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Country branding: Belgium

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

 

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

 

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

Nivea showcases its brand history in an art exhibition

 

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

 

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

Tribal marketing for Generation Y

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Design thinking & funky brands

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Interplay between brand strategy and innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Astonishing product design & funky brands

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

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

 

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

Gaga boosts Google's brand

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

My favorite quotes by Gaga in this video are:

 

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

 

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

 

Belgium: no government, but great shirts

 

When Belgian actor Charlie Dupont went to a party together with his friend Nicolas Borenstein, he was struck by the dull parade of sweatshirts worn there.

“Why is it that even here in Belgium, all these guys wear sweatshirts with Harvard University and I love NYC slogans?” Charlie asked Nicolas. “Let’s make inexpensive T-shirts with the names of small Belgian towns written on them, and sell them in tourist shops.”

At the party, Nicolas only chuckled at the idea. But when he woke up the next morning, he recalled the discussion. He liked Charlie’s inspiration, but he had a different vision: to create a brand of superior quality premium T-shirts and sweatshirts that would communicate all things Belgian, not only names of towns. Just 3 years later, BShirt is a successful Belgian premium fashion brand, sold in almost 70 distribution outlets across Belgium and planning to grow internationally.

I met Nicolas Borenstein in his stylish and funky office in downtown Brussels to discuss BShirt and to get to know the creative and entrepreneurial spirit that drives the brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Was BShirt your first entrepreneurial project?

Nicolas Borenstein: No, it wasn’t my first idea. When I had this idea, I was already running a graphic design studio in Brussels. One could say that I am a 100% entrepreneur, since I’ve never worked for anyone apart for myself.

SCHMOOZY FOX: After that conversation with your friend Charlie, how long did it take you to have the concept of your brand ready, and then launch it?

Nicolas Borenstein: The concept itself came together very fast. I think that Charlie triggered something in me, with his idea of putting names of Belgian towns on T-shirts. But I definitely wanted to dig deeper, and create a product that was artistic, funky and high quality. I also thought that Belgium has a lot of quirky local concepts that are worth talking about – its own brand if you like – and yet nobody has tried to apply this to a fashion brand. There was definitely something unique in there. I am a graphic designer by training, so it was easy for me to come up with ideas for each T-shirt and turn them into visual forms. That took some time and a lot of brain-storming with myself as Charlie was busy and I ended up doing this project on my own.

I think an important decision that I made was to use old-fashioned loom weaving technology to produce BShirt garments. The reason why I wanted it was because the quality and feel of the T-shirts is much better as a result, although the downside is that production cannot be scaled up in the same way as more modern technology allows. Finding an appropriate factory that could create top-quality cotton garments took a while, and finally I signed a contract with a manufacturer in Portugal.

Then I spent the whole year working on prototypes, and in 2008, I was ready to order the first batch of 1000 BShirts and show them to shops.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Getting your distribution channels right is crucial if one wants to build a good brand. What were your criteria in selecting the desired shops?

Nicolas Borenstein: I wanted to choose the kind of shops that would sell premium trendy and quirky garments. Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of interest in the fashion industry in general, not least because my family had a fashion business. So, by the time that I had to introduce the first BShirts to stores, I had a clear idea where to go, and which stores would be in line with the brand image I wanted to create.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And what was the reaction of the stores?

Nicolas Borenstein: To my surprise, the reaction was very positive. Out of 15 stores that I visited, 10 decided to order BShirt garments! So, my first 1000 shirts were sold out in no time. But there was a little problem -- I needed to deliver another batch fast!

SCHMOOZY FOX: But you had a manufacturing facility in place, so it shouldn’t have been a problem?

Nicolas Borenstein: Indeed, except the factory turned out not to be a very agile entreprise, to say the least. It took them forever to produce the next batch, while the shops were waiting impatiently. On top of that, the buzz around BShirt was already spreading into the press and I could already boast a good number of positive reviews that appeared in fashion magazines.

SCHMOOZY FOX: That’s quite an achievement! All of that just after selling the first batch?

Nicolas Borenstein: Yes, pretty much so. Right before the launch, I asked a friend of mine to recommend me the best fashion PR agency in Belgium, and he said, “Go talk to UPR. They are the best, but they have to like you, they turn many clients down.”

