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The word "schmoozing" spotted in French

Finally, I don't have to explain to my French-speaking friends what the word "schmoozing" means! :) Well, at least I can from now on refer them to an article that appeared in this week's edition of Références, a Belgian weekly for employment seekers and career-focused individuals.

Schmoozing: mode d'emploi(s)

The article focuses on the kind of "schmoozing" (particularly, its online variety) one does to find a job. For me personally, and of course, for SCHMOOZY FOX as a company, this word has a broader meaning.

Ladies and gentlemen, schmoozing is HIGH POWER NETWORKING.  The kind that involves co-operating, building relationships and closing win-win deals.

All of this with the objective of enhancing the client's product or service brand.

In my brand strategy work, schmoozing capabilities come in very handy when assessing my clients' potential and spotting opportunities for brand partnerships, brand endorsements and co-branding.

So, from now on, vive le schmoozing!

schmoozing definition

Source: Schmoozing: mode d"emploi(s) by Rafal Naczyk in Références, 19.02.11

Polish Żubrówka becomes Żu in the US

Here's a nice read that can appeal to all those who like to dig into intricate issues of international branding. The cult Polish alcoholic drink, Żubrówka, has finally made its way to the US market, the Wall Street Journal reports. This is big news for the Polish brand which will be able to market its product on the potentially lucrative US market.  However, the Żubrówka you might know -- the kind that comes with a thin leaf of mysterious bison grass in it -- which gives the drink that strong particular taste (the Żubrówka taste) -- will have a different version in the US. So different, that the question is -- can it still be referred to as Żubrówka?

zubrowkaŻubrówka has been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration for many years due to the presence in it of a toxic chemical, coumarin. Apparently, the source of coumarin is the bison grass. Polish scientists struggled for years to get the grass-less  Żubrówka to taste like the real stuff, and they've finally made a new concoction work for them.

From a branding perspective, Żubrówka's entry in the US was complicated. The US authorities referred to Żubrówka as a generic drink, which led to many fake Żubrówka look-alikes appear on the market.  So, the challenge was to find another name as a trade mark.  This was viewed as an opportunity as the new name -- Żu -- is also potentially easier for Americans to pronounce. It also contains a bison-inspired reference to the animal world, as Żu is supposed to signal "zoo".  I am not sure if bisons are typical zoo residents, and I am not convinced that those who try the drink for the first time, would ever pick up this link between zoos, wild Polish forests and bisons. But the name choice is made, and the drink has entered the US market.

What are the implications of launching a brand that is well-known in one geography, in another, under a different name? Is the new brand name a good choice to support the launch of grass-less drink? Do the Żu marketers need to promote the Żubrówka heritage in Żu brand communications?

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

Beastly branding

The owl of hootsuite.com

In my previous post, I talked about brand mascots: when to use them to boost your brand, and when to avoid them.

After the blog post was published, one of my blog readers pointed out that the majority of brand mascots are, in fact, animals.

This prompted me to do a bit more digging into the subject, and here’s what I found: a very interesting paper by Professor Stephen Brown from Ulster Business School: Where the wild brands are: some thoughts on anthropomorphic marketing. (( Brown, Stephen., Marketing Review, Fall 2010, Vol. 10, issue 3, pp. 209-224 ))

The paper gives many examples of companies using animals as brand mascots, and discusses which beasts are most popular.

Ronald McDonald

Throughout history, humankind has had a love-hate relationship with wild animals. On the one hand, we fear and detest powerful predators, especially those that destroy our crops and kill our livestock. On the other hand, we envy and admire their speed and grace, adorn ourselves in their fur and feathers, and worship them as totemic deities who symbolise our tribes, our teams, our territories. (( ibid. ))

In branding, mascots became popular a century ago in France, when almost every company adorned its products with friendly looking cats, dogs and insects. Interestingly, fictional people’s characters have also been used quite successfully in branding. For example, the 116-year old Michelin man is still alive and well-known.

