funky brands

Skunkfunk: edgy fashion from Bilbao

It was my last night in Lisbon. I’d had a great short break in this fun city, full of exuberant graffiti and little cosy restaurants serving grilled fish. My usual hunting for local funky brands, however, didn’t produce too many fantastic results, and it was too late to hope for anything spectacular. It was the time to have the final drinks in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto, not go shopping. But around 10 pm, when we were hopping from one bar to another, I noticed a store that was still open.  Skunkfunk, the sign said.  There was no way that a funky fashionista would miss a quick peek inside.

What I saw inside of the store pleasantly surprised me. Very original and happy clothes, and great bags and accessories, made from recyclable materials. Having acquired several items, I asked the shop assistant whether the brand was Portuguese. “No, it’s from Bilbao,” he said with a lot of excitement. “And they are so great, they support artists, and have really talented designers working for them.”

If a shop assistant of your franchise outlet has that much enthusiasm about your products, then your brand is probably doing a lot of things right. I wanted to find out more about Skunkfunk, and am happy to publish an interview with its founder and CEO,  Mikel Feijoo Elzo. Olga: When was Skunkfunk founded?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews

Mikel: It was launched in 1999. Before founding Skunkfunk, I had been buying and selling clothes simply to support my habit of traveling. Then I started a line of Tshirts that I was selling to festival-goers, and later on decided to create a full range, a brand. Without too much experience in the fashion industry, I launched Skunkfunk, planning to manufacture everything locally. Olga: Can you describe the brand of Skunkfunk in three words?

Mikel: Different. Lifestyle. Cosmopolitan.

Olga: How important is it for Skunkfunk to follow trends?

Mikel: Actually, we don’t call Skunkfunk trendy -- we don’t follow trends. We follow our own unique style, which is supported by a large team of in-house designers . They take care of the colors, fabrics, trims, prints and styles.

Olga: In how many countries do you sell?

Mikel: We are present in 44 coutnries, selling our products in 22 brand stores.

Olga: How could you describe your “typical” consumer?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2

Mikel: I would say that it’s a lady who travels, cares about style and comfort. She is an independent woman, and she likes to be different, and show her unique personality. She’s also someone who dares to carry a round hand bag, which looks extremely funky, but, let’s face it, not very practical. (Laughing). Olga:  Some articles about Skunkfunk that I’ve read refer to Skunkfunk as a sustainable brand. Is it a good way to describe your company?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1

Mikel: I think a better word to use in relation to Skunkfunk would be “conscious”. There are many fashion brands that call themselves green, for example, but to be perfectly honest, if we followed the principles of sustainability, we wouldn’t need so many clothes altogether, would we?  Trends change way too often, and to comply with trends, more and more fashion is being produced, and transported around the globe. The fact that we consciously don’t follow the trends, contributes to sustainability. You can buy your clothes at Skunkfunk, and they will last several seasons.  We use sustainable fibers to manufacture clothes and accessories.

Olga: A shop assistant at your store in Lisbon was very enthusiastic about your collaborations with artists. How do you collaborate with them and what would you like to achieve through these collaborations?

Mikel: Since we have a large in-house team of designers, working with independent artists is a way of bringing in new inspiration to the company, and freshness to our collections. We don’t only work with graphic artists, by the way. We sometimes challenge other types of artists -- the ones who have never worked with textile before. We ask them to create art on a canvas that is going to be worn by people. They like these challenges, and they often result in freshness and creativity, benefitting the final consumers of Skunkfunk.

Olga: What are Skunkfunk’s plans for 2013?

Mikel: We’d like to start seling in East Asia  and Brazil. And of course, we will also seek continuous improvement in all areas of the business, trying to be better in terms of service delivery, sustainability, design -- everything you can think of.

Olga: Thank you, Mikel, and I wish you and the whole of the team at Skunkfunk a very productive and successful 2013.

The power of brand endorsements

Trust builds brands If some of my readers are into consulting, or any other type of services business, no doubt they are very well aware of the power of recommendations. A former client making a referral about you to a prospect, a powerful recommendation of your skills and achievements on LinkedIn, Klout +K’s that you collect -- any of these can signal trust, an essential element for building good brands. Likewise, if you are an author, the praise given to your new book by other authors or famous people is crucial, and can boost the sales of your book.