But UPR liked BShirt, and I was happy that they helped me generate the buzz so quickly. (O.S.: This reminds me of another brand that I interviewed, Ice Watch, which also relied on PR early on).

SCHMOOZY FOX: Positive buzz is great, and it can certainly trigger demand for products. But you need to be able to deliver to support this demand. Did your factory score well in this respect?

Nicolas Borenstein: In fact the factory continued to be unreliable. There were further problems with timely delivery, and in the end I had to skip a whole season. This kind of thing can be deadly for a fashion brand -- especially if there’s clear demand for your items, and you just can’t meet it! It was frustrating not to be able to do anything!

SCHMOOZY FOX: How did you solve this? Did you find a better factory?

Nicolas Borenstein: Yes, now I work with another factory. While searching for a better factory, I also realized that I needed a partner who could help me by bringing investment and business know how into the company.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And you found such a person?

 

Nicolas Borenstein: Luckily, yes. I brought him some shirts, and a big stack of press clippings, and I said, do you want to work with me? He agreed.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How big is your company now?

Nicolas Borenstein: We have 10 people working at BShirt. Our products are now sold in almost 70 stores in Belgium, and there is certainly potential to sell it in many more. And it’s just the beginning. In due course, I hope that funky BShirts will also be in New York, Paris and other cosmopolitan places around the world.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How would you describe BShirt?

Nicolas Borenstein: I actually like your term, Funky Brands. BShirt is exactly that -- funky, with a lot of character. It’s certainly different -- as I’ve said, nobody has yet made a fashion brand based on Belgium. BShirt is a mood-booster, it brings a smile to the faces of those who wear it. In some press reviews, it was called a “funny brand”, but I think that this is not right. A “funky brand” is certainly much more correct.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Why do you think people like to wear BShirt?

Nicolas Borenstein: They probably feel that it’s just the right thing. Somehow, I think that everything falls into place when you put on a BShirt -- the texture, smell, color... It’s all about that feeling of old-fashioned, high quality cotton on your skin, in combination with the novel Belgian fashion concept.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What do you do in order to stay creative, and full of energy to run your company? Where do you get your inspiration?

Nicolas Borenstein: I think I owe my creativity to the fact that, deep down, I am still a bit of a kid. I also work very fast, which helps a lot. I can do a day's work in 3 hours. Yesterday, i worked for 11 hours, and I accomplished my tasks for the whole week. So, now I can concentrate on other things, and even go to my Qi Gong course (smiling). And this, in its turn, might trigger a new wave of creativity and inspiration.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you tell me about BShirt’s future plans?

Nicolas Borenstein: We’ll soon be opening a flagship store in Brussels. And we also plan to launch four collections per year instead of the current two. In fact, these will be two big and two smaller collections. And of course, we’ll continue creating new collections to sustain and build the funky brand of BShirt!

 

Another example of branded wine

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

TechCrunch Europe republishes my article about Groupon

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dangers of Groupon for your brand - and its own

Last November, Google was trying to buy Groupon for $5.3 billion, in what would have been its largest acquisition yet. To everybody’s surprise, Groupon said No.

The deal-of-the-day site, which offers one deal per day in each of the markets it serves, was launched in 2008. By the time of Google’s attempts to buy it, it was operational in 150 markets in North America, and 100 markets in Europe. Its popularity and quick growth was mainly due to supposedly big rewards for the site users, who could get access to various services (such as massage, yoga courses, meals) and products at heavily discounted prices.  It was said to be the result of “buyer power” but obviously had more to do with sales promotions for the brands in question.

I also tried out Groupon on two occasions.

Once, I bought a coupon for a massage at what was presented as a Brussels-based beauty salon. The price I paid was 19 Euros, “instead of the usual price of 70 Euros” charged by the said salon.

When I arrived, I found out that the beauty salon was anything but beautiful itself... Just by looking at the shabby interior, I thought that I would have never been tempted to step in, let alone pay 70 Euros for an hour of massage, which is considered a price above the market in Belgium. But given the context, I was curious.

During the massage, the masseuse spent a lot of time telling me how much work she had to do after her service had been promoted on Groupon.

“And I earn nothing for working non-stop,” she kept exclaiming (the chat itself distracted somewhat from the experience).

An immigrant from Congo, she has 4 children to feed, and is prepared for a lot of work, “as long as there is work.”

