brand

Kipling customizes its brand mascot

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

 

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

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

 

Perils of lifestyle brand positioning

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

 

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

Lifestyle brands expose themselves to cross-category competition

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

 

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

 

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

 

Competition across product categories

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

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

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

 

What should brand managers do?

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

 

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

 

 

How Google keeps its Doodle funky

You might have noticed that Google displays different images on its homepage, depending on the zeitgeist. Sometimes it’s just a plain Google logo, but often it comes accompanied by the so called Doodles — images that express the holiday spirit, or important events. I wrote about it in one of my previous articles about brand mascots. In its recent initiative to promote young designers and inventors of tomorrow, Google has organized a competition for high school students asking them to submit their own Doodle designs. The winner is a 7-year old Matteo Lopez from San Francisco.

 

 

Behavioral economics in branding

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Buzz around Tintin

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

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

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

 

Ikea is chosen as the Advertiser of the Year

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity will present Ikea with its Advertiser of the Year Award on June 25. What makes IKEA's ads stand out? IKEA's creativity is said to be attributed primarily to the company's decentralized approach to marketing, and the fact that it has relationships with a vast network of agencies throughout the world.

Philip Thomas, the chief executive of Cannes Lions, said: "Ikea's approach to its marketing and communications, with its decentralised structure and strong relationships with many different kinds of agencies, has been hugely successful over many years.

"The company’s superb track record at Cannes reveals a clarity of vision and an enviable willingness to allow its agencies to truly flex their creative muscles. We congratulate both Ikea and its many agencies across many countries on this well-deserved honour." (Source: BrandRepublic news)

See examples of IKEA's campaigns here.

Country branding: Belgium

My last Funky Brand Interview with the founder of the Belgian brand BShirt was an example of what I would call country branding in action. Associations, concepts and even stereotypes that are consistently attributed to a country can form a country's brand.  Country branding initiatives are becoming increasingly popular around the world, with governments spending sizable budgets on shaping and promoting a desirable country's image to the external world.

 

Sometimes, brands tap into brand associations of countries where they originate, and use them to their advantage. BShirt has based its concept on the brand of Belgium.  Many Italian fashion and accessories brands use a "Made in Italy" statement as a proof of artisanal quality and sense of style.  French perfume brands almost always remind us that they are, in fact, truly French creations.  In product branding which uses countries' images to support its positioning, a country brand becomes a meta brand -- an overarching, superior concept that adds usually positive associations to other brands that want to relate to it.

 

Speaking again about Belgium and its brand, let's take a step further away from the repetitive beer and chocolate (though I must say, it's all great stuff brought to perfection). For me personally, Belgium is all about design. I am glad that this brand quality of this country was stressed during a recent design week in Milan, during which a team of Belgian designers presented their work under the slogan Belgium Is Design.

Nivea showcases its brand history in an art exhibition

 

There's an interesting trend that I've observed over the last couple of years: more and more brands are exploring art and design in a whole new way. Instead of spending extensive budget on advertising, many brands are finding ways of staying creative by expressing their values in more subtle, artistic ways. Some brands (like Swarovski and Kipling, for example) consistently upgrade their collections by involving well-known talented designers and artists in their product development. Others express their artistic and creative side by sponsoring art exhibitions. And yet another approach for brands is to showcase their history through art, whereby their own products, ads, packaging and photos feature as objects of art.

 

To illustrate this point, let me give you an example of Nivea, a German cosmetics brand with a 100-year long history. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Nivea wanted to show how the brand's visual expression (mainly packaging and ads) has evolved throughout decades. In an art exhibition that is taking place in Milan, Nivea has kicked off "a series of events and cultural initiatives aimed to enact the company's commitment in joining arts and industry." (For more, see this article on Coolhunting.com)

Tribal marketing for Generation Y

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Design thinking & funky brands

I've recently come across an article by Dominic Basulto, Can design thinking save the economic dinosaurs? The main points that Basulto talks about reminded me of what I've said in my two previous blog posts, Astonishing product design and funky brands as well as Dinosaur brands.

Basulto discusses the concept of Design Thinking in relation to "dinosaurs" -- industries such as the car industry, newspapers and magazines, healthcare providers, utilities, and the cable TV industry. Dinosaurs frequently inject a dose of funk into their brand through design.  Often, we see revamped sites, contemporary offices and funky stationery.  In fact, dinosaurs like design -- it allows them to express a certain degree of creativity without changing their business as usual too much.

 

However, most dinosaurs have an enormous need for change, and often they are unwilling to admit this to themselves. That's why they forget the "thinking" part.

 

Take the newspaper industry, for example. Instead of radically re-thinking what it means to be a content provider in the digital age, it is far easier to focus on "making things look pretty." (Quote from this blog post)

 

Dinosaurs don't just need to change their logos, they need to think in terms of an overall brand strategy. For more on this, see my post Need rebranding? Don't just change your logo, think brand strategy.