Brown concludes that fictional human characters are most popular brand mascots, followed by birds, domestic animals, and wild animals (so, SCHMOOZY FOX is still doing okay here!). Insects, aquatic creatures, vegetables and body parts (!) have much less popularity, although I would imagine that some friendly insects such as bees and lady birds are okay to use!

The main rule of thumb is that “Brand animal popularity is directly related to the species’ physiological and psychological distance from humankind.” (( ibid. )) The closer the species to the human kind, the easier it is for people to “process” a brand mascot.

In terms of animals, domestic and wild, it’s interesting to see that different countries might attribute different qualities to the same animal. So, study the character of your brand beast well before you go global!

burts_bees

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.

SCHMOOZY FOX in the news

The concept of Funky Brands™ is becoming more and more known, and we've been quoted by major international online publications recently. Entrepreneur.com has published a great article How to Name -- or Re-name -- Your Business, and I am quoted there.

JUMP, a European online portal for advancing women in the workplace, has published a story about me and SCHMOOZY FOX in their Inspiring Women category.

Help spread this news, and stay tuned on more great stories dedicated to Funky Brands™!

Need rebranding? Don't just change your logo, think brand strategy

Old Apple logoI am often asked to explain what brand strategy stands for. In my experience, many people still associate branding, and brand strategy, with graphic design -- logos, web sites and other elements of visual identity. Whereas visual identity is absolutely essential in branding (and SCHMOOZY FOX works with a great team of designers to take care of it!), it's just one step in a broader activity which is brand strategy.

Brand strategy is your overall business strategy that has an objective of building a  S T R O N G  B R A N D.

This may sound rather simple, but in reality, a good brand strategy is a very complex exercise.  A good brand strategy can determine your success, and no brand strategy is often a recipe for a failure (see my previous blog post Brands do not take care of themselves).

Rebranding is a good chance to sort out your overall brand strategy. Often, companies feel like getting away from a tired image, and creating something more consistent with market needs.  This "something" is often, in their view, a change of look and feel. Often, their rebranding efforts are only about changing a logo.

But the reality is, even after improving their logos, many companies don't sort out their bad customer service, or improve product functionality. It's astonishing that many companies simply do not think that these strategic elements have anything to do with their brand!

Today, I want to share with you a story  published on Inc.com, How to rebrand your business successfully. It summarizes a rebranding project that was done by Seattle's Coffee Company (part of the Starbucks group). See how the company measured the size of their market, did competitor research, re-thought their customer base, and improved distribution channels.

All of these activities are characteristic of brand strategy and should be considered within any rebranding project.

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.

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

6 resources for naming your brand

Photo by Natalie Maynor on Flickr Giving a name to your new company or product should be an important element of your overall brand strategy. Brand naming gets especially tricky when your strategy is to go into several markets at the same time.  Then you'd need to make sure that your new company name sounds equally good in China and Brazil, if you plan to go there, of course. I've addressed the complexity of such cases in my blog post Learn to Speak the Language of Your Brand.

Today, I want to share with you some of the resources that can come in handy while you are busy brainstorming a new brand name. Before you start, remember: don't book any URLs, twitter and facebook accounts before you've actually understood what your new brand will stand for. But if you feel you have sorted out the details of your brand strategy, then these resources can come in handy. Here's a collection of 6 online resources that can help you, and if you know more, please post a comment:

1) Guy Kawasaki's article The Name Game

2) An article published by OnStartups.com: 17 Mutable Suggestions for Naming a Startup

3) http://namechk.com/ This site allows you to see if your name is taken throughout social media. The list of social media outlets is pretty vast, and many that are mentioned here are not even used any more, so I wouldn't worry if your name is already taken in some of them.

4) http://www.namechecklist.com/ is a similar service, though it also allows you to see what domain names you can still register with your name.

5) http://www.bustaname.com/ This site allows you to check if your desired brand name is available. You can also play around with various name combinations: a good way to brainstorm the name and get some ideas you maybe didn't think of at the beginning.