The Thank You Economy
The Thank You Economy

Our brain seems to be wired to perceive endorsements, recommendations and word-of-mouth in a very special way.

In particular, before we make a decision to proceed with a high-value project, we seem to give a lot of weight to the recommendations of our trusted friends and partners.

Whether it’s a need for a strategy for your business for the next 3 years, or a new house for your family, you need to be able to trust the people who will be delivering this high-involvement, high-value service.

Celebrity endorsements - the glitz and glamor of branding

The dynamics of building trust have been studied in various fields -- psychology, marketing, and diplomacy, to name a few. In relation to brand strategy, a subject that has been studied particularly well is celebrity endorsements that are used to support launches of new products, or infuse a new life into existing ones. This technique can infuse your product with an instant dose of glamor and glitz, which, in  its turn, leads to higher sales of the product being endorsed.

Face value

Jimmy Wales Wikipedia
Jimmy Wales Wikipedia

These days, celebrity endorsements are omnipresent. Lana del Rey for H&M, George Clooney for Nespresso, or Jimmy Wales for Maurice Lacroix -- it seems that all it takes is to pair up a handsome famous face next to a product in order to make it a market success.

Many companies have used the strategy of celebrity endorsements to build their brands. And I am not only talking about big brands that have enough cash to pay celebrities -- even some startups have chosen celebrity endorsements as a sure way to become known and reach for the stars.

But wait a minute. Why would a person whom we don’t actually know, just because of her celebrity status, be able to grow your product sales only by saying that she uses a certain brand of smart phone, car or lipstick? Do customers really experience immediate trust towards a product, supported by a famous person -- even if they don’t rationally know that much about the celebrity in question?

Forget the rational

And here’s my advice -- when it comes to celebrity endorsements, forget the rational aspects of consumer behavior. Before we continue looking at the dynamics of celebrity endorsements, let’s keep this in mind: ninety-five per cent of our thoughts, emotions, and decisions, including decisions to buy a product endorsed by a celebrity, cannot be referred to as ‘rational’. According to Gerald Zaltman, a marketing professor at Harvard, and author of How Customers Think (( Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 2003 )), most of our decisions take place without our conscious awareness. So, when your customers are looking at your new ad featuring a famous model or Hollywood superstar carrying the bag that you produce, they don’t start analyzing why they find your ad appealing. Something much more powerful takes place in their subconscious minds, so let’s take a look at how this works, from the point of view of neuroscience.

KimCattrall
KimCattrall

Famous faces help sell shoes

In a recent study published by Journal of Economic Psychology, Dutch researcher Mirre Stallen (( Mirre Stallen et al., Celebrities and shoes on the female brain: The neural correlates of product evaluation in the context of fame, Journal of Economic Psychology 31, 2010, 802-811 )) looked into how products appearing next to faces of famous, vs non-famous, women, activated the brains of respondents. During the experiment, twenty-three young Dutch women were exposed to images of shoes accompanied by faces of celebrities, as well as faces of non-famous women. When the images of shoes were paired with famous faces, the areas of the brain responsible for processing emotional stimuli, were more likely to get activated than in cases when shoes were paired with faces of non-celebrities. Also, the brain activity showed that positive feelings about celebrities were easily transferred onto positive feelings towards the shoes shown to respondents.  The young women who participated in the study said that “they'd be more likely to buy the shoes associated with a celebrity's face, as long as the shoes were ones they believed the celebrities didn't already own.” (( Source: Psychology Today ))

Persuasiveness of fame

If celebrity endorsements are not a technique that is relevant to your product, get inspired by the dynamics of this branding strategy anyway. The important point to keep in mind here is that building trust is essential to building strong brands. Find your brand ambassadors, online influencers and trusted business partners, and if you manage to get their appreciation of your work expressed in the public domain -- be it your LinkedIn profile, the cover of your upcoming book, or a referral during a networking event -- their ‘fame’ and status will propel your brand to success.

Reaching_for_the_stars_schmoozy_fox
Reaching_for_the_stars_schmoozy_fox

Clearly defined brands influence purchasing decisions

running track
running track

A strong brand can benefit your business in many ways. It sets you aside from the competition. It builds customer loyalty. It eliminates search costs for people who look for products, but don't have enough time to sort through the clutter of product information available, both off and online.

