funky design

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

Anders Wall, CEO of Biomega, talks about city biking as a new luxury

The MN bike by Biomega

Having talked about square wheels in the previous interview featuring a Swiss watch brand Maurice Lacroix, today our focus is on round wheels -- a Danish brand of bikes called Biomega. Launched in 1998 by an industrial designer Jens Martin Skibsted, Biomega is a company that has been building its brand through a rigorous strategy of brand partnerships. Through co-operation with PUMA and such world-famous designers as Marc Newson, Ross Lovegrove and Karim Rachid, as well with its bikes featuring in permanent collections of art museums, the brand of Biomega has occupied a very interesting niche on the bike market: a stylish, funky and functional luxury item for use in the city. Today I am happy to host Anders Wall, CEO of Biomega who shares his views on city bikes and funky brands.

Anders Wall

SCHMOOZY FOX: Anders, the name Biomega sounds a bit like it could be a brand of healthy food or vitamins. Could you tell me the story behind the brand name?

Anders Wall: Indeed, some people also think that there is something “bio” about it. But in reality, the name was conceived as “bi omega” which visually would look like this ΩΩ. Two letters "omega" put together do look like a bike.  Later on the name took a life of its own, and there’s no such association in customers’ minds.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Did Biomega follow a strategy of brand partnerships and co-operation with famous designers right from the beginning?

Anders Wall: Jens Martin Skibsted, the founder of Biomega, has designed most of the bike models. But indeed, Biomega was set to build its brand through partnerships with such famous designers as Marc Newson early on.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s the brand philosophy of Biomega? How are you reinventing the wheel?

The Boston bike

Anders Wall: We think that a bicycle is often portrayed as a product consisting of many spare parts, rather than a complete whole. The “spare part” brand discourse is very typical to most bike brands, and it’s very rare that they address the values and needs of consumers other than technical performance. For Biomega, a bike is based on the concepts of integration, drivability, durability and visibility. By integration, we mean that a bike is one whole that can bring a lot of aesthetic value to the owner. By drivability, we mean that a bike should be easy to drive, fast in acceleration and quick in braking. Durability refers to the fact that our bikes will last. All of these qualities are important to keep in mind when a new model of Biomega bike is conceived and designed. And finally, visibility means that our bikes must make both the product and the user noticeable. Our products stand out in the crowd, and so does the person who's using the bike!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Why do you refer to Biomega bikes as New Luxury?

Anders Wall: Bikes and biking as a process in general is hardly ever associated with luxury. Biomega does add luxury to bikes, primarily through superior design. What’s important is that Biomega bikes are meant to be used only in the city. Through their ease of use and funky design they in fact compete with cars! In this sense, owning an astonishing bike with luxurious design as opposed to having to sit in traffic jams becomes a true luxury.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How much does it cost to own such an object of new luxury?

Anders Wall: The majority of our bikes cost around 1.200-1.500 Euro. Our special models like the MN is more expensive (prices start at around 3.500 Euro). Our most exclusive bike, a carbon version of the MN with special components, is sold at the price at 6.500 Euro. Our bikes are distributed through design stores,  as well as selected bicycle stores.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Besides co-operation with famous designers, Biomega also went into brand partnerships. Could you speak about Biomega’s partnership with Puma?

Anders Wall: We have worked on a brand partnership with Puma for five years now. The brand partnership was based on the Biomega model Boston, which was created in special versions for the Puma brand stores around the world. These Puma versions carried both the Puma and the Biomega logo, and were unique in colors. Last year, our partnership was taken further and we are now a licensee of Puma. In the coming months we will introduce a new range of Puma bicycles – 5 models in total – which have been designed and produced by Biomega. Where the previous bikes were only sold in Puma brand stores, the new range will be sold through bike stores all over the world and online. This is a very exiting new business for both Puma and Biomega.

SCHMOOZY FOX: To what extent do you think Biomega can be called a Funky Brand?