The massage was okay. That is, okay for the price of 19 Euros. Unfortunately it also fixed in my mind that the reference price was 70 Euros - so I’ve never been back and the investment that the beauty salon made in sales promotions through Groupon must have delivered minimal, if any, results.

My second (and perhaps last) experience with Groupon took place this very morning, when I tried (and failed) to use a coupon that I had bought during the Christmas rush last December.

Priced only at 8 Euros, it would give me a possibility of printing an attractive looking photo album for the value of 26 Euros with a service called www.albumdigital.com.

In fact, I did want to make an album of my family’s photos and have it ready as a Christmas present.

But when I tried to use my 8-Euro Groupon coupon last December, I had to abandon this idea right away, mainly because it turned out that www.albumdigital.com only made its service available to Windows users. Being a Mac and Linux user myself, I found this slightly annoying, especially since my coupon said nothing about that.

I do have Windows on one of my computers, but oh boy, do I do everything possible to avoid using it.

So I did. Until this morning. Just because I noted down in my agenda that my lovely coupon was expiring today.

In fact, it was not even clear whether it would expire today, or on March 3rd. Look at these different dates that are totally confusing (the coupon is in French):

groupon coupon_expiry_dates

The first date (underlined in red) says that the coupon is valid until 03.03.2011. Whereas the second mention of validity refers to February 28th. In any case, I thought, it should work, because today IS February 28th.

Well, it didn’t.

After a rather excruciating experience of downloading the required software using my Windows computer and waiting, waiting, waiting while different windows kept popping up.

Finally, the software seemed ready to receive the photos of my kids. Although the software promised to organize them by date, this did not happen. I also had to click and click away to see which of my selected albums corresponded to which price, as this info was not organized properly.

albumdigital_prices

And yes, this painful process took a long time. Which means, that the value of the voucher was negative, at least for me, as I LOST a whole lot of time.

albumdigital_long_upload

And finally, after having uploaded everything, filling out a tedious form with my personal information for www.albumdigital.com, AND submitting my promotional code, I saw THIS:

groupon_code_not_valid1

I’ve written emails to both Albumdigital and Groupon, but the point is: even if I am ever reimbursed the rather minuscule price of 8 Euros that I paid to Groupon, it’s highly unlikely anyone will reimburse the value of the time I spent fighting with this technology.

Although Groupon has skimmed a market opportunity with commercial aplomb, its longer-term future is, as far as I am concerned, anything but certain:

  • Those small-scale services and product providers who promote themselves through Groupon generally have very little understanding about brand-building themselves. They don’t understand why offering their often high-value services at low prices through Groupon positions them as “cheap” vis-a-vis their potential customers. Would I go back to the beauty salon and pay them 70 Euros for what cost me 19 Euros and was portrayed as a “fair price” (rather than a sales promotion gimmick)? Nope. And I can hardly imagine anyone doing it. At best I might move on to the next Groupon deep discounter. There might, of course, be some exceptions, such as discovering an amazing restaurant where a meal cost you next to nothing, and wanting to experience it again. But for services of average quality, repeat purchases with that provider are unlikely.
  • Associating itself with low-quality service providers, such as www.albumdigital.com, does nothing good to Groupon’s brand either. In my mind, I lost a lot of precious time on www.albumdigital.com which I discovered with Groupon’s help, and in my consumer mind, the brand of www.albumdigital.com is .... well, Groupon’s brand. Whether Groupon wants it or not.
  • What’s happening here in brand strategy terms is that Groupon constantly co-brands itself with each and every service provider that features in its daily deals. So, the aggregate consumer satisfaction with, and brand loyalty towards Groupon will be a sum of all experiences its customers have while they receive their massages and buy photo albums. Every real-world discounter which plans to stay in business over the long term, however, still offers some sort of quality guarantee - think Aldi in Germany and Colruyt in Belgium.

One of the reasons why Groupon has achieved such rapid market penetration is because the small businesses which promote themselves through it have very little knowledge of business development and brand strategy - especially online. Motivated by large-scale and quick exposure to potential customers, they sell their service often at a loss - remember that Groupon makes money by keeping half of the price advertised in daily deals. So, my masseuse actually sold her services at 8.5 Euros per hour!