One of the attributes of strong brands is that they have clearly defined positioning - a framework of associations that a brand triggers in the minds (and hearts) of those who come across it.

Clearly defined positioning is a powerful thing to have for any brand. In my own experience of working on brand positioning projects, I often notice a tendency of businesses to try to include too many associations as part of the positioning of their product and services brands, which makes the task of setting a brand aside from its competitors quite challenging.

The rule of thumb about positioning is this -- it has to be clear and succinct. Recent findings of modern neuroscience can help entrepreneurs position their brands in clearly defined ways. The brain sorts out different types of information according to whether "it has to do with knowledge (the concrete characteristics of an object, such as its name, its appearance or its physical properties), experience (which includes information about interacting with an object or idea), or emotion (the feelings, positive or negative, brought to mind by an object or idea)." ((The Business of Brands, Collective intelligence for marketing today, by MillwardBrown, p. 12))

These types of characteristics about a product or service are stored in three different neural networks. When we think about a brand in question, our brain "pulls out" corresponding information about it from each of the three networks.

So, if you develop your brand positioning around each of these 3 factors in clear and succinct ways, your customers' brains will retrieve your brand associations more readily. "In this way, a representation of a brand is no different than any other representation: one that comes together quickly and easily is more likely to influence a decision at the point of purchase." (( ibid. ))

Use (any) images to build your brand

Images play a powerful role in our decisions to buy many products. Have you ever caught yourself choosing between two magazines on the shelf of your local press shop just on the basis of which has prettier pictures on the cover page? Or paying just a bit more for a package of tea, if it's pretty, or a bottle of shampoo, if it's more attractive than the one standing just beside it? I guess the honest answer would be a firm "yes" for most of us.

The human brain just seems to need visual stimulation for better decision making. On top of that, most of the population on planet Earth can be described as "visual thinkers",  the subject I addressed in one of my previous posts, Is your web site sticky enough?

 

Marketing specialists have been using this knowledge for decades, trying to make their advertising content relevant and engaging. And that’s exactly what it often comes down to -- making images relevant to what the product or brand needs to express. This seems to be especially important for anyone who’s managing and developing brands in social media, having to select catchy images that support any written content, catching the attention of your Facebook fan, so that she spends just a couple of seconds more on your page. Familiar situation, right?

But a study recently carried out by the School of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand reveals even more astonishing facts about how the human brain perceives images. The study “Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness” suggests that “text is more credible when accompanied by photos, even when the photos don’t support the point of the text!” (( Source: Persuade with Pictures, http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/persuade-with-pictures.htm ))

 

In four experiments, academics examined the impact of nonprobative information on truthiness, which refers to subjective feeling of truth.

 

“In Experiments 1A and 1B, people saw familiar and unfamiliar celebrity names and, for each, quickly responded "true" or "false" to the (between-subjects) claim "This famous person is alive" or "This famous person is dead." Within subjects, some of the names appeared with a photo of the celebrity engaged in his or her profession, whereas other names appeared alone. For unfamiliar celebrity names, photos increased the likelihood that the subjects would judge the claim to be true. Moreover, the same photos inflated the subjective truth of both the "alive" and "dead" claims, suggesting that photos did not produce an "alive bias" but rather a "truth bias." Experiment 2 showed that photos and verbal information similarly inflated truthiness, suggesting that the effect is not peculiar to photographs per se. Experiment 3 demonstrated that nonprobative photos can also enhance the truthiness of general knowledge claims (e.g., Giraffes are the only mammals that cannot jump). These effects add to a growing literature on how nonprobative information can inflate subjective feelings of truth.”  (( Source: Abstract of the new study, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22869334 ))

The main point here is this:  as a manager who wants to build powerful branded content, you now have more freedom to work with images, which, as the study above shows, are worth even much more than a thousand words.

 

Source: The Neuromarketing blog by Roger Dooley

 

Design thinking vs analytical thinking

 

Funky brands have one thing in common as far as their brand strategy goes -- design. Design is not an afterthought for them, it's something that drives an entire organization. Think Alessi, or Camper shoes, for example.