Interplay between brand strategy and innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Big gifts, big rewards

Today I want to share with you an interesting article on the Neuromarketing blog, Give Big, Get Bigger. The article discusses the subject of reciprocity, and it boils down to the following conclusion: if you want to receive something, give first.

A study by a German researcher Armin Falk showed that the bigger the "gift" sent by charitable foundations to potential donors, the bigger the reward that donors give to charities.

 

"Falk’s study involved mailing 10,000 requests for charitable donations, divided into three groups. One group got just the letter requesting the donation, one group received the letter plus a free postcard and envelope (the “small gift”), and the last got a package containing four postcards and envelopes (the “large gift”)....The small gift boosted donation totals by 17%. The recipients of the large gift, though, were even more generous: they donated 75% more than the no-gift group." (quote by Roger Dooley)

 

Reciprocity is often misunderstood by marketers -- for instance, at conferences, or in direct mail. How many times have you receive "gifts" that you didn't need, for example? Reciprocity in business becomes really powerful only when gifts are chosen thoughtfully and consciously, with the final gift recipient in mind.

 

Try to give meaningful gifts, and see if this can help you build a funky brand.

 

Astonishing product design & funky brands

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

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

 

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

Gaga boosts Google's brand

First, it was Katy Perry visiting Facebook. Then, SnoopDogg came over to Twitter's offices to say hi to its employees. And just earlier this week, Lady Gaga gave an hour-long talk to Google's employees in an interview session conducted by Google's head of consumer products, engineer chick Marissa Mayer.

  Silicon valley companies are trying to boost their internal company culture by inviting celebrities to schmooze with employees. The Silicon Valley battle for talent is on the increase, and companies there try to funk up their brands by inviting cool celebs over.

 

In fact, each of these stunts act as one-off co-branding stunts, with Facebook associating itself with Katy Perry's brand image, and Twitter with that of SnoopDogg's.

 

But in this battle of co-branding between tech and entertainment, Google has certainly outperformed its competitors. In fact, it's also outperformed itself by managing this stunt in a very professional, and also very funky way. Google prepared well for Gaga's visit (look at the awesome video about Gaga at the beginning of the YouTube interview above), and made sure that its employees got a chance to interact with her during the Q&As session. The interview was recorded and posted on YouTube for everyone to get a glance at Google's internal company culture.

Google's choice of Lady Gaga is very smart from the point of you of branding. Not only is she a celebrity and a talented performer, she's also someone with a personality.  While Google is making an effort to retain its current employees and attract new talent, Lady Gaga's powerful personality that she managed to project so well during the interview, supports Google's important brand value -- respect for talent and uniqueness.

 

By inviting a female artist to its HQ, as well as by appointing a top woman exec as the interviewer, Google also sends this message: women are an important part of the company. Well done!

And finally, the content of Google+Gaga's video will satisfy both web addicts and  entertainment lovers alike, and is likely to get lots of hits on YouTube.

 

My favorite quotes by Gaga in this video are:

 

"The most important thing about your creativity is that you H O N O R  your creativity."

 

"If you don't cast any shadows, you are not standing in the light"

 

Marketing vs. Branding

Here's a very to-the-point quote that describes the difference between branding and marketing. I found it here:   Branding helps you know what to say, and marketing provides the vehicles to deliver the messages. Just like a politician will steer any question back to the handful of key campaign points, your brand positioning statement steers all advertising, website content, brochures, public relations, and face-to-face selling to your firms competitive advantages.

Branding quote of the day: brands are a form of shorthand

I've just come across this quote by AOL's Bob Pittman which I discovered here. I want to share it with you because I believe it explains the power of brands very well:  

In the new world of business——a world of overcapacity and sensory overload——brands matter more than ever. Why? Because brands are a form of shorthand. Customers think about what matters to them, analyze their choice, and settle on a brand.

Once they’ve done that analysis, they’re very reluctant to do it again.

Funky personal branding

 

Yesterday I conducted a Personal Branding Masterclass in Brussels. The event was organized in co-operation with IE Business School, my Alma Mater where I completed International MBA in 2007.

My goal was to show how my approach towards building product and services brands can be applied to building personal brands.

But what is a personal brand, anyway? In my presentation, I defined it like this:

 

Personal branding is a framework of associations, values, images and actions through which people perceive The Unique You.

In other words, it's your unique value proposition, something that makes you stand out from the crowd, and something by which others can remember you.

In my presentation, I mostly focused on the advantages of good personal branding in professional life, and demonstrated several important steps that one would need to go through in order to craft a strong personal brand.