6) http://www.dotcomroulette.com/ allows you to enter keywords, and based on them, it proposes a name for you. I've experimented and received quite obscure results, but perhaps you'll have some luck using this site.

Again, all of these should play a role when you are well into your brand strategy, and know a great deal about your product, competitors and customers. Hope this helps, and good luck naming your new brand!

Why sweet Cheerios went sour on YouTube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Think twice about branded content

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

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

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

DJ Tiësto interacts with fans during #tiëstotuesday

#tiëstotuesday DJ Tiësto, a world-famous musician and record producer of electronic dance music, spent the whole day yesterday (October 5) directly interacting with his Twitter followers. He sent out about 450 tweets answering questions to his fans. Most of the questions were about Tiësto's personal life (whether he's single, has children,) and, or course, his music. His answers were very short, getting shorter and shorter towards the end of the busy day. He rarely retweeted anyone.

Tiësto's Facebook page

Tiesto facebook pageTiësto is a big celebrity in the world of music, and has a lot of fans.  Just check his Facebook page. Today, it has 4,609,719 members!

His (and, I guess, his management team's) posts generate thousands of comments each day.

Facebook was used to announce the #tiëstotuesday on Twitter, where numbers of his followers are more modest. Even after the #tiëstotuesday stunt, he has "only" 217, 368 followers.

Twitter and Tiësto's personal brand

However, it's not all about the numbers. As some say, “Facebook is for people you know while Twitter is for people you don’t know”. Which means that Facebook users are more receptive to status updates by their real friends.  Twitter users, on the contrary, are more alert to the tweets of those they follow, whether they know them personally or not.

In this respect,Twitter can indeed provide a better platform for Tiësto (and other celebrities) as a direct fan outreach tool, and a platform for strengthening his funky personal brand. The fact that he personally, and not his management, was the real guy behind his tweets, reinforces his popularity vis-a-vis the fans.

The only downside is that such one-to-one conversations are extremely time consuming. If Tiësto is thinking about other #tiëstotuesdays in the future, I'd suggest to do this no more than once every two months or so.

We just want you to make more great music, Tiësto! :)

Tiestoo tweet

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.

Zumba sells branded merchandise

I first wrote about Zumba, a funky Latin workout, almost a year ago.  In that post, I talked about the challenges that any services organization can encounter in its attempt to build a funky brand. The main challenge for Zumba, I said, was to ensure that its main customer touch points (places and ways in which people experience the brand) remain consistent. Which seems like a big task given millions of Zumba-like, or Zumba-inspired, courses currently offered around the world by external fitness instructors. Since then, I've taken several Zumba classes myself -- and not only out of my desire to do non-stop funky brand research! :)  I also wanted to ditch the workout, and join the party. ((Zumba's brand slogan)). My personal observation is that many of these classes had very little Latin about them, featuring non-Latin music, and non-Latin dance moves.

In other words, my own Zumba experiences have been patchy, and differed from one place and instructor to another.

Perhaps Zumba management (to learn more about the company, see an article about Zumba's founder Alberto Perlman published by Sprouter)  decided that keeping the brand consistent throughout its customer touch points was a difficult task to carry out.  Perhaps they thought that it would be a good idea to build the brand by selling Zumba merchandise not only online, but also in real life.

IMAG0462In any case, I am not familiar with Zumba's selected strategy, but here are a couple of observations.

I came across Zumba-branded merchandise on the shelves of Di a couple of days ago.  Di is a Belgian chain of shops that sell inexpensive cosmetics and home cleaning products. Di has also been expanding its health and wellness section by adding vitamins, food supplements, and slimming shape-wear.  This section is where I spotted sizable Zumba-branded boxes, sold at retail price of Euro 69.95 per piece (pictured above). They were placed on a shelf underneath a TV screen that featured a demonstration of a Zumba workout, with the message "as seen on TEK TV " ((a Belgian TV store)) running across the screen.

