innovative brands

Kipling bags: attitude included

Kipling Helmet Bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCHMOOZY FOX: Do you have a background in design?

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

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

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

magali_cross fushia

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

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

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

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

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

Kipling DJ Bag

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

festival bag_fish skin

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

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

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

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

Ice Watch -- putting it all together

Jean-Pierre Lutgen CEO of Ice WatchThe sleek business card of Jean-Pierre Lutgen, CEO of Ice Watch, displays the addresses of his two offices: one located in Bastogne, a Belgian town near the border with Luxembourg, and another one in Hong Kong. From Europe to Asia, this funky brand has become true arm candy for millions of fans. Although the company was founded only 3 years ago, it’s difficult to refer to it as a startup, as the high brand recognition of Ice Watch internationally puts this company already in the league of well-established funky brands. Today, Jean-Pierre Lutgen, the creative and entrepreneurial founder and CEO of this funky brand, talks about his passion for Asia, plastic, marketing and putting pieces of the puzzle together.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s the concept behind the brand of Ice Watch?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: Ice Watch is based on two main elements: people’s desire to seize and express change, and a strong identity. To address the former, we have put together 10 different watch collections. Collections change twice per year, just like in the world of fashion. Their affordable price (staring at Euro 59 per watch) allows people to buy several watches at a time, so that they could match their different outfits, and different moods. We know that many of our customers like to collect different models of Ice Watch. Because they like change! Even our brand slogan is, “Change. You Can.”

The strong identity is seen not only in the funky and refreshing design of the watch itself, but also in its packaging, which has become an inseparable part of the product, and of the brand as a whole.

ice_watch packaging

SCHMOOZY FOX: To prepare for this interview, I’ve watched several videos about Ice Watch in which you talk about the company. But you rarely talk about yourself. What is your background, and how did you make Ice Watch happen?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: I studied at the university in Louvain-La-Neuve, and then I spent 10 years running a small corporate gifts company in Bastogne. I was quite different from my university friends, who all went on to work at established companies, and followed structured career tracks. My corporate gifts company had many ups and downs throughout the years, but I overall I enjoyed this highly entrepreneurial experience.

SCHMOOZY FOX: But besides studies and work, there must be other personal interests and skills that made Ice Watch possible?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen (smiling): You know, I think that success in life does not suddenly appear out of nowhere. Same with me, I can now see that a lot of my interests, passions and experience have developed over time. They were like pieces of the puzzle, lying around scattered on the floor. And finally, I put the puzzle together! For instance, as a small boy, I liked playing with pieces of plastic. I’ve always loved Asia. And I’ve appreciated the power of smart marketing. In addition to that, during my experience at the corporate gifts company, I made precious contacts in China, who later on became my very trustworthy manufacturers of Ice Watch. So, in the end, many of my passions, interests and skills fell into one place.

colorful ice watch

SCHMOOZY FOX: Often startups think that their brand will take care of itself. How did you approach the brand strategy of Ice Watch?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: My impression is that most startups apply brand thinking in the best case only to the product. This is not a recipe for success. For me, a strong brand concept was the starting point of the whole business. The raw idea was mine, but I bounced it off many knowledgeable people, and invested the necessary time into refining the concept over and over again. Afterwards, I made sure that each element of my business strategy supported the brand concept.

I did think through the brand strategy early on, indeed. I also knew that expansion of the brand, and the growing demand for the watches had to match our ability to scale up production very quickly. And this is when I could rely on the already established network of reliable business contacts in Asia. A combination of brand thinking and dedicated production facilities was really powerful.

SCHMOOZY FOX: It’s hard to believe the amount of press coverage internationally that Ice Watch has received since its launch. Can you attribute this success to a single event or a series of activities?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: I worked with PR firms in each of the countries where we were launching Ice Watch. But instead of fully outsourcing press relations, I myself was fully involved in organizing events and press conferences for journalists. I guess, as a complete outsider, I just thought out of the box all the time and spotted unexplored ways of connecting with journalists. For instance, instead of inviting them to the Ice Watch launch events by email, I insisted that we send them empty Ice Watch packaging boxes. When they received attractive boxes, of course they were curious to see what was inside. And when they opened them, they saw a custom-made invite which replaced the actual watch. They were intrigued, liked the packaging, and wanted to discover the product as well!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Who is the blond lady who features on almost all ads of Ice Watch? Is she a celebrity?

Melissa Ice Watch ad

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: She certainly has the looks of a celebrity! Her name is Melissa, and she is very far from the world of fashion and modeling. She works in her mother’s restaurant in the Netherlands. I had a very clear idea of what kind of woman could be our brand ambassador. I explained what I was looking for to a well-known fashion and art photographer from Antwerp, Marc Lagrange, and he found Melissa. The photos, as well as the rights to use them, cost me 10 000 Euros, which was a ton of money for a startup! But in reality, it’s very affordable compared to what I would have paid for a well-known celebrity!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s behind the name “Ice Watch”?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: Brand naming was an important aspect of the overall strategy for us. Initially, we wanted to make transparent watches, and “Ice” was a good match. But even though we extended the concept to a variety of materials, not only transparent, Ice Watch was still our top choice. “Ice” represents purity. Nowadays, when humanity has to deal with the problems of rising temperatures and climate change, ice has become a luxury! In other words, Ice Watch is pure, democratic, transparent in the way it communicates and connects to people, and luxurious at the same time!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Where do you get so much energy to develop your funky brand?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: From working with people! I travel all the time, and I don’t sleep very much, but once I start working with passionate people around me, I find the energy back.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And finally, why is Ice Watch a funky brand?