 

"The impact is undeniable when a company like Apple puts so much extra effort into making its products and marketing look “cool,” as well as ensuring that its look is unified and communicates the level of innovation that the organization prides itself on. And the business community clearly admires the company's dedication to overall design." ((Source: Fast Company www.fastcompany.com/3002635/design-thinking-starts-top))

 

Why could design-focused strategies build your brand in better ways than strategies based on "analytical thinking", e.g. financial data? First of all, it's all too common to build your strategy upon analytical thinking, and many executives are used to relying on data. Thinking in terms of improving product design is simply not common, especially in big companies (with an important exception of Apple).

 

"Design thinking, in contrast, provides the ideas that allow a company to innovate and win; it’s more of a collaborative process where creativity is welcomed, no idea is ridiculed, and the designer’s input is welcomed to help match a consumer need with what is technically feasible and a viable business strategy. A fresh, out-of-the-box attitude is brought to bear on problem-solving, rather than a strict engineering or financial perspective." ((Source: Fast Company, www.fastcompany.com/3002635/design-thinking-starts-top)

 

For big companies, moving away from analytical thinking towards design thinking may seem like an impossibly huge task. But if you are a small and agile company, think in terms of customer-focused design, and you might as well win the hearts of your target audience.

 

MINI: an exciting drive

Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox
Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox

A small car with distinctive design, and a rich brand history -- that’s MINI. MINI, a brand owned by the BMW Group, has been on my funky brand radar screen for a while -- I mentioned it on my blog back in 2009, in my post On cute little brands and MINI.

MINI fits my Schmoozy Fox’s description of Funky Brands very well, as it owes its market success to a combination of outstanding design and smart brand strategies. An important part of MINI’s brand vision throughout the years since its launch in the 1950s has been careful nurturing of the fun and excitement factors, which are inherent to MINI’s brand DNA. Today, I am happy to bring to you an in-depth story about MINI, told by my interviewee Philipp Thomssen, Head of Advertising and Community marketing at MINI. Take a glimpse at what MINI’s brand managers have done in order to reinforce the car’s emotional appeal to its customers around the world.

Olga: The brand of MINI celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009. How does a brand with such a long history manage to stay contemporary?

Philipp: Launched in 1959, revived and reinvented in 2001, MINI has quickly evolved from a one-model niche player into a premium car brand with a diverse portfolio. In 2001 it was important to refresh the potential of the classical MINI, to make it a modern product and to build a strong brand by focusing on its emotional appeal. In the worldwide perspective it was necessary to position MINI in a coherent way as an independent brand, whose core was about excitement. The market introduction´s basics endure till today.

The premise was to link an outstanding product with a modern design which still takes up the old iconic character of a MINI. Our product is characterized by its emotional design, outstanding product substance and progressive technology, and agile driving behavior as well as his almost unlimited options in customizing the car. A further significant point is maintaining the right balance of continuity of a brand now going back 50 years and its innovative potential. It was a challenge to position MINI as the first premium brand in the small car market. This was achieved by a consequent brand management and highly motivated team.

Olga: How could you summarize the main characteristics of the MINI brand?


Philipp: A MINI is more than a car. It is like a friend! It is pure “Excitement”.
 MINI is positioned worldwide as a unique and fully independent brand in its own – a brand revolving around the concept of enthusiasm and thrilling lifestyle. Our communication allows us to position MINI in a coherent way – worldwide. The marketing and communication strategy is characterized by the alignment as a premium brand with an international positioning and a clear orientation towards the demands of our existing customers and extended target groups.

MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox
MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox

Olga: What is a profile of a typical consumer of MINI cars?

Philipp: MINI aims to take over new target groups in modern milieus. Those tend to be well-funded, very demanding based on a very individual lifestyle and their part of the population is growing.

The consumers are mostly 25 to 45 years old and work in a creative environment. They are open towards new trends and are spontaneous. Aesthetics and design looms large for them – in purchases decisions as well as in their daily life.

A MINI is not a status symbol, but an expression of personality.  It´s not about the size, it is about the substance and individuality. MINI is a car build for an urban area, no matter what country they live in.

 Olga: Does MINI have a “nationality”? Is it positioned as a German car with British heritage, or is the origin irrelevant in MINI’s brand positioning?