They also position their fragile and often unknown brands in the consumer’s mind as worth much less than the price they usually charge - and possibly little more than a ripoff. Meanwhile Groupon is generating cash by cannibalizing its own brand - hardly a recipe for long-term value creation.

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.

Brand mascots in action: Travelocity Roaming Gnome

Image courtesy of Travelocity Over the past couple of months, I've published a series of articles about brand mascots, beginning with the basics in my post Brand Mascots, some more details in Beastly Branding, and finishing with a concrete example of a mascot in Why meerkats help markets, and a story about Online brand mascots.

With my recently discovered interest in brand mascots, I decided to interview Joel Frey, PR Manager of Travelocity, about this company's brand mascot -- Travelocity Roaming Gnome. Joel has been with Travelocity since 2003 and has had the chance to take the Gnome to many fun places including New York, London, Memphis, TN, Orlando and Chicago, to name a few.

SCHMOOZY FOX: When did the Gnome become Travelocity's brand mascot?

Joel Frey: The Roaming Gnome became Travelocity’s brand mascot in January 2004. The first television ad appeared during the annual Rose Bowl college football game. During the holiday season of 2003, we ran some teaser ads showing images of the Roaming Gnome, but not tying him to Travelocity in an effort to create some pre-campaign buzz.

Image courtesy of Travelocity

SCHMOOZY FOX: Who had the idea about the Travelocity Gnome, and why was it important for Travelocity to make him part of its brand?

Joel Frey: The concept of the Roaming Gnome was pitched to us by ad agency McKinney in 2003. At the time, we felt an icon like Roaming Gnome would help us differentiate our brand from our competitors and it has. We also wanted to provide travelers a lens into some adventures they could take on their own via Travelocity. The Roaming Gnome has been a powerful vehicle for us in that regard.

SCHMOOZY FOX:  Could you tell me about your communications strategy tied to the Gnome? Is it the main way for Travelocity to communicate with its customers and if not, what other ways do you use to build the brand?

Joel Frey: Because the Roaming Gnome has become so synonymous with our brand, he has definitely become a broader part of our communications strategy, especially on the Travelocity Facebook page . He also has his own Twitter profile though we have a separate Twitter page that we use to communicate with customers. Beyond social media and traditional advertising, we communicate with customers in a variety of forums including our Window Seat blog. It is made up of an expert team of writers who post daily on a variety of subjects including tips, deals and hot destinations.

Image courtesy of Travelocity

SCHMOOZY FOX: Does the Gnome visit only places in the US, or does he like travel internationally as well?

Joel Frey: He travels everywhere!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Why do you think Travelocity's customers like the gnome?

Joel Frey: He’s funny, whimsical, and doesn’t take himself too seriously.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Any exciting future plans of the Gnome that you could share with us?

Joel Frey: Rumor has it that there’s a trip to the Southern hemisphere in his future….

Image courtesy of Travelocity

Brands in songs

I've written about product placement in movies and novels, and today I am going to touch upon another interesting medium -- songs. Two marketing professors from US universities, Federico de Gregorio and Yongjun Sung, analyzed almost 4 000 songs that appeared in top 10 music charts from 1955 to 2002. (( Giving a shout out to Seagram's Gin: extent of and attitudes towards brands in popular songs. F. de Gregorio and Y. Sung, Journal of Brand Management (2009) 17, 218–235 ))

Photo by Cameron Cassan on Flickr

Their empirical study has concluded the following:

  • there has been a significant growth in brand mentions in songs over decades
  • a particularly big spike in brand mentions began around 1995
  • alcohol, automotive and fashion brands are most common in songs
  • consumers perceive brand mentions in songs less favorably than in movies, yet they are not overall very negative
  • the most appropriate genres of music for brand placement are hip-hop and rap.

Brand mentions are not a totally  new phenomenon. Listen to this song, Budweiser's a friend of mine, that came out back in 1905:

Most of brand mentions in songs happen organically, with nobody paying for their appearance. However, there are some agencies that specialize in brand placement in songs, targeting almost exclusively hip hop and rap artists.

It's clear that brands are becoming part of popular culture, and their increasing appearance in songs is a good proof of this interesting phenomenon.

What songs with brand mentions do you know?