Olga Slavkina & Jean-Pierre LutgenJean-Pierre Lutgen: The watch industry is rather traditional and somewhat conservative even. Ice Watch has stormed this product category by a refreshing concept, and its democratic values. “Funky” also signals “affordable” to me, and Ice Watch has become a true affordable luxury, able to brighten up the mood of many people around the world.

Baboushka branding part 2

I've already written about the trend of giving Russian or Russian-sounding names to products and brands in my post Baboushka branding or a bit of "Russianness" in marketing. In that blog post, I talked about a seemingly persistent trend among US and European companies to take inspiration for product and brand names from the Russian language.  Specifically, I talked about a concrete fascination by the word b a b o u s h k a. And here is another baboushka story for you!

I've just come across this post about a recently redesigned bottle for an Australian-produced vodka called Baboushka. While purely from the design point of view I find the bottle design quite okay, there are some details that struck me in the text of the article, namely:

1) According to the article, the agency that redesigned the bottle, "built an emotional brand story around the existing ‘Baboushka’ name avoiding Russian vodka inspired clichés." I wonder  how  can such a truly Russian name allow one to avoid Russian cliches, and why would one even want to avoid them?  Baboushka is just a common noun in Russian, there are no real stories attributed to it, at least in the context of its common use.

Image of Baboushka vodka. Incorrect Russian text is underlined in red

2) The Russian text on the bottle does not really mean anything.  I guess that «Премия водка» was an attempt to translate "premium vodka", quite unsuccessfully.  I suggest to brands that try to seek inspiration from foreign languages and cultures to always check with qualified people who speak those languages first!  :)

To conclude, the use of "baboushka" in brand discourse never stops to surprise me.  I think there's even some additional meaning that's been developing around this word outside of Russia, and some Russian-speaking linguists should definitely look into it.

As far as brand strategy goes, my advice is to check the spelling and meaning of foreign words you put on your packaging.  This will surely help you avoid some surprises!

Inertia of family-owned businesses: the Belgian distillery Filliers

geneverToday I will talk about family-owned businesses and challenges they face in turning their products or services into funky brands.


Think of this kind of company structure: a mother or father is a CEO, and all the top management consists of offspring, cousins, aunts, uncles and other “extended family” members. Occasionally, they let outsiders in, and allow them to manage their businesses, but this doesn’t happen too often.


Many family-owned companies never succeed in achieving critical mass, lose touch with modern trends, fail to reinvent themselves and keep afloat the ever-changing customer demands. Sometimes, family-owned business produce high-quality products, but fail to exploit its potential to the maximum simply because they lack the necessary skills within the family team.


Here is an example of a brand you might or might not have heard about. Filliers, a distillery near Ghent (Belgium), produces genever, an fillierslogoalcoholic beverage made by distilling maltwine and adding some herbs, such as juniper berry. Think gin, but with some added zest.

Funky gin.


Filliers has a big potential to become a great and innovative brand, but seems to be somewhat trapped in its century-long traditional thinking.

I had a chance to visit Filliers as part of a local business networking group whose members went to the distillery mostly out of recreational purposes. My own interest was mostly triggered by a bottle of sweet currant Filliers brew sitting in my fridge. A nice flavor, 20% alcohol volume content, and quite an unattractive bottle made me think that perhaps Filliers could have some potential on the alcoholic beverage market, if re-branded, re-bottled, and modernized.

fillierscurrantgenever


First, we were shown a promotional video about the company. The two things were repeated again and again: technological advances allowing to distill Filliers beverages in the best way possible, and traditional values of the family business, which dates back to 1880.


At the end, there was a demonstration of the current range of products. Unfortunately, nothing was mentioned about Filliers's customers.


Craftsmanship and tradition are certainly important in the business of producing genever – no wonder that genever produced by Filliers is quite good. But who buys these products because of their traditional manufacturing techniques?


The old-fashioned look and feel of Filliers bottles probably does have some appeal to Baby Boomers. I am not sure though that many of the sweet and creamy flavors (passion fruit, for instance) would attract a 60-something guy in a local pub.

Confusing.


And it's a pity – the spirits markets in Europe (including Eastern Europe) as well as the US are thirsty for some innovative brands.


An example of how a traditional beverage can stand out and be different is the new brand launched by Paris Hilton: PARIS HILTON RICH PROSECCO. Who would ever think of packaging bubbly into cans?

proseccocan

parishiltonproseccoad

Simply superb, Paris, great product (I've tasted it) and great ads! Read more about Prosecco Rich here.

Filliers should open up its family business to a creative team of “outsiders” with some solid business background and intuition for marketing. Given the overall good quality of the Filliers liquors, I can imagine a zillion ways of identifying new markets, creating a totally different product range and packaging. There is definitely a lucrative niche in the market to make it possible. I have a lot of ideas about how Filliers could reinvent itself, so if it (or a friendly LBO firm) is listening, get in touch!

A one-man wine show: Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine Library TV

Gary Vay-ner-chuk: a true personal brand and a successful business, developed through accessibility of social media. This article is about Gary's views on branding.