very morning, when I tried (and failed) to use a coupon that I had bought during the Christmas rush last December.

Priced only at 8 Euros, it would give me a possibility of printing an attractive looking photo album for the value of 26 Euros with a service called www.albumdigital.com.

In fact, I did want to make an album of my family’s photos and have it ready as a Christmas present.

But when I tried to use my 8-Euro Groupon coupon last December, I had to abandon this idea right away, mainly because it turned out that www.albumdigital.com only made its service available to Windows users. Being a Mac and Linux user myself, I found this slightly annoying, especially since my coupon said nothing about that.

I do have Windows on one of my computers, but oh boy, do I do everything possible to avoid using it.

So I did. Until this morning. Just because I noted down in my agenda that my lovely coupon was expiring today.

In fact, it was not even clear whether it would expire today, or on March 3rd. Look at these different dates that are totally confusing (the coupon is in French):

groupon coupon_expiry_dates

The first date (underlined in red) says that the coupon is valid until 03.03.2011. Whereas the second mention of validity refers to February 28th. In any case, I thought, it should work, because today IS February 28th.

Well, it didn’t.

After a rather excruciating experience of downloading the required software using my Windows computer and waiting, waiting, waiting while different windows kept popping up.

Finally, the software seemed ready to receive the photos of my kids. Although the software promised to organize them by date, this did not happen. I also had to click and click away to see which of my selected albums corresponded to which price, as this info was not organized properly.

albumdigital_prices

And yes, this painful process took a long time. Which means, that the value of the voucher was negative, at least for me, as I LOST a whole lot of time.

albumdigital_long_upload

And finally, after having uploaded everything, filling out a tedious form with my personal information for www.albumdigital.com, AND submitting my promotional code, I saw THIS:

groupon_code_not_valid1

I’ve written emails to both Albumdigital and Groupon, but the point is: even if I am ever reimbursed the rather minuscule price of 8 Euros that I paid to Groupon, it’s highly unlikely anyone will reimburse the value of the time I spent fighting with this technology.

Although Groupon has skimmed a market opportunity with commercial aplomb, its longer-term future is, as far as I am concerned, anything but certain:

  • Those small-scale services and product providers who promote themselves through Groupon generally have very little understanding about brand-building themselves. They don’t understand why offering their often high-value services at low prices through Groupon positions them as “cheap” vis-a-vis their potential customers. Would I go back to the beauty salon and pay them 70 Euros for what cost me 19 Euros and was portrayed as a “fair price” (rather than a sales promotion gimmick)? Nope. And I can hardly imagine anyone doing it. At best I might move on to the next Groupon deep discounter. There might, of course, be some exceptions, such as discovering an amazing restaurant where a meal cost you next to nothing, and wanting to experience it again. But for services of average quality, repeat purchases with that provider are unlikely.
  • Associating itself with low-quality service providers, such as www.albumdigital.com, does nothing good to Groupon’s brand either. In my mind, I lost a lot of precious time on www.albumdigital.com which I discovered with Groupon’s help, and in my consumer mind, the brand of www.albumdigital.com is .... well, Groupon’s brand. Whether Groupon wants it or not.
  • What’s happening here in brand strategy terms is that Groupon constantly co-brands itself with each and every service provider that features in its daily deals. So, the aggregate consumer satisfaction with, and brand loyalty towards Groupon will be a sum of all experiences its customers have while they receive their massages and buy photo albums. Every real-world discounter which plans to stay in business over the long term, however, still offers some sort of quality guarantee - think Aldi in Germany and Colruyt in Belgium.

One of the reasons why Groupon has achieved such rapid market penetration is because the small businesses which promote themselves through it have very little knowledge of business development and brand strategy - especially online. Motivated by large-scale and quick exposure to potential customers, they sell their service often at a loss - remember that Groupon makes money by keeping half of the price advertised in daily deals. So, my masseuse actually sold her services at 8.5 Euros per hour!

They also position their fragile and often unknown brands in the consumer’s mind as worth much less than the price they usually charge - and possibly little more than a ripoff. Meanwhile Groupon is generating cash by cannibalizing its own brand - hardly a recipe for long-term value creation.

