design

Astonishing spatial design & funky brands

To follow up on my blog post Astonishing product design & funky brands, here are some of my thoughts about the role of spatial design in branding.  

I've already touched upon the role of space in brand management. To summarize my articles on the subject (Funky brands need funky spaces, Innovative advertising spaces, and Funky ambient ads), space is extremely important for idea generation, creativity and brand-building. For instance, think about Googleplex that I talked about here -- its main role is to reinforce Google's company culture of innovation and sharing, trigger creativity and solidify Google's brand vis-a-vis its employees, aka any company's biggest brand ambassadors. All of this achieved by means of design.

 

If  you place your product or service into an astonishingly designed space, this will greatly reinforce the rest of your brand building activities. One of the main reasons for this is how the human brain perceives reality.

 

The majority of people are the so called visual learners -- they constitute roughly 65% of the global population.  This is why a good business model, combined with clear positioning and superb customer service, also needs to look good. A good example of the role that design plays in brand building is nhow hotel in Berlin, previously featured in my series of Funky Brand Interviews. Needless to say, if you stay in such a hotel, you will most probably want to come back to experience the unusual, eye-catching design again. Which means, this hotel is likely to score pretty high on customer loyalty, an essential element of any good brand.

 

Another recent example of using design to create an extraordinary space is the work by Craig Redman and Karl Maier, known as Craig & Karl. What strikes me most here is a rather trivial starting point of the project -- a car park.

 

"When it comes to interiors, nothing is as traditionally drab and cold as a parking garage. There’s a reason why it’s the default setting for film directors looking to convey foreboding: garages are where people get grabbed, shot at, or straight-out whacked." (Source: fastcodesign.com)

 

I got in touch with Craig & Karl, asking them to share with my funky readers some of the background to their project, as well as the stunning images of the designed car park.

 

This is what Craig wrote me,

 

"The objective of the project was to breathe new life into the space which, having been rendered in concrete with little inlet of natural light, felt quite dark and heavy. Working closely with the owners, who possess a keen design sensibility, it was decided that the mural would cover all surfaces in a blanket of bright colour. There was also a request that the larger wall surfaces be left blank with an eye towards potentially introducing additional, individually commissioned works at a future date. Nevertheless it was vital that the installation feel and function as a complete work in its own right. The resulting design is a dynamic mix of overlapping geometric forms that mirror and respond to the angularity of the architecture. The whole piece is tied together by a winding, ribbon-style device which, acting as a central axis, leads in from the driveway, through the space and out to the garden beyond."

 

Kudos to Craig & Karl, as well as the design-conscious owners of the car park. They should certainly build upon the publicity this funky project has received to date, and think how to capture this value in the longer term.

 

 

About Craig & Karl Craig Redman and Karl Maier live on opposite sides of the world but collaborate daily to create bold work that is thoughtful and often humorous. They specialise in illustration, installation, typography, as well as character, editorial and pattern design. Craig & Karl have exhibited across the world, most notably at the Musée de la Publicité, Louvre. They have worked on projects for clients like LVMH, Nike, Apple, Vogue, Microsoft, Converse, MTV and The New York Times. www.craigandkarl.com

Photography credit: Katherine Lu (www.katherinelu.com)

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.

 

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?

 

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)

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.

 

 

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.

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?

 

 

Philippe Starck gives a boost to photo booths

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

All of this in a rather dull environment.

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

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

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

A snapshot of Starck from an article in Management

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

A new kind of brand ambassadors: famous bloggers

I've written about brand celebrity endorsements in the past. In one of my articles, A new kind of brand ambassadors: famous entrepreneurs, I talked about the growing tendency among brands to form partnerships with famous people other than actors and musicians. A whole new kind of brand ambassadors is emerging. In this article, I talked about a Swiss watch brand Maurice Lacroix choosing Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales as its brand ambassador.

And here’s another interesting example. H&M, a Swedish fashion brand whose strategy revolves around frequent brand partnerships (usually, with famous designers and performers), has launched a fashion collection co-branded with a fashion blogger Elin Kling.

It seems that brands are moving away from associating themselves with famous and glamorous people towards working with those who have a lot of personality.

As we've seen in the story of Ice Watch, its founder  went a step further, hiring an unknown girl from a Dutch village as the face of the brand.  There's surely a tendency emerging in the world of marketing and branding, where companies want to connect to their customers in more genuine ways, moving away from celebrity status towards something more real, and yet convincing and glamorous.