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

Original outdoor advertising

My previous post about innovative advertising spaces featured paper hangers, rental bikes and even human bodies as carriers of advertising messages. Here is an example of a very original outdoor advertising solution that was used to promote new hot breakfast sandwiches by Caribou Coffee in the US.

caribou-coffee-bus-shelter

The ad was placed inside of bus shelters in cold Minneapolis. I bet that standing in an imaginary stove made people waiting for the bus feel warmer -- and make a mental note about the buns. Very creative and memorable!

Read the original post about the ad here.

Brand names for innovative products

pampersIf you are about to launch an innovative product, the kind that has never existed before, you'd better give it a great name -- memorable, snappy and easy to pronounce. But what if your product becomes so popular, that it gives rise to a whole new product category? So popular, that people begin referring to this new category by your product name.

"I am going to get more pampers for my baby."

"Give me a kleenex, I have a cold."

"Let's take a thermos on our trip."

"Let's make some jell-o for dessert."

Pampers, Kleenex, Thermos and Jello-O all used to be innovative products that essentially established totally new product categories. Nowadays, people go shopping for "pampers" even if they will end up buying a box of Huggies.

This phenomenon is called genericide, or a "threat of the brand name being used as a generic term." (( Taylor ,  C .  and  Walsh ,  M . G .  ( 2002 )  Legal strategies for protecting brands from genericide: Recent trends in evidence weighted in court cases .  Journal of Public Policy and Marketing  21 (1) :  160 – 167 .))

Is genericide good or bad for your brand?

On the one hand, one could argue that it is good.  After all, it demonstrates very high awareness about your brand. However, this brand awareness may not necessarily lead to purchases of your brand, since its popularity will prompt other copycat brands to appear. And it may lead to customers buying them, whilst referring to them by the name of your brand.

Whereas there's probably little you can do to prevent competitors from launching similar products, you might want to make sure that genericide does not have negative consequences on the brand of  your innovative product.

Professor Judith Lynne   Zaichkowsky from Copenhagen Business School suggests the following methods that brand managers can use to protect their brands from genericide: (( J.L. Zaichkowsky, Strategies for distinctive brands, Journal of Brand Management (2010)  17, 548 – 560))

  • use the trademark as a descriptive adjective, such as Rollerblade ® in-line skates or I-POD ® MP3 player.
  • use the trademark notice in advertising and labelling, for example, BLACKBERRY ®
  • display the brand name with special typographical treatment -- font matters!
  • extend the brand name to other related product categories
the threat of the brand name being used as
a generic term

In other words, successful protection of a brand name involves much more than attention to the name itself -- it a brand strategy that affects a whole company.

Branding affects all company functions

In my post Need rebranding? Don't just change your logo, think brand strategy, I gave a definition of brand strategy. And indeed, what's important about branding is exactly the word "strategy". Today, I want to share with you an article published by B2CMarketingInsider: Branding, It's a Company Wide effort. I completely agree with the author that "Branding is the overall experience from top to bottom within a company". This is contrary to a seemingly widely accepted opinion that brand strategy should lie within the scope of marketing departments.

It is partially true, especially when it comes to communicating the external image of your company, and knowing your consumers, at which many marketing departments excel.

However, branding goes much deeper than that and affects all company functions. Paraphrasing the article, branding is all about:

  • how your clients or prospects are treated
  • how problems are solved, and whether the internal company culture facilitates problem solving or not
  • how your product or service quality correspond to your company's promises.

This is why wherever possible I like to make contact early on in any project with a company's founder, CEO or Managing Director — the person who has an overall view at all company’s functions. Or the strategic brand manager for the product in question.

Desigual spreads happiness online

When a brand decides to do something with social media, it usually gets trying to find original ways of engaging audiences on Twitter and/or Facebook. A Spanish fashion label Desigual did something a bit more different, and decided to go into blogs and comments. Even the best blogs, according to Desigual, sometimes get few comments. With this sad fact :(  as a starting point, Desigual decided to help spread a bit more happiness on the web.

How?

Desigual set up a site www.desigualhappyhunters.com. You can sign up as a Happy Hunter, select a fashion item of your choice, and start leaving comments on the blogs Desigual suggests to you. If a blogger responds to your happy comments, the Desigual fashion item is yours.

It's a pretty simple idea, nicely executed. Let's wait for the results of the Happy Hunters initiative and see how it boosts the brand of Desigual!

Source: A Source of Inspiration