Anders Wall, CEO of Biomega

Anders Wall (smiling): I think that SCHMOOZY FOX’s definition of funky brands is very much in line with Biomega’s philosophy. We are small (there are only 6 employees at Biomega!) but a very agile company. We think we have created a great company culture and built the business through a very rigorous brand strategy right from the start. The funky aspects are certainly seen by the final customer, but only few people realize that behind this there’s a lot of very meticulous business and brand strategy work done within the company! We’re also outward rather than inward-looking, and through our brand partnerships we have achieved a global reach.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Do you bike to the office?

Anders Wall: I live outside of Copenhagen, and actually take a train every day. But once I am in the city, I of course bike! I own several models of Biomega, including the MN model. After all, apart from being a CEO, I am also Biomega’s brand ambassador, and I very much enjoy it!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thank you, Anders!

How funky brands can be profitable

D&Gperfume In one of my previous entries, called Funky Brands Defined, I published a list of attributes shared by most Funky Brands™.

An important one is the fact that they are not driven by innovative and creative ideas alone, but are or have the potential to be profitable. This, of course, requires a good deal of  business development and brand building work done.

In today's post, I want to talk about how your brand can benefit and become profitable from mass luxury brand positioning.

Mass luxury (often referred to as affordable luxury or new luxury) brand management essentially combines characteristics of building brands that have the luxury and exclusivity appeal, with techniques that can lead to relatively high sales volumes.

My marketing professor at ESSEC (a Paris-based business school famous for its luxury marketing program) was a former Armani guy. He certainly knew a lot about sustaining those "old luxury" brands like Chanel and Gucci (and Armani, of course). But he was nevertheless fascinated how some innovative companies managed to combine classical Kotler marketing with  the know-how of luxury brand management by building extremely funky brands in the mass luxury segment.

Some of these brands were created completely from scratch (for example, Coach and Victoria's Secret in the US, Agent Provocateur in the UK, and a Dutch brand Marlies Dekkers whose founder spoke in an interview on this blog), and others were born under the umbrella of already existing "true luxury" brands (for instance, Armani Exchange as a modest brother of the brand Giorgio Armani).  Over the past decade or so, many brands were launched to satisfy a desire for a better lifestyle expressed by wealthier middle class eager to splash out on previously unaccessible items.

So, what can you learn from mass luxury brands in order to make your brand profitable? You'll be surprised how many potentially funky start-ups fail just because they are disconnected from their potential customers. So, the most important rule of thumb is that you gotta get to know your consumers, their lifestyles and their desires as much as you can.

Stop for a moment doing this tedious market segmentation based on geographical location, age and gender. This stuff tells you nothing about your consumer's deep emotional needs and desires. Unless you've understood what emotional connections they can make with the products you sell, you'll be wasting your time.

Besides that, keep in mind the following factors which, in my view, may trigger consumers' interest in purchasing your funky mass luxury goods or services:

  • The lifestyle factor: Whereas splashing out on a single Gucci outfit is an extremely rare occasion for most people, and buying a Lamborghini is simply out of the question, a sizable market out there still wants to have a luxurious lifestyle. "Luxurious" can mean different things for different customers, and the trick is to find your loyal segment for whom your product will be a luxury. The right combination of such items as furniture, consumer electronics, food and drink, beauty products and fashion can do wonders and make our lifestyles luxurious and enjoyable. Not every item in your customer's home has to be of super funky design and great quality, but make sure your brand can end up on your customers shelves!
  • The self-worth factor: people appreciate goods and services that can contribute to their enjoyment of life (e.g. high quality perfumed candles, a meal at a gastronomic restaurant, or a visit to a spa) and feeling of self-worth. Do you know what contributes to the feeling of self-worth within your customer segment? If not, the first step towards making profits is to find that out fast and act on it.
  • The funky factor: people like standing out from the crowd, and making a statement about who they are. They often express themselves through the clothes they wear, or items they use (computers, phones, cars).  If your customers have created emotional connections with the products you sell, and even made them part of their personal brand, you've for sure kept the funky factor in mind successfully! Again, if you know how the attributes of your brand can enhance the funky factor of your customers, you've certainly moved forward towards a beefed up bottom line.