Each box contained 4 Zumba workout DVDs, as well as a set of small weights.  The packaging displayed a TEK TV logo.

What are the implications of this on Zumba's brand?

First of all, the importance of selecting appropriate distribution channels is crucial for building a strong brand.  Even though the idea of selling Zumba-branded merchandise seems  attractive  ((at least on the local market, it could be a way of tapping into existing awareness about the brand name that has been created through workout courses, whether "real" or not))  per se, where it is sold, is of even major importance!

What strikes me as quite inconsistent with what could be a very funky brand, is the association of Zumba with a TV shop.  I don't personally know very many funky brands that have been built through this not-so-funky distribution channel (but if you know, please submit a comment!)

I would question whether TV shops can reach the kinds of customers Zumba needs to be reaching.   I saw lots of professional women "ditching the workout, and joining the party" after office hours. Which means that they probably don't have the time to watch TV shop sales sessions during the day.  I suspect that an additional endorsement of a product by a TV shop means little to them.

Selling Zumba merchandise at a rather unexciting Di (think of it as an equivalent of the UK Boots, but with a somewhat duller product selection) would not be my top choice either.

To conclude, Zumba would be much better off building a funky brand through better selected and more exciting distribution channels.

NOTES

And the winner is....

The Funky Startup Contest has come to an end. Thanks to all of those funky startups that have responded and participated!

Why we organized the Funky Startup Contest

What was the reason for this contest?  SCHMOOZY FOX launched the Funky Brand Interview series in the summer of 2009. Since then, I've been meeting talented and passionate people -- CEOs, founders and top managers -- whose enthusiasm, love of fun and understanding of brand strategy translated into building successful funky brands.  After a year of great encounters,  I wanted to give a chance to less known, funky-to-be startups, to feature in interviews, and benefit from valuable brand strategy advice by SCHMOOZY FOX. Hence the Funky Startup Contest!

Semi-finalists

Three companies -- Crashpadder (online bookings of short stays from the UK), The Smart Hanger (eco-friendly paper hangers from Canada) and Zigfreda (luxuriously funky clothes founded by a Brazilian-Dutch couple) were selected, and interviewed for the SCHMOOZY FOX blog about funky brands.

The winner

Hans and Katia - founders of Zigfreda

And the winner is.... Zigfreda! After Hans and Katia from Zigfreda are done launching their Spring-Summer 2011 collection in Milan and Paris, they will receive a promised day of brand coaching from SCHMOOZY FOX, the funky way!

When Hans Blankenburgh from Zigfreda learned about the victory, he said,

"SCHMOOZY FOX is a great point of reference for innovative, cool, upcoming trends, technology, brand strategy and funky brands. We are already impressed with Olga's knowledge and passion for brand strategy, and we're happy to be the winner!

Stay tuned for the updates about the funky brand strategy day at Zigfreda!

And I wish Crashpadder and The Smart Hanger a lot of success in building their funky brands!

Coach finally comes to Europe

Snapshot of the Coach web site

Coach and Affordable Luxury brand strategy

Coach -- a brand of hand bags from the US -- has frequently featured in class discussions during my marketing courses.  One could argue that its phenomenal brand success story can be attributed to a carefully orchestrated strategy of affordable luxury -- selling high quality bags at high prices, and at high volumes. In fact, its success has been so big that it has posted sales of $ 3.5 billion in the United States in the last financial year.

I knew about Coach not only from my nerdy MBA books.  I visited a Coach shop for the first time during my first visit to the US, back in 1994.  I went to a Coach shop again in 2000, when I was studying in Boston.

Both times, I was almost mesmerized by the almost magical effect that this brand seemed to have on those who visited its stores.  American women looked happy and proud to leave with a new status symbol in their hands.

But to the Europeans, spoiled by  a massive choice of high quality brands of hand bags, Coach has been literally unknown. With the competition so fierce, no wonder Coach waited for so long before entering Europe.

