most innovative brands

How Funky Brands can be creative: 7 insights from the Creativity Forum in Antwerp

A cake by Taarten Van Abel, a creative company mentioned during the conference. I thought it would be a good symbol for female creativity

A cake by Taarten Van Abel

On Thursday, I attended an event dedicated to creativity. The conference took place in Antwerp and was organized by an organization called Flanders District of Creativity. This year, Flanders DC gave the stage to creative and inspirational women.

Creativity fuels Funky Brands — innovative, edgy, contemporary products and services that stand out from the crowd. Funky Brands are worth experiencing over and over again, and importantly, bring positive functional and emotional benefits to those who use them.

For examples of Funky Brands, visit the Funky Brand Interviews section.

Here is my summary of 7 insights from the event that can be applied to Funky Brands:

Image by pumpkincat210 on Flickr

1) MAKE SURE TO INCLUDE CREATIVE, PASSIONATE AND KNOWLEDGEABLE WOMEN IN YOUR BUSINESS TEAM

Women’s signature style of doing business can be referred to as lifestyle entrepreneurship. This means that often, women’s main motivation behind starting a business is not just cash, but first and foremost, creating value for their customers.

If you are a team of men, invite at least one talented woman who will surely bring a different perspective to your business.

2) BE AUTHENTIC IN YOUR BRAND PROMOTIONS

Randi Zuckerberg, who’s in charge of the Creative Marketing department of Facebook, gave examples of authentic ways in which Facebook has communicated with its members.

In a short case study, Randi demonstrated a difference in reaction from Facebook fans to two photos of celebrity Eva Longoria. One photo of Eva was pure glam, whereas in another shot she looked more like someone you’d meet on the street rather than red carpet. Interestingly, the simple photo raised a massive wave of “likes” on Facebook. This taught Facebook itself to use friendly, amateur-like images of its employees in the company’s communications campaigns.

Don’t exclude glamorous and stylish visual expressions of your brand, but it’s worth exploring more authentic ways of connecting to real people, at least once in a while.

Here’s an image that captures the main points of Randi’s presentation:

Image courtesy of Visual Harvesting

Image courtesy of Visual Harvesting

3) IF YOU WANT ENGAGED CUSTOMERS, MAKE THEM PLAY A GAME WITH YOUR BRAND

Jane McGonigal, a game designer from the Institute for the Future, spoke about solving world problems by encouraging people to play more games. Jane defined games as “unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to overcome.

If we take the example of golf, what’s the fascination behind trying to hit the ball with a stick and make it fall into the hole, instead of just picking it up by hand and placing it there? But even if the final purpose is to make that ball fall into the hole, nobody would ever be interested in having no obstacle to overcome, and no thrill to experience.

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

The truth is, people like the excitementenergy and thrill of playing a game. In similar terms, nobody wants a dull and unmemorable experience of learning about your product, buying it in an unexciting environment, and experiencing its dull features.

Engage your customers in a thrilling game, and enhance the funky brand experience!

4) DEFINE YOUR BRAND NOT IN LINE WITH PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY, BUT WITH WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS REALLY WANT

Diane Nijs, a professor of imagineering1 , gave an example of the Dutch bakery Taarten Van Abel.

The bakery owner built a funky brand by redefining his product from simply a cake, to the expression of festive spirit. As Diane pointed out, people rarely buy cakes to eat them. They buy them as symbols of celebrationfeast, and enjoyment. Taarten Van Abel has grasped this and began to create cakes that are works of art. The brand of Taarten Van Abel has become so well-received by people that the company has decided to launch a TV channel for kids, in which its symbolic cakes have given ground to stories and fairy tales.

5) UNLOCK THE MEMETIC POTENTIAL OF YOUR IDEA

Memetics is a theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, which was originated by Richard Dawkins in the 1976 book The Selfish Gene.   Meme is a unit of human cultural transmission analogous to the gene, and psychologist Susan Blackmore talked about ways of how this sort of replication happens in culture.

Memetics would be worth checking especially for those who are fans of viral marketing. Why do some ideas fly and replicate themselves, and others just sit on the shelf unnoticed? Maybe memetics is a field that you should look into in order to understand why some brands just fly and become funky, and others never get noticed.

6) IN ORDER TO STAY CREATIVE, BE WHO YOU REALLY ARE

According to Baroness Susan Greenfield, a UK neuroscientist, the essence of creativity is daring to be who you are, your individuality.

eccentric dude

Some of you might know that it’s not always easy to stand out from the crowd and be different. Sometimes, the simplest thing to do is to conform and have an easy life. That’s why there are so many dull and unexciting brands out there!

But sticking to who you really are, daring to be, can also come across as magnetically charismatic if you manage to find creative ways of getting your value across. Your Funky Brand might not be liked by everyone, but those who’ll notice you, might fall in love, and isn’t it a huge reward?

7) BRING STRUCTURE TO CREATIVE PROCESS

Christie Hefner, Playboy’s former CEO, talked about structured creativity. Creativity is often associated with wild out-of-the box thinking, and structure is probably the last word that comes to mind in this respect. And yet a rigorous approach to the creative process is always beneficial to building a successful brand.

This is a very valid point in relation to Funky Brands.

When you build a Funky Brand, combine teams of creative people with experts in brand strategy. This can be especially powerful when you want to build a strong brand through online channels. A lot of brands nowadays want to splash out all the creativity they have, and expose it through social media, without having a rigorous brand strategy in place. Don’t fall into the trap of unstructured creativity, be funky and be smart!

Image by wilgengebroed on Flickr

Image by wilgengebroed on Flickr

DJ Tiësto interacts with fans during #tiëstotuesday

#tiëstotuesday DJ Tiësto, a world-famous musician and record producer of electronic dance music, spent the whole day yesterday (October 5) directly interacting with his Twitter followers. He sent out about 450 tweets answering questions to his fans. Most of the questions were about Tiësto's personal life (whether he's single, has children,) and, or course, his music. His answers were very short, getting shorter and shorter towards the end of the busy day. He rarely retweeted anyone.

Tiësto's Facebook page

Tiesto facebook pageTiësto is a big celebrity in the world of music, and has a lot of fans.  Just check his Facebook page. Today, it has 4,609,719 members!

His (and, I guess, his management team's) posts generate thousands of comments each day.

Facebook was used to announce the #tiëstotuesday on Twitter, where numbers of his followers are more modest. Even after the #tiëstotuesday stunt, he has "only" 217, 368 followers.

Twitter and Tiësto's personal brand

However, it's not all about the numbers. As some say, “Facebook is for people you know while Twitter is for people you don’t know”. Which means that Facebook users are more receptive to status updates by their real friends.  Twitter users, on the contrary, are more alert to the tweets of those they follow, whether they know them personally or not.

In this respect,Twitter can indeed provide a better platform for Tiësto (and other celebrities) as a direct fan outreach tool, and a platform for strengthening his funky personal brand. The fact that he personally, and not his management, was the real guy behind his tweets, reinforces his popularity vis-a-vis the fans.

The only downside is that such one-to-one conversations are extremely time consuming. If Tiësto is thinking about other #tiëstotuesdays in the future, I'd suggest to do this no more than once every two months or so.

We just want you to make more great music, Tiësto! :)

Tiestoo tweet

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!