Philipp: Today’s MINI is not imaginable without its British origin and heritage. MINI has always been a British car and still today there are cars produced in the so called MINI Production Triangle (Plant Hams Hall, Oxford and Swindon). Of course MINI as a brand is managed in Germany. But beside these facts we understand and steer MINI as an international brand.

 Olga: What are the countries in which MINI is especially popular?

Philipp: In 2012 the U.S. of America has been the biggest market for MINI with 19.911(+6.0% compared to 2011) sold units till April. In Europe the UK (13.169 units) and Germany (12.385 units) registered the biggest sales. A plus of 25% in sales made China an exceptional market with already 6.911 sold MINIs.

MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox
MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

Olga: What are the factors that explain phenomenal success of MINI around the world?

Philipp: On the one hand, it might be explained by the fact that the audience is very similar all over the world. Hence this international identity offered a chance to position MINI worldwide in a very coherent way.

On the other hand, the success of MINI can be explained by its emotional attraction and the nuanced product line-up. In the long term we aim to offer up to ten different versions of MINI, in doing so we want to grow at a steady and sustainable rate.

Olga: What MINI models exist now, and are there any plans to launch new models, or limited editions?

Philipp: There are six MINI models right now (Hatch, Convertible, Clubman, Countryman, Coupé, Roadster). The seventh family member, the MINI Paceman will debut in Fall 2012.

Our sub-brand John Cooper Works, which has its roots in racing, currently offers five models: The MINI John Cooper Works, the MINI John Cooper Works Convertible, the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman, the MINI John Cooper Works Coupé and the MINI John Cooper Works Roadster. Later this year, the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman and the MINI John Cooper Works GP will be introduced.

As MINI is committed to the environment and sustainability we launched the  MINI E global test-fleet back in 2008. Test-user all over the world have helped us to improve our first MINI powered only by electricity.

Olga: Could you share some of the marketing activities in 2012-2013 that you plan to carry out to sustain and grow the brand of MINI worldwide?

Philipp: There are more exciting brand activities to come. MINI will surprise with creative launch campaigns in those communication channels that we consider to be more and more important. In this context we will focus on online communications and social media, without ignoring the classic communication channels, such as advertising, commercials, sponsoring and cooperation, guerilla-marketing and others.

MINI_family_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox
MINI_family_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

All photos in this article have been provided courtesy of MINI.© 2012 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews™  is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

Alessi: passion for design

Alessi is a brand from Italy which has already featured in my list of Funky Brands™ on Pinterest and in one of my previous blog posts,  Funky Brands from around the world: Italy.  

Today I am happy to publish my in-depth interview with Matteo Alessi, the company’s director of marketing, international sales and development in Europe, and also the first member of Alessi’s 4th generation to work for this family business. I spoke with Matteo about Alessi’s brand strategy, the role of design and open innovation in its business development, and am happy to share this conversation with you today.

Olga Slavkina: Matteo, if you had to explain Alessi’s brand to someone who’s never heard about it, what would you say?

Matteo Alessi:I would probably focus on our mission on the market. I would say that Alessi is a mediator between the world of applied art and design on the one hand, and consumers, on the other hand. Alessi makes sure that great design finds its expression in products that people like you and me can buy, and use in their homes.

Olga Slavkina: In practical terms, how do you bring art and design to the market? Does Alessi employ a lot of designers?

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Matteo_Alessi_portrait
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Matteo_Alessi_portrait

Matteo Alessi:Not at all. In fact, we don’t have any designers working for us full time! Instead, we have a pool of about 200 independent designers that we work with. Whenever we have a request for a specific product, we tap into this pool, and work with someone who we think would be the best person to design it.

Olga Slavkina: What are the advantages of working with freelance designers as opposed to hiring them?

Matteo Alessi:the keyword here is creativity. We want to collaborate with creative people who are free in their own work. For us, it makes much more sense to work with freelance designers who work for different companies, not just one. We believe that this feeds their creativity, so their designs end up being very creative, too.