I spoke about how personal brand audit, brand positioning and brand promotions -- some of the steps that I use in product brand strategy -- could be used in the area of personal branding. To give an example, your LinkedIn professional headline is a very good place simply made for a personal brand positioning statement. Most people do not use it to their advantage, listing their job title, rather than their Unique Value Proposition, in their professional headline on LinkedIn. Look at my own example of my personal brand positioning statement:

 

As you can see, my job title is listed under "Current", whereas my professional headline is all about my unique value proposition. In 120 characters (that's how much LinkedIn allows!), I said a lot of things that summarize a lot of important facts about myself:

  • Passionate = I am definitely passionate about my profession!
  • European = this shows both where I live and the geographical scope of projects that I work on
  • Funky branding diva: this one catches a lot of attention on LinkedIn! The "funky branding" part refers to my Funky Brands™ philosophy, as well as my blog about Funky Brands. And, yes, diva! I don't need to explain this one, do I? :)
  • The next phrase (Offering creative, web-enabled strategies to position and build your brand) also contains a lot of useful information about my personal value proposition. It shows that creativity is my strong point, that I know the web, and am strategic. And of course, I know how to position, build and nurture brands!

I gave several examples of people with strong personal brands, among which was Jean-Pierre Lutgen, with whom I had published a Funky Brand Interview about Ice Watch.

For more information about this event, search #MyFunkyBrands on Twitter, and visit my Facebook fan page. You can also read my article Several degrees in one personal brand published by The Personal Branding Blog.

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!

 

Another example of branded wine

I've already written a short post about branding wine.  I continue to see numerous attempts to create wine brands -- at least in terms of creating attractive visual identities. Check, for instance,  the Lovely Package blog to get an idea of how much creativity goes on in the wine business.  

Today, I stumbled upon yet another good-looking wine bottle, designed and marketed in Australia. Check it out:

 

 

Purely from the packaging design perspective, I like the bottle, though not so much the box that goes with it. What seems even more obscure, is the idea that so much effort went into creating such a striking bottle and packaging for a 2006 single vintage.

 

But seriously, wine branding comes across as an extremely complex and challenging subject.  Many companies do try to launch strong wine brands, but they often stumble and fall. Why does this happen? Is this due to the volatile nature of the product, consumer preferences (hey, maybe we just don't like branded wine, full stop?) or something else?

 

 

TechCrunch Europe republishes my article about Groupon

On March 2, 2011, Tech Crunch Europe, one of the most watched tech and web blogs globally, published my story about the branding aspects of Groupon, which originally appeared on this blog under the title The dangers of Groupon for your brand, and its own.

For me personally, the most exciting part of being featured on TechCrunch is the heated debate that my article has sparked. To wrap up my reaction to this debate, I've posted this comment:

Thanks for all your comments, everybody. To wrap it up, the main purpose of the article was to analyze the consequences of advertising on Groupon for SMALL BUSINESSES, rather than discuss Groupon's advantages or disadvantages for the final consumer.
As small businesses rarely have any brand and marketing strategy know-how in house, they simply don't give much thought to online promotions, and their consequences in terms of decreased brand value, increased expenses and an inability to meet all this capacity due to promotional stunts on Groupon.
I don't doubt that Groupon has had a great business idea and made a fortune fast. But brand building is a very complex and often lengthy process -- it doesn't happen overnight. Also, brands do not just happen by themselves, you have to nurture and sustain them. This is why, in order for its business to continue being profitable and successful in the future, Groupon needs to start thinking how to create brand value vis-a-vis all of its players -- not only us the final customers, but also small businesses. To summarize, Groupon has to begin thinking in terms of BRAND STRATEGY.
If you want to dig a bit more into the subject of brand building dynamics in the online environment, here are a couple of other articles that I wrote on my own blog that will be interesting to check out:
http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/01/19/smart-marketing-is-key-to-success-on-the-web/
http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/07/05/venture-capitalists-brand-strategy/
http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/02/03/is-your-brand-ready-to-go-online/
@FunkyBizBabe


"Thanks for all your comments, everybody. To wrap it up, the main purpose of the article was to analyze the consequences of advertising on Groupon for SMALL BUSINESSES, rather than discuss Groupon's advantages or disadvantages for the final consumer.

As small businesses rarely have any brand and marketing strategy know-how in house, they simply don't give much thought to online promotions, and their consequences in terms of decreased brand value, increased expenses and an inability to meet all this capacity due to promotional stunts on Groupon.

I don't doubt that Groupon has had a great business idea and made a fortune fast. But brand building is a very complex and often lengthy process -- it doesn't happen overnight. Also, brands do not just happen by themselves, you have to nurture and sustain them. This is why, in order for its business to continue being profitable and successful in the future, Groupon needs to start thinking how to create brand value vis-a-vis all of its players -- not only us the final customers, but also small businesses. To summarize, Groupon has to begin thinking in terms of BRAND STRATEGY.

If you want to dig a bit more into the subject of brand building dynamics in the online environment, here are a couple of other articles that I wrote on my own blog that will be interesting to check out:

http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/01/19/smart-marketing-is-key-to-success-on-the-web/

http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/07/05/venture-capitalists-brand-strategy/

http://www.schmoozyfox.com/2010/02/03/is-your-brand-ready-to-go-online/

@FunkyBizBabe "
Interestingly, yesterday Mashable published an article about New York Times's launch of a Groupon-like daily deals service. New York Times is said to be concentrating only on the high end products and services offered by New York Times's advertising partners. Do you think the focus on premium products and services would be advantageous for the brand of this New York Times's service, and if yes, why?