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!

Mad Mimi: funky email marketing

mad mimi Anyone who has ever launched a new business, must have at some point experimented with email marketing.

Has any entrepreneur ever looked for an extremely funky kind of email marketing when looking for such a service? I can only speak for myself, and say that I wasn’t. Frankly, I didn’t expect anything as functional as sending out an email to be enjoyable and fun. Until I discovered Mad Mimi.

First of all, it was the name. I thought that a company that dared to call itself by such a name, would be something special.

Then there was the funky design of their web site that triggered my interest even more.

To cut a long story short, sending my first email with Mad Mimi was simply fun. Email exchange with its support team that welcomed me to MadMimi was refreshingly different. I simply could not resist contacting Mad Mimi’s CEO Gary Levitt and getting to know the man behind this funky brand. I greatly enjoyed my talk with Gary, who shared some useful tips on the importance of staying optimistic, and hiring only the best and most talented. Have fun reading my interview with Gary, and learning about Mad Mimi.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Gary, most of my Funky Brand interviewees have represented product brands – such as fashion, accessories, food and drink. I am very happy to interview you about Mad Mimi because I want to show to my readers that Funky Brands can also exist in a business-to-business context. Could you tell me when and how you had the idea of launching Mad Mimi?

Gary Levitt, CEO of Mad Mimi

Gary Levitt: I studied music at Berkeley College in Boston, and after graduation, played jazz in New York, worked as a bus boy in restaurants and eventually worked in commercial music production. One day I had an idea of building an online platform for musicians that would allow them to upload images and send out press kits. Although I received funding to develop this product, and hired coders, I never ended up launching it.

I guess the main reason for that was that I lacked deep understanding of how to build a product, and expected the coders I hired to do the creative thinking and architecture for me. The coders were into ... coding, as opposed to designing the product and making it work on the market. Plus, I myself lacked the experience to know how to manage the development of a product.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How did you make the switch from the press kit product for musicians towards Mad Mimi, which is an email marketing service for a much wider audience?

Gary Levitt: Mad Mimi simply seemed like a logical step in a direction that I thought had more potential for commercial success than a niche product for musicians. The interface we had created for musicians was good enough for everybody to use -- and so Mad Mimi was born.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Mad Mimi is quite an original name, did you come up with it?

Gary Levitt: Yes. I originally planned to call the company simply Mimi, but then had the idea of adding “Mad” to it when I was renting space next to another company called Madstone productions.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Good design -- be it product design or brand visual identity -- is an important element of Funky Brands. To me, Mad Mimi looks pretty eye-catching! Even the colors of your site look quite different from what one would, I suppose, associate with email marketing!

Gary Levitt: I wanted Mad Mimi to stand out from the crowd not least by giving it amad mimi email marketing fun, eye-catching visual identity that would make it memorable. I was once leafing through an issue of Creativity Magazine where I saw a list of award-winning designers. It seemed like a great idea to work with the best and most talented, so I contacted one (David Bamundo) who designed Mad Mimi’s logo.

This is pretty much how I’ve thought at every crucial step of building the company. For instance, when I looked for software developers, I sent out my brief to about 80 meticulously selected top programmers. I was lucky to end up working with really talented people who helped me build Mad Mimi the way it is now -- and are in fact continuing product development.

The same philosophy of hiring the best and most talented applies to selecting customer service reps for Mad Mimi. We receive 1, 500 emails of customer inquiries per day, and have a dedicated force of 16 customer service reps around the world.

I have generally focused not on resumes (I’ve never actually used a resume to influence a decision to hire someone) but on energy instead. We typically don’t take a cost cutting or outsourced approach to staffing our front lines with low paid employees. We’ve instead focused on creating top-down culture where every lead developer and C-level executive does customer service along side dedicated customer service staff. The customer service infrastructure isn’t “designed” as such, but has rather flowed naturally from the ownership out to other members of the team. We feel that our profitability and growth is in a large part due to this approach, and it’s a crucial part of our brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: I experienced Mad Mimi’s customer service first hand.  Actually, I must say, I assumed that the first email I received from Mad Mimi was an automated response.  And yet, something told me there was a real person interacting with me at the other end.  It felt different and nice.