Mad Mimi: funky email marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Levitt, CEO of Mad Mimi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mashable gives a positive review to Mad Mimi

Another example of co-branding: Veuve Clicquot and DKNY

I've written extensively on co-branding and brand partnerships already, and am always on the lookout of interesting examples in this area. Today, I'd like to share a recent example of a brand partnership between a Champagne brand Veuve Clicquot and a fashion brand DKNY: co-branded boots.

dkny-veuve-clicquot-rubber-boots

The funky product concept and design play an important role in spicing up both brands, and create good publicity in fashion magazines and online.

Note that both Veuve Clicquot and DKNY are part of the LVMH group. It's a smart move on the part of LVMH as it's promoting both of its brands at the same time.  Initiated within such multi-brand groups as LVHM, such co-branding initiatives can be used to revitalize tired brands by creating partnerships with more successful brands from the same portfolio.

Swarovski: enchanting the world

GINSENG_BangleToday SCHMOOZY FOX is happy to publish an interview with yet another Funky Brand -- Swarovski.

The origins of this Austrian company go back to 1895, when its founder Daniel Swarovski invented a machine for cutting and polishing crystal jewellery stones. Today, the Swarovski group, still family-owned and run by 4th and 5th generation family members, has a global reach with some 24,800 employees, a presence in over 120 countries and a turnover in 2009 of 2.25 billion Euros.

Swarovski comprises two major businesses: one produces and sells loose elements to the industry, whilst the other one manufactures and sells design-driven finished products. And it’s surely the latter that makes the Swarovski brand known to most of us. It’s particularly interesting to feature Swarovski on this blog, due to its positioning as a contemporary luxury brand -- after all, SCHMOOZY FOX’s area of particular expertise is what we call Affordable Luxury (join our Affordable Luxury group on LinkedIn).

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I am happy to talk to Nathalie Colin, Swarovski’s Creative Director of consumer goods, who’ll give us some insights into the company’s brand strategy.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Nathalie, Swarovski has a very long history of technological innovations and quality. How does a company with such a heritage manage to innovate and stay contemporary?

Nathalie Colin: On the one side, we have a heritage and values that we need to protect and maintain. On the other side, it is our responsibility to balance the heritage with the need for change, in a careful and respectful way.

We pay a lot of respect to the heritage of Swarovski, and to the initial visionary approach of Daniel Swarovski who founded the company. At that time, it required a visionary strategy and out of the box thinking to found this company in the middle of Tyrol. Daniel Swarovski knew early on that innovation was key, and that networking and collaborating with artists and designers (Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli) was crucial to bring fresh ideas into the business.

From its very beginning back in 1895, Swarovski has been continuously exploring the extraordinary possibilities of crystal. And even now every step in our design process focuses on the same ambition: to push the boundaries of crystal.

Working with crystal is a given and I work with this in mind. I am particularly interested in various creative techniques with crystal: crystal mesh, pavé, stone set in stone, floating stone, exclusive faceted cut crystal stone, beading, embroideries, and Pointiage® -- a real craft couture technique where all stones are applied one by one by hand.

All these techniques open doors to endless creativity, especially when one can mix them together.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What about Swarovski’s co-operation with famous designers? I suppose this must be one of the important drivers that help create a contemporary brand image?

Nathalie Colin: It surely does! To give you an example, I am very pleased with our choice of inviting Harumi Klossowska de Rola as a guest designer the Spring-Summer 2011 season. One could say that Harumi is a Swarovski woman: modern, feminine, international, trendy, artistic, with an interesting personality.

She is also a muse, who has inspired photographers like Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Althur Elgort. Elegance and mystery have become her signature.

Swarovski Nymphe zip coin purse, SS 2011

Harumi is the daughter of internationally renowned painter Balthus and Japanese countess Setsuko. She has an intimate connection with the world of painting, and she herself also paints. Our iconic motive of the season, the butterfly, is also one of her favorite animals (she has a butterfly-shaped tatoo). She was very enthusiastic to design a butterfly-inspired theme for Swarovski. The delicacy of the jewelry theme she has designed is really stunning.  On a personal level, I do appreciate the international spirit of Harumi, her sensitivity, her taste for cultural diversity… and her great sense of humor!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What does the brand of Swarovski stand for?

Nathalie Colin: Creation, perfection and innovation are Swarovski’s key values.

Our approach to design combines femininity and emotion with the rigour of innovation, and attention to details. Some of the technics we have developed (like the

Swarovski Nature brooch SS 2011

handmade Pointiage™ technic) have helped us create a distinctive signature style, and yet allow every accessory look unique.