Sometimes we call Alessi a Dream Factory -- because we help designers realize their dreams, and realize themselves. We never tell them, “Please design a table of this color and this shape”. Instead, we say, “Do what feels right to you.” The key to achieving good results in our work with designers is simply to be open to their creativity.  Instead of doing extensive market research, asking our current and potential customers what kinds of products they would like Alessi to produce, we come straight to the designers and artists. We think that asking the market about what it wants, and then telling the designer what she needs to deliver, limits her creativity. Perhaps our approach is quite unconventional, but it is certainly a very important element of our brand strategy. We call it open innovation.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Girotondo_Tray_design King-Kong 1984
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Girotondo_Tray_design King-Kong 1984

Olga Slavkina: Do you work with designers individually, or do you also have any initiatives which allow them to work in teams, on larger projects maybe?

Matteo Alessi:As I mentioned, creativity is a very important word in the world of Alessi. It’s one of our key brand values. Of course, we work individually, but we also have large-scale initiatives dedicated to creativity. For instance, we often organize workshops on different aspects of creativity. They are attended by many artists, designers, sculptors and other kinds of creative people. Sometimes these workshops have very concrete goals, but sometimes we leave them a bit more open. They benefit those who participate in them, and of course, they also benefit Alessi. These workshops feed Alessi’s passion for creativity and design -- the values around which Alessi’s brand revolves.

Olga Slavkina: Could you give an example some of Alessi’s recent creativity workshop?

Matteo Alessi:Sure, I could mention a workshop that we ran with the municipality of Beijing in September 2011. The name of this project was (Un)Forbidden City. It involved work with 8 chinese architects who were our workshop participants. Alessi didn’t have any concrete objective in mind when we were organizing this workshop. Instead, we simply wanted to feel the pulse of the architecture in Beijing, we wanted to have a better understanding of it, so a creativity workshop was a good way of doing that.

Olga Slavkina: I’ve noticed that on your web site, products can be searched and viewed by the name of the designer who created them. This is actually the first time I come across a company which acknowledges the role of the designer to such an extent. It must be very valuable for the artists and designers who collaborate with you -- and for their personal brands.

Matteo Alessi:Indeed, all of the products that you can see on our sites are strongly associated with the names of those who created them. It’s simply Alessi’s way of showing our respect to the creative force which is at the core of our company. And of course, it also benefits designers and their careers. This is true both for emerging designers, and also for those who have already established themselves as well-known creatives.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Juicy Salif_Citrus squeezer_design Philippe Starck 1990
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Juicy Salif_Citrus squeezer_design Philippe Starck 1990

Olga Slavkina: Can you think of any cases when an unknown designer’s career and personal brand became famous as a result of a collaboration with Alessi?

Matteo Alessi:When we began to work with Philippe Starck in 1986, he was already establishing himself as a strong designer, but I think Alessi played an important role in helping him become very well-known. In fact, I think this is probably true to every collaboration between Alessi and each of the designers in our pool. It’s great to be able to play such an important role in the careers of so many creative people. Alessi certainly improves their personal brands by helping them associate their work with our brand name. Alessi is known for its truthfulness to designers, and their style and honesty in the way we work with them, so all of our collaborations are win-win.

Olga Slavkina: How can a company with such a long artisan tradition stay up-to-date and contemporary?

Matteo Alessi:Alessi was established 91 years ago, so indeed it has a long history of making high-quality products. At the beginning, it manufactured products for other companies, and actually, its own company name was different. It wasn't until the 80s that Alberto Alessi decided to make products under Alessi’s brand name.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_9093_Kettle_design Michael Graves 1985
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_9093_Kettle_design Michael Graves 1985

Our products have been and are hand made, with the help of machines. It is still all very artisan. In this sense, we stay true to our roots. This is because quality is very important for us, and we want to continue paying a lot of attention to details, durability, functionality and quality of the manufacturing process. On the other hand, the brand manages to stay contemporary through design.

There isn’t any particular “traditional” style that we want to preserve, on the contrary, we are interested in bringing very avant-garde, unusual products on the market. Perhaps this is Alessi’s style!

Olga Slavkina: Are Alessi’s most avant-garde products sold under the Officina Alessi line? Which other product lines can you mention?

Matteo Alessi: Alessi has 3 different product lines, depending on the average price point, and some other factors. Officina Alessi is our line which offers exclusive products sold as part of limited editions. This line allows us to experiment with new materials, and gives us an opportunity to try very innovative, avant-garde, designs. As the other two lines -- A di Alessi and Alessi, Officina Alessi is available in each of our 25 flagship stores worldwide, as well as some other carefully selected points of sales.