Gary Levitt: (Laughing). Indeed, we don’t do automated customer service! There are real people who are there 24/7 to help you. We say that we like to hire friendly geeks for this kind of job, but really, anyone cool, friendly and passionate is great to be in customer service.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And finally, Gary, how would you describe the essence of Mad Mimi’s funky brand?

Gary Levitt: It’s simplicity, warmth and loveliness. Yummy loveliness! :)

Mashable gives a positive review to Mad Mimi

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

Desigual spreads happiness online

When a brand decides to do something with social media, it usually gets trying to find original ways of engaging audiences on Twitter and/or Facebook. A Spanish fashion label Desigual did something a bit more different, and decided to go into blogs and comments. Even the best blogs, according to Desigual, sometimes get few comments. With this sad fact :(  as a starting point, Desigual decided to help spread a bit more happiness on the web.

How?

Desigual set up a site www.desigualhappyhunters.com. You can sign up as a Happy Hunter, select a fashion item of your choice, and start leaving comments on the blogs Desigual suggests to you. If a blogger responds to your happy comments, the Desigual fashion item is yours.

It's a pretty simple idea, nicely executed. Let's wait for the results of the Happy Hunters initiative and see how it boosts the brand of Desigual!

Source: A Source of Inspiration

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.

5 lists of best 2010 brands

Image source: www.businessweek.com As the year draws to an end, more and more lists of "best" or "top" brands start appearing in the press.

Who combines these lists? Usually, it's the press itself, or various marketing, branding and advertising agencies. Although there's certainly some bias regarding which brand is the "best", I nevertheless find these lists rather informative. Combined with reasons explaining why the brand in question can be considered "best", these lists and rankings can be viewed as useful lessons learned for up-and-coming Funky Brands that are looking for inspiration.

However, most of these lists include only very big, dull and not-so-funky brands (McDonald's, Cisco and especially Marlboro are far from extraordinary, in my opinion), so it's hard to get inspired if you want to build a truly Funky Brand. Only the Cool Brands 2010 list contains a couple of more or less original brands.

Here's my 2010 List of Brand Lists, a compilation of best brand 2010 rankings created by various publications and agencies:

1) Interbrand's list of Best Global Brands 2010

2) BrandZ Most Valuable Global Brands 2010

3) Cool Brands 2010 (a list of the coolest UK brands)

4) Asia's top 1000 brands 2010

5) BNET's top ten brand winners 2010

Business Week also combines annual lists of 100 best global brands, but the 2010 compilation has not been published yet.

Schmoozing for success

Image by WebWizzard on Flickr I've already written about "schmoozing" in my post Some Lessons On Schmoozing.

Schmoozing is a term that is commonly used in the US, and today I want to bring to your attention a recent article How to Schmooze Your Way to Business Success published by BNET, a popular US business portal.

As the article states, many still underestimate good schmoozing, and the big role it plays in building and cementing business relationships. The best schmoozing is done when you  don't only meet people who can be helpful to you, but also simply help others connect to like-minded people. Even if you won't benefit directly from this kind of "business matchmaking", you'll build a good reputation as a resourceful person.

What's important about good schmoozing is that it's a great tool to create a powerful network. As the BNET article rightly states, the power of your network is not in the numbers of your Twitter followers or Facebook fans. It's in the strength of your relationships with maybe 5 or 10 people with whom you have built good business relationships and whom you can trust.

Being myself a very schmoozy person (hence the name SCHMOOZY FOX), I've made the art of schmoozing a key characteristic of how I do business. When working on branding projects for clients, I can tap into my valuable network and put together ad hoc teams of top-notch industry experts, business economists, design gurus and web guys -- all able to contribute to building your Funky Brand.