In terms of brand positioning, we call Swarovski a contemporary luxury brand (SCHMOOZY FOX calls this “new luxury” or “affordable luxury” -- O.S.)

This positioning reflects our offering of desirable products which are accessible and have a broad appeal.

It also allows us to to combine our expertise in jewelry and crystal established since 1895 with creativity, quality and innovation to enchant our consumers.

This concept embraces the idea that luxury is no longer about acquiring for status. Instead, it has become a life enhancing experience that is linked to emotional enrichment and enchantment. Contemporary luxury is not elitist, it belongs to everybody. Swarovski is all about experiential value: enchanting the world, inspiring new perspectives, enhancing lives.

DOLLL_MPAContemporary luxury is provided by a brand that represents credibility, emotion, accessibility and is open to your heart. And this is why people come in our stores.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you tell me about the job of a Creative Director for Swarovski? Do you come up with all the new product ideas?

Nathalie Colin: I was appointed by Swarovski as Creative Director in 2006.  It is a great feeling to know that the work done by our creative studio will be known by large audiences.

Due to the scale of the company, I have a wonderful work environment as well as support with a large team of in-house experts one could dream of when it comes to product innovation, quality, plating, etc.

Finally, I very much relate personally to the brand’s ambition to enchant the world. This is such a positive vision! This concept embraces the idea that luxury is no longer a material acquisition for status but instead has become a life enhancing experience that is linked to emotional enrichment and enchantment. Swarovski is all about this experiential value: enchanting the world, inspiring new perspectives, enhancing lives.

And I really feel connected with what the brand stands for: credibility, emotion, accessibility and openness to your heart. And this is why I love being Swarovski’s Creative Director and why people come in our stores!

MILADY_BagSCHMOOZY FOX: Tell me a little bit about how you work, is there some pattern that you follow to launch new collections?

Nathalie Colin: Yes, there’s definitely a pattern that I follow. For example, I always start by researching the overall mood of the coming season: what is our state of mind ? Will there be a season of ornamentation? A season of exuberance? Are we going back to the roots? Is it more about vintage revival or rather a modernistic approach?

Once key trends have been identified, mood boards are designed to show possible sources of inspiration and key design concepts.  These boards stress the key colour mood and focus on the key colour palette. Important details such as the design of unique stone cuts focus on specific techniques. Decisions of whether to mix crystal with other materials are worked through in the next design steps.

The design of exclusive crystal stones takes place early on, inasmuch as the development of special colour coatings. This requires support from the innovation & product development team. Other teams that support our design process are product development, marketing, quality, production and supply chain.

To give you an idea of my collection planning schedule, in September 2010 I already started working on the Spring - Summer 2012 collection and began to inspire related teams throughout the company. The design phase started in October/November. And the samples will be fully approved and completed by June 2011.

SCHMOOZY FOX: I like Swarovski’s characters -- Erika and Eliot. Is there a story about them?

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Nathalie Colin: Yes, there’s a beautiful story about them! Eliot and Erika were born from a single crystal egg, and at birth the fairies gave them the power to bring instant joy and poetry wherever they go. Originally named Elvis, our young hero returns as a budding artist and graffiti tagger under the pseudonym Eliot. Easily recognizable and exemplifying Swarovski’s unique creativity and know-how, Eliot and Erika re-appear every six months with brand new looks and accessories. Originally launched in the form of pendants, today Eliot and Erika appear on a whole range of Swarovski leather goods such as coin purses, clutches and even handbag charms. Since their debut in Spring/Summer 2008, the pair has become a great success, eagerly awaited each season by fans across the globe. Many other adventures are already planned for Eliot and Erika in the coming seasons.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the main highlights of Swarovski’s brand strategy? How does it plan to stay a very innovative, exciting and funky brand in the future?

ERIKA URBAN BEAT_KeyringNathalie Colin: Our key brand strategy objectives are work on the architecture concept, celebrity marketing initiatives and work on new market segments.

We plan to expand a new retail concept to the new and already existing retail network. Today, Swarovski is an international player with strong retail business of 1800  branded boutiques and other points of sale in all major fashion capitals around the world.

It is in the luxurious and world famous Ginza district in Tokyo that Swarovski showcased the utmost creative expression of the ‘Crystal Forest’ concept with the opening of its first Flagship Store at the end of March 2008. And in December 2009 we opened a new boutique on 146, avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris.