Mass luxury is the most profitable segment of many markets because attractive margins can be combined with sales volume. But the challenge is, mass luxury brands do not sell themselves . They are driven by hard-to-define factors like fashion, word-of-mouth, and constantly evolving preferences of your customers. If you've managed to apply a rigorous framework to identify these factors, and closely monitor them, you'll certainly be on the path towards making sizable profits and building funky brands.

Finally, a good article on the subject that I can recommend is "Luxury for the Masses" by Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske, published in Harvard Business Review in April 2003. Have fun learning the tricks of the funky brand trade!

Baboushka Branding, or a bit of "Russianness" in marketing

This article illustrates use of Russian-sounding names in product marketing in Western Europe. It also identifies the gap of Russian brands outside of Russia's borders.

Funky shoes for funky people: Camper


Girls love shoes. In my case, this is an understatement of the century. I sometimes even dream about shoes. And, as any other girl, I have to have lots and lots of them to make sure they match every possible outfit I can think of. But I am not the kind of woman who's crazy about sky-high heels. Well, I've got several pairs like that of course, for special occasions, but I am more into shoes which make me feel connection to the Earth, enable me to actually walk, and contribute to my sexy and trendy look.

In fact, it's not that easy to find such shoes. Think about it – finding a pair that is funky, has heels (sometimes) and enables you to walk at a normal human pace rather than move at a speed of a snail seems a bit of a challenge. But last weekend a Spanish friend of mine walked through my front door wearing a pair of blue-heeled funky shoes. When I looked at them, I recognized the brand immediately: Camper, a cool and edgy shoe producer from Mallorca.

How could I have forgotten about Camper? It is one of the few brands that can tick all the boxes of my shoe requirements. Three years ago, a very fashion-conscious friend of mine who lives in Berlin took me on a shopping tour spree in the city. Our first destination was a Camper store, and it almost turned out to be our last destination as well, since we just couldn't leave it for a long time. And it wasn't just for the cool shoes. The store itself was a great place in which the Mediterranean spirit of Camper's Mallorcan origins mixed well with the unique creative spirit of Berin. I left empty-handed though, just because my size of the shoes I liked was sold out.

Later on, during my MBA studies in Madrid, Camper was occasionally mentioned in my marketing and strategy classes although we have unfortunately never discussed the company in detail. It was mostly Zara that was brought to our attention again and again, as an illustration of a successful Spanish brand, but somehow, Camper was left out.

And that's a pity. Because Camper, launched in 1975 in Mallorca, has managed to create a very distinctive brand identity based on fun, creativity and spontaneity. It would have made a great MBA case on how to create and manage a successful brand. Camper is modern, trendy and just....lovable. No wonder it has so many fans on Facebook, and rightly so!

First, there is superb quality. My friend, the owner of the blue heels, says she's had her Campers for 7 years with not too much change to the original shape and color. Second, there's funky design. Third, Camper shoes have managed to communicate well its dreamy and exotic Mallorcan origin. It is, let's agree, quite refreshing, especially for the inhabitants of grey and cold parts of Europe. Finally, Campers are worn by fashionable, funky and REAL people. These people are busy individuals, like you and me, but yet they are able to slow down, take it easy and enjoy the moment. After all, the company's great motto, “Walk, don't run” rightly pinpoints the necessity of slowing down in our often frenetic and busy lives.

Freedom, being down-to-Earth, creativity, surprise and spontaneity are the main brand values of Camper shoes. Pleasantly surprising its customers is one of Camper's values that draws numerous fans into its stores (and online) back and again. Often, this is demonstrated through spontaneous partnerships with artists and designers -- check out, for example, Camper's Together initiative at http://www.camper.com/together/en/ which focuses on collaboration among various designers in order to create unique shoes.

Camper is a funky company that has embraced the importance of brand positioning. Recently, it has invested into e-commerce which has allowed it to take better control of the brand evolution in the online world. Lucky are those people who are confident enough to buy shoes online without trying them first. As to myself, although I love shopping online, I usually stay away from buying shoes. I guess I'll just wait for Camper to open up a shop in Brussels some time soon!