Funky brands need funky spaces

Where do good ideas come from? Is it possible to create the right environment that triggers creativity? In what kinds of spaces do we need to be in order to think creatively? These are the questions that Stephen Johnson, a writer and speaker, raised in his presentation Where good ideas come from, published on TED:

These are also the kinds of questions that went through my head this morning, when I detached myself from the computer and decided to go jogging in the park.  Just 15 minutes into my brisk jogging, I had a couple of fantastic ideas.  After 30 minutes, I felt like a creativity machine in action.

Funky Brands are often born from a combination of business strategy and creativity.  To ensure the first, you ought to have the right education, experience and skills. To address the latter, you can seek environments that can boost your creativity.

In this video, Stephen Johnson gives an example of a coffee house as an environment that sparks ideas. It's an informal space where people can connect. For me it's both schmoozing at a coffee house and running in the park that unlock my creative potential.

For you, these spaces and environments may be totally different. The key is to understand what works best for you, and explore different environments and activities that allow you to think creately.

Google is famous for encouraging its employees to spend 20% of their time exploring new ideas within its Innovation Time Off approach, and creating informal office spaces at Googleplex that boost new ideas.

If you want to build a Funky Brand, it's crucial that you explore and embrace all those funky spaces that fuel creativity.

Ice Watch -- putting it all together

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

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

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

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

ice_watch packaging

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

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

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

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

colorful ice watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Ice Watch ad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crashpadder - make yourself at home

The funky Crashpadder team Today, we’re happy to announce the first semi-finalist of our summer contest for up-and-coming funky brands, Crashpadder

Crashpadder is an online community that brings together “crashers” and “padders”. “Crashers” are business and leisure travelers in need of inexpensive accommodation, whereas “padders” are homeowners who want to rent out spare rooms in their houses for short term stays.

Crashpadder is the brain child of Stephen Rapoport, whose extensive travels around the world, adventurous spirit and love for meeting people led him to this idea.

Crashpadder has existed for just over a year, and it can already boast thousands of rooms available for short-term rent in 67 countries.

Today, we are happy to publish an interview with Stephen, who tells us why Crashpadder is a funky brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Stephen, would you call Crashpadder a funky brand ?

Stephen Rapoport: Definitely! At Crashpadder we try to develop the brand beyond the logo and color scheme and create a business based on positive experiences of our users, as well as funky brand values: love to travel, openness, and sense of adventure.

Crashpadder.com is the entry point to this brand experience, and we made sure that it runs smoothly. For instance, we did a lot of work on the site usability, so that users could find all the necessary information within just a couple of clicks.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Functionality of the site is definitely a must if one runs a web business. But Crashpadder is also a services business, and creating strong brands in services industries is one of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of brand strategy!

Stephen Rapoport: And where do you see a challenge for Crashpadder?

SCHMOOZY FOX: Most businesses that sell services rather than goods, face the challenge of making their brand experiences consistent. How do you ensure that most of crashers and padders who meet in real life, go through the Crashpadder experience?

Stephen Rapoport: It may sound paradoxical, but I think that the lack of consistency is an important part of the Crashpadder brand experience that is, well, consistent! It’s totally opposite of an experience one would have at a hotel. Hotels are sterile, predictable, lacking personal touch. And with Crashpadder, one would always have to expect a certain degree of surprise, diversity and serendipitous encounters. And this is the core of our brand!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Who is a typical padder?

Stephen Rapoport: A typical padder is first of all a sociable person. Obviously, padders like to earn some cash for the rooms they rent out, but it’s not the only motivation. A typical padder is also a local who can recommend you good restaurants in the area, shops and galleries that do not feature in any guide books! By the way, I am myself a padder, and I enjoy giving my own insider tips about London to my guests.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And who is your typical crasher?

Our crashers are 50% business travelers, and 50% tourists. What unites them all is the sense of adventure, and desire to have unique experiences during travel, rather than predictable hotel stays.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How is crashpadder different from couchsurfing, which is free service?

Stephen Rapoport: It’s profoundly different. I actually love couchsurfing, and I’ve been a couchsurfer for 8 years.