Coach in Europe -- lessons for other American brands

And finally, here it is. It chose to open its first European shop-in-shop in Paris -- a logical choice of the iconic capital of European fashion and style. The grand opening took place at Printemps on August 31st.

The distribution strategy that Coach will adopt will play an extremely important role for the degree of its brand success in Europe.  Provided it is able to compete with many European brands in the same product category, it will establish a good pathway for other American affordable luxury brands in Europe.

A specific US brand with a successful affordable luxury positioning is Victoria's Secret.  A sure winner on the US market, Victoria's Secret is likely to face a challenge of many established lingerie brands on the European market. It should closely watch Coach and learn lessons from its brand strategy in Europe.

POLL: Vote for the funkiest startup brand

The summer is over, and our summer funky startup contest has come to an end. SCHMOOZY FOX has selected, and interviewed three exciting startups:

1) Crashpadder, an online community that helps find cheap short-term accommodation 2) The Smart Hanger, eco-friendly paper hangers from Toronto 3) Zigfreda, a colorful luxury wear brand

We think that all of them are on the path of building funky brands.

Which one do YOU think should benefit from our free brand coaching?

Click on the links above, read the interviews and M A K E  Y O U R  C H O I C E for the FUNKIEST STARTUP BRAND! Select your choice form the list below, and hit the VOTE button. The voting will be closed on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 10 pm Brussels time (GMT +1). And please keep this in mind: there will be only ONE vote allowed per IP address.

The voting is closed, and results will be announced shortly.

Zigfreda -- pressing the Refresh button

Zigfreda-Teaser-Katia&Hans

Zigfreda is a colorful luxury wear brand that was started by a Brazilian designer Katia Wille together with a Dutch businessman Hans Blankenburgh back in 2004. This makes Zigfreda and its sub-brand for kids, BabyZig, far from being a startup, one might say. However, Zigfreda had to re-invent all of its key business elements almost entirely, when the founders decided to relocate the company from Rio de Janeiro to Amsterdam two years ago. This is why I can refer to it as a “re-startup”, and I am happy to host it as the third, and final, runner up in our funky startup contest.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s the story behind the brand name Zigfreda?

Hans: We came up with this name while sitting at a cozy cafe in Amsterdam several years ago. Back then, we knew that we wanted to create an exclusive brand for women, so we wanted the name to sound feminine. We don't talk about Zigfreda as belonging to a specific country, Brazil, The Netherlands, Italy, you name it. We believe that neither design nor the name have to be linked to any particular geography!

Zigfreda-Teaser-SS11B-1

SCHMOOZY FOX: Tell me about Zigfreda’s beginnings in Brazil. Was it a smooth start?

Katia: After Hans and I met, we spent several years in Europe, and then decided to move to Rio and start our new brand there.

I come from a family of couturiers, both of my grandmothers were making bridal clothes, and I was drawing from a very early age. After studies at a design school I worked for Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and O’Neill. While I was on holiday in Rio, I met my old aunt and she showed me her vintage collection from the fifties, sixties and seventies. She wasn't using any of these clothes anymore, and she gave them to me, simply because I liked these pieces so much. When I saw them, I suddenly had a creative urge to do something different with this collection!

DSC07273_1A friend of mine, who was an owner of a popular fashion boutique in Rio, encouraged me to alter the vintage pieces, and then organize a vernissage at her shop. I transformed the entire collection by mixing prints, making skirts out of dresses, and so on. As a result, I created 30 unique pieces out of the original clothes. The vernissage had a phenomenal success in the press, and all of the collection was sold out. I sold it under the name of Zigfreda, and our brand story was born.

In 2002 I also received a job offer to work for one of the prominent fashion houses in Rio, so Zigfreda did not materialize right away.

In 2004 we started to sell in luxury boutiques and department stores in Brazil. This led to an invitation for Fashion Rio (The Fashion Week of Rio de Janeiro) followed by Sao Paulo Fashion Week. We grew organically, and in 2008 Zigreda clothes were sold in Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Hong-Kong and Singapore, to name a few.