Olga Slavkina: How could you describe Alessi’s “typical” consumers? Could you call them design aficionados?

Matteo Alessi:Yes and no. I think that besides being knowledgeable about design, these are the people who simply have an emotional reaction to our products. In other words, you don’t need to be a specialist in design in order to appreciate the presence of Alessi’s products in your home.

But if you simply like our products, and can connect with them emotionally, and you feel that they are part of you, and your home, then you’ll probably be attracted to many of Alessi’s products.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Magic Bunny_Toothpick holder_design Stefano Giovannoni 1998
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Magic Bunny_Toothpick holder_design Stefano Giovannoni 1998

Olga Slavkina: Could you share with the readers of the Schmoozy Fox Blog your vision -- personal and professional -- for Alessi’s development in the near future?

Matteo Alessi:On a personal level, I would very much like to establish distribution of Alessi’s products in Russia and Eastern Europe. On a broader, company level I’d like to continue with the open innovation approach, and explore such trends as eco-design, minimalistic design, and other contemporary styles and trends.

Olga Slavkina: Thank you very much for this interview, and I wish you a lot of success in your very creative job.

All photos in this article have been provided courtesy of Alessi.© 2012 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews™  is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

Confused about your brand positioning? Stop advertising

If I asked you what kind of associations you had about Nutella, the sweet and gooey spread, oh so full of calories?  

Maybe you'd remember how you indulged in Nutella when you were a kid. How much fun it is for your kids. That it's an occasional treat you'd give your kids after they've eaten their dinner.

 

But my guess is that very few of you would  refer to this product as "healthy and nutritious." Fruit and vegetables are healthy and nutritious, but  sugar-packed sweet spread? Not really, even if it's made from "natural ingredients" as the ad in this blog post states.

 

In fact, I think that the extent to which it is "natural" is not the main reason why people buy it. We buy it because it's fun, period. And there's actually nothing wrong with being all about fun.

 

So, why did Ferrero (the company which owns the Nutella brand) choose to communicate something so different in its recent advertising campaign? And, as a result, went through a class action suit, having to compensate $3 mln for stating false claims about the product?

 

There may be many reasons to it, but the one that comes to my mind is that people at Ferrero simply forgot what the brand of Nutella is all about. They temporarily forgot its positioning.

 

Finding the most advantageous brand positioning is like building a good, solid foundation for your house. I do a lot of work on positioning with startups and small companies, as well as with bigger companies which are in the process of changing something -- be it their visual identity, or business strategy.

 

Big companies, too, should regularly check if their foundation is still solid. If it's still what it used to be, and if it holds the house properly.  For big, established brands, even small tweaks in positioning should never happen without rethinking the whole of the brand strategy, and possibly, changing the product itself.

 

If you have the slightest doubt whether your positioning truly reflects your main brand values, my tip to you is, stop and rethink it. Don't advertise just yet.

 

Source: The Truly Deeply blog

 

 

Building Russian brands

Last week I participated -- as a panel speaker and attendee - in the Global Russia Meeting hosted by the government of Luxembourg. Organized by Horasis, an independent think tank based in Zurich, and dubbed as a “world economic forum for emerging markets” , the event brought together many prominent business and political leaders from Russia, Europe and the United States.  

Addressed through different panels, discussions about Russia focused on such topics as entrepreneurship, business growth overseas, innovating the Silicon-valley way, and of course, branding. Selected as one of the panelists for the discussion entitled Building Russian Brands, I shared my views on what would make Russian companies successful internationally.

 

RUSSIAN BRANDS GLOBALLY

According to one of the panel speakers, Tony Cowling from TNS, several agencies, including his own, frequently publish lists of brands which can be considered global. Most of the times, Russian brands are present there in a tiny minority.

Whereas a few Russian brand names, such as Lukoil , Standard Vodka and the girls pop group Tatu, (( which gained mainstream recognition with their release of “All the Things She Said” several years ago)) who may be known internationally, many others rarely make it to the brandscape of international consumers, unless they target a specific niche.  In order to get an idea of what of Russian brands my own non-Russian friends were familiar with, I posted a quick informal survey on my Facebook profile prior to the event.