Crashpadder is different because 95% of accommodation offered on our site is double beds in private bedrooms. There are essentially no sofas! Also the average age on crashpadder is 38, whereas couchsurfing has much younger audience. We’ve been described as couchsurfing for grown ups in the press.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What do you plan to do in the future to continue developing Crashpadder as a funky brand?

Stephen Rapoport: The future is going to be exciting for various reasons, but continuing our current rate of growth will be the greatest challenge. We are no longer looking to develop the brand as an asset but rather on distribution of the brand in new overseas markets.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thanks, Stephen, and the best of luck with Crashpadder!

From Mallorca with love: interview with Camper shoes

Miquel Fluxa from Camper Camper shoes was one of the first funky brands featured on this blog back in 2008.  When Camper opened its shop in Brussels, I thought that a Funky Brand Interview would be spot on for SCHMOOZY FOX’s blog.

And here it is! I had a chance to talk to Miquel Fluxà from Camper.  A son of Lorenzo Fluxà who founded Camper in 1975, he is responsible for business development and brand extensions at Camper. Educated at ESADE and Stern Business School in New York, where he studied business administration, Miquel thinks that one of his professional strengths is the ability to understand and work with creative people such as designers.

The Mamba shoe

“I am not sure if I can call myself creative, at least in the sense of expressing myself through visual arts. But creativity is a very important element at Camper, and I very much enjoy working with highly creative designers who develop shoe designs, as well as those who have collaborated with us on our Casa Camper hotel chain project.

Casa Camper Berlin

SCHMOOZY FOX welcomes Miquel Fluxà to the blog about funky brands! All images in this interview were provided to SCHMOOZY FOX courtesy of Camper.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Miquel, first of all, what makes Camper shoes a funky brand?

Miquel Fluxà: Camper is without any doubt a FUNKY BRAND according to SCHMOOZY FOX’s definition!

Camper together with Bernhard Willhelm AW2010s

We are constantly working on delivering new ideas to the market and we do it with passion and creativity. We think differently and we want to be seen different, although not in a loud, showy way, but with austerity and discretion.

We are serious about what we do, but do not take ourselves too seriously, so we like to add a twist of understated imagination and irony to everything we do. We have a strong core belief that we try to transmit to consumers through product, retail and communication so that they can feel the Camper experience.

Camper together with Romain Kremer AW2010s

SCHMOOZY FOX: And now, could you characterize the Camper brand by only 3 words? What would they be?

Miquel Fluxà: Authentic, thoughtful and imaginative. We are authentic because we have been shoe-makers for over 130 years and we are committed to the long term.

Camper on Madison Avenue in NYC

Quality and craftsmanship remain at the heart of what we do and what we are. We are thoughtful and caring with the people, culture and environment where we work. Camper means “peasant” in Catalan and we have always been connected to the Mediterranean rural world.

And imagination and creativity have always been in the core of the company, applied into every process from the pre-production phase until the recycling, always trying to do things in a different way.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could one say that these are also the reasons why customers like Camper?

Camper store in London

Miquel Fluxà: Yes, we think so!

We believe that our consumers know Camper values and share them. Our products reflect what we are: our know-how and creativity have always been the common thread of our collections, and we have now taken this to an upper level: Extraordinary Crafts, Creative Quality and Quality Execution, under which we combine our passion and experience with new ideas to create shoes that are useful, innovative and full of personality.

We think that this is something that our consumers take deeply into consideration when they decide to purchase a pair of Camper shoes.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Camper was founded by your father. What made you decide to join forces with your father and continue building Camper as a family business?

Miquel Fluxà: Although Camper as a brand was founded by my father in 1975, the origins of the company go back to 1877, when my great-grandfather founded the first shoe factory in Spain and later  my grandfather continued with the factory. That makes us the fourth generation.

Although there was nothing planned and we had no obligation to continue building Camper, there is an important sentiment of responsibility of continuing the family business.

It also a great luck to work in company like Camper, which is an international company with fantastic people working all over the world, an interesting company with great projects, and based in a fantastic place like Mallorca!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Camper has a worldwide presence. What do you think are the countries where Camper is loved most?