SCHMOOZY FOX: With a business running smoothly, why did you decide to put everything on hold and make a totally new start in Europe?

Hans: Though Brazil is a great country with major opportunities in luxury market space, often better profit margins can be reached from more international strategies that allow higher quality and lower cost of fabrics, machinery and production. We decided to change our strategy to Europe & Asia to allow more scale for sales, PR and production.

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There were many advantages for us to make Zigfreda a truly international brand by operating out of Europe.

This decision coincided with the market downturn, and we had to reinvent our business almost from scratch. True, we had developed a lot of knowhow and expertise in many areas during our time in Brazil, but such important elements as team, production process, and sales channels, had to be launched from zero!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Did you have to put your collections on hold during this business re-start?

IMG_0144---Version-2Katia: Yes, we skipped three collections. With our Spring-Summer 2011 collection we want to bring a new beginning to Zigfreda, now located in Europe with production facility in Italy, Portugal and Asia.

BabyZig, a new brand for kids from 3 months to 8 years of age, is a very new brand, for instance. We did test it in Brazil, but the real launch took place this past summer in Milan during the Pitti-Bimbo trade fair. The Zigfreda Spring-Summer 2011 sales season will be launched in Milan (White fair) 24th -26th September and our showroom in Paris (TENT Showroom, Rue Charlot 33, 1st – 5th October).

SCHMOOZY FOX: How could you summarize the brand essence of Zigfreda?

Hans: Zigfreda as well as BabyZig are international brands that don’t know any geographic boundaries. Although both are certainly upmarket brands (the average price of Zigfreda is Euro 350 and BabyZig Euro 160), they are also very democratic.  This is especially true as regards the way I myself talk about them.

We are very open about sharing knowledge. I share my business life through social media, help and coach other business owners and also receive a lot back from them. The outdated notion that sharing might be counterproductive is simply not valid, in my view. You share, you learn, and you grow. We also want to find and create an environment in which people could find ways to explore their connections with Zigreda.

IMG_0089---Version-2Katia: Zigfreda is almost like a favorite painting -- it can be a matter of personal taste, and perhaps not for everyone. But once chosen, it lightens up your day, every day! I want my clothes to trigger the emotions of empowerment, femininity and happiness in women. Femininity is really key to Zigfreda. I’ve heard many people refer to Zigfreda as a “Southern” brand, probably due to the exuberance of colors, but my color palette is beyond North or South, it’s just my vision of true happiness that I translate into fabric prints and designs. I think it’s this happy emotional outburst that people like so much.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are your plans for the future?

Hans: Our main objective is to establish brand awareness in Europe, select the right sales channels, and also introduce a line for teenagers (bridging the gap between BabyZig and Zigfreda) -- of course all in due course!

Katia: the main plan for me is to remain in the mindset of a startup! I believe that it’s never a good idea for a brand to become comfortable with the status quo. I want to be able to have enough challenges to overcome so that the brand grows ever stronger! I want to press the Refresh button over and over again!

ZigfredaLogo

The Smart Hanger -- hooked on the environment

Jacob hates metal hangers Today, we're happy to announce the second semi-finalist of our summer contest for funky start-up brands, The Smart Hanger. When Leigh Meadows, founder of The Smart Hanger, decided to take a little break from work two years ago in order to dedicate some time to her personal projects, little did she know that she’d soon have a new business to run. As Leigh said in an interview to SCHMOOZY FOX, the idea of The Smart Hanger, a Toronto based company was born out of a to do list that was supposed to include only her personal projects. Since then, this simple and yet original project received a lot of press coverage, and featured in the popular program The Dragon’s Den.

Today Leigh tells us why The Smart Hanger can be called a funky brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Leigh, tell me how you ended up starting The Smart Hanger when you actually wanted to take some time off work?