What often comes to the mind of the Western European consumer in terms of Russian brands, within the limits of my very informal survey, is not always names of commercialized brands. Instead, it’s often a series of symbols and associations, related to the image of Russia. Think matryoshkas and even the Bear, with the latter playing the role of the unofficial “brand mascot” of Russia (Read more about brand mascots here).

But as soon as you begin to explore more niche brands, you might discover that more Russian brands get on the international brand horizon. Among them are, for example, Digital October, a startup incubator in Moscow, known by the international web and tech startup community. Or Garage, a contemporary art center in Moscow that many art lovers around the world have surely heard about.

BRAND STRATEGY IS THE ANSWER

But do Russian brands need to strive for international recognition? And if yes, what benefits can it give them? First of all, the more quality Russian products appear on international markets, the better it will benefit the overall image of Russia long term. Secondly, there’s a strong link between having a successful brand and a sizable market share, as mentioned by another panel speaker, Givi Topchishvili, CEO of New York based Global Advertising Strategies.  Third, the scarcity of Russian brands on the international brandscape presents a rare opportunity for them. By learning to think strategically in terms of their brand development, Russian brands would make the first important step towards market success.  Placed in the framework of a coherent strategy, which begins from a clear definition of value proposition, and ends with knowing how to capture the hearts and minds of the target consumer, Russian brands will begin to position themselves as competitive players on international markets.

And what about the necessary ingredients Russian brands would need to use in order to make their brand strategies successful? In this respect, two important elements come to mind: design (both product design and visual identity as a whole, including web design) as well as better use of the web. With Russian being my mother tongue, I often visit sites of Russian companies, only to find old-fashioned design and complex user interfaces. Better looking and better functioning products and web sites are the required ingredients of successful brands.

Some Russian brands have understood this, and involved international brand and marketing experts early on in their brand strategy development. Such was the case of Standard Vodka, which relied on international brand, marketing and advertising agencies to shape its identity, launch the product, and set a long-term brand strategy framework. Outstanding design was not an after-thought, but an important element of Standard’s brand strategy.

IMPORTANCE OF SUCCESS LOCALLY

Although very few Russian brands are enjoying international fame, there are a few success stories if we look at the local market. In fact, the measure of brand success of Russian companies may be related to how fast, and for how much money, they are acquired by large international corporations. And such cases abide. Think of Unilever acquiring Concern Kalina, a Russian producer of cosmetics. Or PepsiCo buying Wim-Bill-Dann, a Russian juice and dairy group. PepsiCo is now launching its Quaker cereals under the name Chudo (“Miracle”)- one of the existing successful brand names in Wim-Bill-Dann’s portfolio, and there are even some speculations that the multinational intends to sell some of the products in its Russian portfolio abroad. Maybe such a roundabout way -- first becoming strong locally, then hitting overseas markets under the umbrella of PepsiCo, Danone or Unilever -- is a way for Russian brands to expand abroad?

 

 

To summarize, success of Russian brands will depend on how quickly they realize that brand strategy cannot be an afterthought, but key to overall business development.

 

Only by shaping and implementing a smart brand strategy framework will Russian brands set themselves on the path of market success internationally.

Belgian business magazines Trends and Trends Tendances write about Funky Brands™

Today, the Belgian business magazines Trends Tendances (in French) and Trends (in Dutch) published a story about my Funky Brands™ philosophy.  In this story, I define Funky Brands as remarkable products which stand out from the crowd due to their astonishing design and smart brand strategy. I talk about not-too-funky companies which compete solely on cost, discuss what kinds of products have the potential of becoming funky, and mention examples of existing Funky Brands -- Ice Watch, Theo, Vespa, NewTree and Mini. Below you can see an article in French which was written by editor of Trends Tendances, Camille van Vyve. The photo in the article is by Michael Chia, a Brussels-based photographer whom I interviewed before.

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?

 

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.

Why marketing folks like marketing frameworks

In this video, Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and author of Predictably Irrational (a great read), talks about marketing frameworks. He gives an example of a marketing class that he once taught to a group of executive MBAs at MIT. It's a rather entertaining example, and I am sure that many of you will find it amusing. Enjoy, and have a good weekend.  

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.