Miquel Fluxà: Considering that the Spanish and European and some Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan consolidations took place in the 80s and 90s respectively, the presence of Camper in these mature markets is broader than in the new ones. However, the last decade has represented the introduction and development of the brand in the United States, Asia, Australia and more recently Russia.

We are confident that Camper lovers can be everywhere in the world. New technologies such as the social media have allowed us to collect information about unexplored markets and we are surprised of the quantity of fans that Camper has in countries where we do not even have a selling structure.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the main distribution channels Camper uses?

Miquel Fluxà: Camper is distributed through its own stores that we operate directly, and through multi-brand stores and department stores. The wholesale activity is currently the most important one.

The company was born in 1975 and during the first years the products were marketed only through multi-brand stores. However, we realized that the best way to create a whole Camper experience for our customers was by setting spaces that would allow them to interact with the shoes and the brand.

As a consequence of this reflection, in 1981 we opened our first store in Barcelona, and in 1992 we opened our first store outside Spain in Saint Germain in Paris.

SCHMOOZY FOX: As regards your online shop, what are the challenges and advantages for the consumer to buy a pair of shoes online ? What do you do in order to bring the in-store buying experience to the online world?

Miquel Fluxà: Probably the biggest challenge for us is to enhance consumers’ online purchase experience when they decide to buy shoes through our online shop and, therefore, we focus on three different factors.

First, we provide customers with as much information as possible about the shoes: detailed description, high quality pictures from different angles, quick search menu. Then, we seek excellence in our pre-sale and after sale customer service. Finally, we want the online purchase to be a total Camper experience as it would be to buy in a physical store.

Madrid Fuencarral Storesmall

For us the online store is another Camper store, only with a different format and approach to the customer, and we consecrate our efforts to ensure that the customers feel that they are at a Camper store, providing them with the same quality, service and warranties.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Finally, how does Camper plan to continue being a funky brand in the future?

Miquel Fluxà: We will keep on trying to make creative shoes, executed with quality and comfort and maintaining our commitment to sustainability. We will continue increasing our creative network with consolidated and future talents. But above all, we will remain faithful to our origins and values!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thanks for this interview, and I wish you a lot of success with Camper!

Maurice Lacroix watches: authenticity, achievement and square wheels

A Maurice Lacroix watch with a square wheel Have you ever thought that wheels can take different shapes than just a circle? According to Wikipedia, a wheel is “a circular device that is capable of rotating on an axle through its centre, facilitating movement or transportation while supporting a load (mass), or performing labour in machines.”

Well, here’s the big news: a Swiss watchmaker Maurice Lacroix has recently revealed a new watch model, Masterpiece Regulateur Roue Carre, which contains a S Q U A R E  W H E E L to display the hours!

Being somewhat of a geek, I found this engineering and design innovation funky enough to trigger my interest in finding out more about the brand. In addition, having already written about Maurice Lacroix’s recent brand endorsement campaign featuring Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, I strongly felt that yet another Funky Brand Interview was about to materialize. And here you are, today I am happy to publish my interview with Martin Bachmann, CEO of Maurice Lacroix.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Martin, how would you characterize the brand of Maurice Lacroix in a couple of sentences?

Martin Bachmann: Maurice Lacroix stands for contemporary watchmaking, manufacture excellence and is oriented to authentic consumers with modern lifestyle. SCHMOOZY FOX: And what do you mean by “authentic”?

Martin Bachmann: Authenticity is staying true to one’s values, not being afraid of standing out from the crowd, sometimes following a bit of a different direction from everybody else’s. It’s also about achievement and success.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And is authenticity something that unites the three brand ambassadors who have recently endorsed Maurice Lacroix -- Jimmy Wales, Bob Geldof and Justin Rose?

Martin Bachmann: Yes, authenticity along with achievement and success are the qualities that unite these brand ambassadors who, as you point out, have recently participated in our brand endorsement campaign. We were happy to identify them because they pinpoint the qualities that are also inherent to the brand of Maurice Lacroix and, we are convinced, our consumers.