Speaking about the new retail concept, it has been designed by Tokujin Yoshioka as a multi-sensory experience, giving visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the seductive brilliance and infinite depths of crystal. We wanted the new retail architecture to surround the brand with a true crystal experience focused on pleasing the senses. We plan more than 150 openings this year and do have similar plans for the years to come.

Regarding celebrity marketing, since 1999, Swarovski has been deeply involved in the Cannes Film Festival, and since 2000 in the Academy Awards (the Oscars) and more recently as an official sponsor of the Toronto International Film Festival.

With a strong presence at major star-studded events such as the Grammy Awards, Golden Globes and Césars, internationally renowned celebrities such as Madonna, Sharon Stone, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Aishwarya Rai, Zhang Ziyi and Jennifer Aniston select Swarovski for their red carpet appearances, and this of course helps enhance the brand of Swarovski even further.

All images in this article are courtesy of Swarovski.

Kipling bags: attitude included

Kipling Helmet Bag

Funky and stylish Kipling bags are sold in 60 countries around the world. The story of Kipling (( the brand was named after writer Rudyard Kipling)) began in 1987 in Antwerp, when its founders decided to launch a brand of stylish bags with personality -- comfortable and far from boring.

The brand was later sold to private investors. In 2004 Kipling was acquired by VF Corporation, which marked the beginning of tremendous growth of the brand globally.

In order to reposition Kipling from sporty and casual to stylish, funky and contemporary, VF hired Isabelle Cheron, a former executive of Chanel and Celine, as the brand’s global Art Director.

For me personally, Kipling is a brand that owes its success to a carefully crafted and implemented brand strategy. I met Isabelle to discuss the rapid success of Kipling over the past years, as find out what makes it a Funky Brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: As Artistic Director of Kipling, which company functions are you responsible for at Kipling?

isabelle_cheron_01Isabelle Cheron: I have the overall responsibility of managing the Kipling brand worldwide. In practice, this includes overviewing Design, Marketing and Merchandising. At Kipling, these functions are very closely connected with each other, and managing them by the same person has resulted in many benefits for the organization and brand as a whole.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Do you have a background in design?

Isabelle Cheron: I studied business, but there’s also a very strong artistic side in me.  I often draw sketches of new bag models, and then my team of designers brings them to perfection. I certainly have an eye for good design and style, which helps me determine what new product launches would be in line with the overall brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What was your main objective regarding the overall brand strategy of Kipling when you joined the company?

Isabelle Cheron: I thought that Kipling had a lot of potential to continue being a brand of very functional bags, and yet I was convinced that it needed to become much more contemporary. I wanted to reveal its true exuberant personality, which became a bit hidden over the years. Importantly, the main objective was not to adapt the brand to a particular age group, but rather, make it into a statement of style, comfort and fun for active, modern women.

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SCHMOOZY FOX: Kipling surprises its customers with very innovative collections. From what I’ve noticed, each collection has a little surprise in it -- be it a totally new product, or a different twist added to existing models. How do you make sure that innovation remains at the core of the brand?

Isabelle Cheron: My own source of inspiration and creativity lies in observing women, what they like, what they find functional and stylish. For instance, you may observe that some women always, or mostly, wear high heels, and others -- hardly ever!

But what lies behind this observation? In fact, I think that women who wear high heels are completely different from those who don’t wear any heels! These differences are seen in their personality, the way they carry themselves, and even what they want from life.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And based on these differences, Kipling designs bags accordingly?

Isabelle Cheron: Absolutely! We observe women, we learn what they want, and what exactly they would find comfortable and attractive. For instance, during the upcoming Spring Summer 2011 collection, we’ll launch two new bag models: the DJ bag, and the Festival Bag.

Kipling DJ Bag

The former is an ultra-funky bag for women DJs, and has been designed after studying the needs and desires of many young women who work as DJs, and who have very unique needs that are inherent to their profession.

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The Festival Bag has been designed for concert and festival goers. It has foil-lined inner pockets that are extremely useful for carrying cans of soda. Even if your Coke spills out, your bag won’t suffer!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the company’s future plans in regard to Kipling’s brand strategy? How will you ensure that Kipling continues to be a Funky Brand?

Isabelle Cheron: We plan to improve our points of sales globally, as well as ensure that Kipling moves away from the image of casual (which some consumers still share) towards ultra-stylish and functional.

All images in this article have been provided courtesy of VF Corporation.