Leigh Meadows: Indeed, two years ago, in August, I made a decision to spend a bit of time concentrating on my hobbies and personal projects. I felt that I was facing something new in my life, and decided to put together a little to do list of everything that I wanted to achieve during the planned me time. I actually always put such lists of priorities each time that I face changes in my life, so it was a usual thing for me to do.

That time, my desire to do something good for the environment was on top of my list. But this wish was quite general. I wanted to do something very concrete, and yet could not think what exactly this could be.

One afternoon, my son Jacob and I were rearranging his closet to prepare the boy for the new school year. Towards the end of our cleaning session, we collected a pile of wire hangers lying in his room, ready to be thrown away. “But this is so bad for the environment!” my little son said. “Why don’t they make these hangers out of paper?”

Though I thought it was a great commend, I didn’t dwell on it too much at the time. But then, I found myself lying fully awake one night a couple of weeks later, thinking about what he had said. That’s how the idea of The Smart Hanger was born.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What is The Smart Hanger all about?

Leigh Meadows: The idea that I had was to replace wire hangers that go to landfill and generate so much waste, by recyclable paper hangers. As simple as that!

SCHMOOZY FOX: You quickly progressed from the idea of just making paper hangers, to turning them into an advertising platform for brands.

Leigh Meadows: This was a logical step that was born out of the necessity to cover the costs of producing these hangers in Canada. I could have outsourced manufacturing to lower cost countries, but producing the hangers in Canada simply made more sense from the environmental perspective. As this was quite expensive, it was decided to give advertising space on hangers to brands.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Two years on, and you have many brands interested in advertising through The Smart Hanger, and a dedicated force of sales people. How did you go about setting up a business and getting it to work?

hangers facing

Leigh Meadows: What was most important for me at the very beginning, was to get the product right for my main customers, drycleaners. They are the ones who are the biggest users of wire hangers that most of their customers simply throw away. And so, they are big contributors to landfill waste. I actually received a lot of help from the drycleaner in my neighborhood, who greatly helped me understand the market. I then met with many other drycleaners studying their needs in terms of shape and durability of the hanger. It was actually not very easy to make a perfect prototype, and the process was very scientific!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Did you have any insights into the needs of end users of The Smart Hanger?

Leigh Meadows: The role of the end consumer became of great importance when we decided to invite advertisers. I wasn’t sure how people would take the fact that they would see ads on the hangers when they picked up their clothes from drycleaners’. But they took it quite well, especially since they knew that The Smart Hanger was solving an environmental problem of landfill waste.

SCHMOOZY FOX: As an end consumer, where would I get my Smart Hangers now?

Leigh Meadows: First of all, we’re currently only present on the Canadian market, although there are immediate plans to start distribution in the US and as a next step, in Europe. You’d mostly see them at your local drycleaners’, but soon you’ll also see them in department stores, and fashion stores that sell eco fashion. You will actually soon be able to buy packs of Smart Hangers as a finished product in itself.  We’ve signed a deal with a big licensing company in Canada, and you’ll get your paper hangers embellished with Dora and other movie and cartoon characters.

SCHMOOZY FOX: A paper hanger is a superb idea, but it seems relatively easy to copy. What in your opinion can be done to be able to stay competitive?

Leigh Meadows: I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I actually think that competition is good! If there is competition, I treat is as a very Hanger leigh small sizegood sign! But really, first of all these hangers were not that easy to make, and we have a design patent on them. Then we have a first mover advantage, and signed exclusivity agreements with many brands and advertising agencies for several years to come. Finally, as soon as we begin being profitable, I’ll make sure to invest the right amounts of cash into brand building activities for The Smart Hanger.

SCHMOOZY FOX: why do you think The Smart Hanger is a funky brand?

Leigh Meadows: What makes it funky is the fact that nobody has up till now challenged the idea of boring wire hangers that pollute the environment. The Smart Hanger is revolutionary in its simplicity and its effectiveness, and these are no doubt qualities of a funky brand!