3 brand ambassadors of Maurice Lacroix

 

SCHMOOZY FOX: Were there any specific profiles of people you were looking for? Did they have to belong to a specific field of knowledge, or profession?

Martin Bachmann: The most important factor for us was to identify strong personalities, people with charisma and a track of achievement throughout their lives. As far as backgrounds go, we looked for achievers in science, business, sport or entertainment. An important criterion was to identify unique personalities. Even in entertainment, we considered some individuals, but the originality of character was more important to us than the mainstream celebrity status. In this sense, Bob Geldof, who has had an amazing career as a musician, and who is a speaker on various issues from politics to entertainment, sought by corporations, fit the bill very well!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Besides brand endorsements, you also talk about partnerships on your website? What are they all about?

Martin Bachmann: You must have seen a series of interviews published in cooperation with Monocle magazine. For instance, we have interviewed Leo Liu, a wine-grower from China. We’ve also collaborated with various designers outside of the company who have brought in a fresh perspective on contemporary design and created some very successful watches for Maurice Lacroix. In this sense, Maurice Lacroix is always on the lookout for fresh ideas, and co-operation with inspirational people. All of them are unique in the sense that they have chosen to follow a very original path in their lives, for example, Leo Liu.

SCHMOOZY FOX: In this respect, this willingness for co-operation, partnerships and openness for fresh ideas is an important element of all funky brands!

Martin Bachmann: Yes, indeed! We also believe that this openness is a way to keep our company innovative. It also builds our team spirit immensely!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Is Maurice Lacroix all about men’s watches? I have  seen a couple of beautiful models for women, but the majority of your watches are for men. Is this why your brand endorsement campaign focusing primarily on male brand ambassadors?

Martin Bachmann: Indeed, men’s watches are our core product, although eventually we plan to have about 25% of our turnover come from women’s watches. This explains why currently we seek mainly male brand ambassadors. But I surely don’t exclude an opportunity to have a female brand ambassador in due time!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Finally, Maurice Lacroix is all about tradition and excellence of watch-making. Besides, your company also communicates about being contemporary. How do you manage to combine the two -- tradition and the spirit of modern times?

Martin Bachmann: Our watches are about tradition in the sense that they are all hand made according to industry standards in craftsmanship, some of which have not changed in centuries. But the design is where we want to show contemporary trends! Here we are far from the traditional. For instance, instead of  producing only traditional yellow and white gold watches, we often create watch cases with more modern materials, for instance titanium or steel that is treated with a ceramic coating or apply innovative decorations and color codes on our movements, like e.g. black gold.

PT Chronographe Rectangulaire Full Black_B

SCHMOOZY FOX: Many thanks, Martin, for sharing the brand spirit of Maurice Lacroix on the SCHMOOZY FOX blog, and I wish you the best of success further on!

Martin Bachmann: Thank you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LottyDotty mini dresses

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

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

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

LottyDottyTshirts

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

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

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

Shevanne & Maya, LottyDotty's co-founders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sleevless T-shirt by LottyDotty

Tufts University appreciates funky personal brands

I was very happy to hear that my Alma Mater, Tufts University in Boston (I went to the Fletcher School at Tufts back in 2001), has been exploring the power of social media in order to identify best applicants for its top-ranked undergraduate education. As part of their application package (which includes academic test results, essays and other quite elaborate  things that require a lot of effort and preparation), Tufts candidates are now encouraged to submit videos that shed light on their personalities.  Since a decision was made to allow YouTube video submissions as part of the application package, Tufts has received 1000 videos. Interestingly, 60% were female, and two thirds of the applicants submitting videos were seeking financial aid. As already mentioned in my previous blog post, Digital Anthropology, women are most active users of social media, and the Tufts University applicant videos suggest the same.

When I was a student at Tufts back in 1999-2001, I was frequently amazed at a large number of very strong and individual personalities there. My feeling is that this will improve even further! Equipped with the encouragement of the Tufts Admissions team, bright candidates will be given an additional incentive to demonstrate their unique skills, interests and passions. In the SCHMOOZY FOX language, these students will have a great opportunity to make their personal brand stand out from the crowd. And by the way, it's not only unique and original products and services that can be funky brands, it's also people!

Brand love

Photo by Andrew Jalali I want to share with you an interesting article I found in New York Times. The article is a review of marketing and advertising campaigns which took place in 2009, and which share one common theme: l-o-v-e.

Maybe the reason is the economic downturn, and people are tired of negative news. Just like Black Eyed Peas sing:

What's wrong with the world, mama People livin' like they ain't got no mamas I think the whole world addicted to the drama Only attracted to things that'll bring you trauma

Or maybe the reason is something else -- but so many brands, especially in the US, think that it's best to talk to their consumers using the simple, emotional language of love. The power of this approach is that it has a good chance of connecting to consumers emotionally, and that's probably the best any brand can hope for.

Here is a quick list of marketing campaigns mentioned in the article For Marketers, Love is in the Air:

Blackberry Love What You do commercial

Subaru's commercial: Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru

LensCrafters eyeglasses See what you love, love what you see campaign

Other brands that worked around the love theme in their marketing campaigns, have been McDonalds, Olay and Payless shoes.

Since the mentioned article talks about US brands only, I wanted to find a couple of other recent examples of love related campaigns undertaken on other continents. Here they are:

Australian beer Pure Blonde, and its Dove Love campaign:

Schweppes Signs commercial, which has already featured on this blog before.

Of course, it's not that if your brand talks about love, that your consumers fall in love with your products. In most of the cases, something else is needed before you can allow yourself to use the word "love" in your marketing discourse.  Call it chemistry or mutual attraction. Or, using a bit of less romantic language, you can call it a superior product combined with great customer care. And most likely, it will be your customers who'll talk about love. Brand love.

Use viral video to make your brand funky

Mashable published a list of most innovative viral videos of 2009 at the beginning of December. Even if you don't plan to launch any video campaigns for your funky brand any time soon, you can just watch these videos for fun.

I'd like to draw your attention to one of them, called SIGNS, produced for Schweppes. I've already shared it on the wall of my Facebook fan page.

If you ask me, this video has been produced AGAINST all the normal viral video principles you might have heard of.

Apart from the cool concept, and a potential of "virality", these videos should be S-H-O-R-T. Two minutes max. That's what your video agency would probably tell you.

If you are an up-and-coming funky brand, you should definitely follow this advice. Nobody's attention span on YouTube is very long. You can take a look at most viewed videos to see that pretty much all of them are very short.

But SIGNS is longer than.....12 minutes.

And it works. You have to see the amount of views on YouTube -- more than 3.4 million. Probably after this blog post, the number will be even higher.  And hey, I am not even paid by Schweppes!

Here are some bullet points about this video:

  • Only a BIG brand can afford to pull this through. Twelve minutes?!  Are you kidding me? First of all, you have to have A LOT of cash to spare on this kind of thing.
  • Second of all, you have to have huge brand awareness in place to afford only a subtle mention of your brand name in such a long video (if you watch SIGNS, you'll see the blurry image of  a Schweppes bottle appearing only in one episode, and there aren't even any close-ups).
  • It is clear to me that with this video, Schweppes is targeting mainly its female consumers. If you contest this, post a comment!

What are the take-aways for your funky-to-be brand?

  • If your goal is to build brand awareness, it's not such a good idea to experiment with lengthy videos, unless you're absolutely sure you want a short movie like SIGNS, and have the budget for it.
  • A short and snappy video will work best for you.
  • Make sure you are certain about your target audience. Include as many details about your customers in the pitch to your video producers. Don't just give age, gender and geographical targeting kind of stuff. Think of all the deep emotional connections that your customers have or are most likely to have to your product -- this kind of angle will certainly help you to have a brilliant concept in place.

Finally, keep this in mind: you will never know in advance whether your video will become viral or not. It's a risk you're taking, all you can do is bring your passion into the process, and hope that your video viewers will share it!

If you want to learn more about video production process and place it in the context of your overall brand strategy, ask olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com.