schmoozy fox

How to brand a branding consultancy: SCHMOOZY FOX is featured in a new marketing book published by Routledge

Brand Mascot book cover
Brand Mascot book cover

A new marketing book “Brand Mascots and Other Marketing Animals", edited by Stephen Brown and Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe, both professors at University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, has been published by Routledge. The good news for me is that a whole chapter of this book is dedicated to the evolution of SCHMOOZY FOX's brand. I co-wrote this chapter in partnership with Dr. Adriana Campelo, a marketing lecturer at Cardiff Business School. The book is dedicated to an interesting strategy of using brand mascots to build a brand. Other brand mascots described in the book are Hello Kitty, Angry Birds, Mickey Mouse, and others.

Routledge is a global publisher of quality academic books, journals and online reference.

The press release with more details can be found here.

You can also read my past articles about brand mascots here:

Brand mascots: shiny happy creatures

Kipling customizes its brand mascot

How Google keeps its Doodle funky

Brand mascots in action: Travelocity Roaming Gnome

Online brand mascots

Why meerkats help markets

Beastly branding

Brand mascots

The story of Schmoozy Fox to be published in a forthcoming marketing book

 

I am happy to announce that a case study about Schmoozy Fox will appear as part of the forthcoming book, Brand Mascots: and other marketing animals, to be published by Routledge in the summer 2014.

The chapter called Schmoozy Fox: standing out from the pack was co-written by yours truly and Dr. Adriana Campelo Santana, Professor of Marketing at Cardiff Business School. I'm very happy to have worked together with Professor Campelo on this rewarding project.

The book Brand Mascots: and other marketing animals has been edited by Dr. Stephen Brown, Professor of Marketing Research at University of Ulster, and Dr. Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe, Professor of Marketing Communications at University of Ulster. My thanks go to both Dr. Brown and Dr. Ponsonby-McCabe for proposing to include the story of Schmoozy Fox in this book, and for doing great editing work on the chapter.

"The eminent anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once observed that “animals are good to think with”.  They’re also good to brand with, as this book reveals. It shoots the breeze with Smokey Bear; dances the logo-motion with Hello Kitty; plays along with Cadbury’s drumming gorilla; gambols with the garrulous GEICO gecko; gets down and dirty with the peerless Peppa Pig; runs amok with the honking AFLAC duck; and compares the meerkat to monkeys, marsupials, Martians and more.  It goes wild and crazy with Tony the Tiger, Churchill the Bulldog and the Michelin Man for good measure.  Brand Mascots contains contributions from some of the world’s leading academic authorities on anthropomorphic marketing, including Russell Belk, Morris Holbrook and Barbara Phillips, as well as prominent practitioners of brand animal breeding, training and nurturance." (Stephen Brown & Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe)

If you'd like to learn more about the role brand mascots can play in your marketing strategies, please have a look at some of the previous posts I've written on this blog:

Brand mascots: shiny happy creatures

Kipling customizes its brand mascot

How Google keeps its Doodle funky

Brand mascots in action: Travelocity Roaming Gnome

Online brand mascots

Why meerkats help markets

 

 

Rebranding of nations: Cyprus

On April 14-15, I was a panel speaker at the Global Russia Business Meeting in Limassol, Cyprus, organized by Horasis and hosted by the government of Cyprus. In my talk, I planned to address the necessity for Cyprus to stay positive, and use the collapsed economy as a rare chance to improve the country’s brand in the long term. Perhaps a rather surprising and unusual approach to branding in the midst of the emotional aftermath of the banking system collapse. But for better or worse, my unusual message stood out from the crowd -- which happens to be the very purpose of any good brand.

A COLLAPSED BANKING SYSTEM

In a way, the timing of the meeting, aimed at fostering bilateral economic relations between Cyprus and Russia, could not have been more difficult. With a freshly collapsed banking system, and sovereign long-term foreign currency credit rating sinking into junk status, Cyprus was about to host a high-level gathering of prominent Russian business leaders - many of whom had just lost millions of Euros as a result of the ‘haircut’ procedure imposed in agreement with the EU and International Monetary Fund. The chance of this bilateral meeting, organized in the midst of a huge economic crisis, running smoothly, seemed rather small at the onset. In fact, I wondered if it would go ahead at all.

GOVERNMENT OF CYPRUS DECIDES TO GO AHEAD WITH THE CONFERENCE

However, the government of Cyprus decided to go ahead with the conference. Brilliantly chaired by charismatic founder of Horasis, Frank-Juergen Richter, the conference gave a chance to the Cypriot government to express itself to the community of Russian business people in a transparent and open way. It was clear that the message the Cypriot government wanted to pass to the Russians, was one of regret for not having been able to safeguard the wealth and trust of those who had invested into the country, and also one of commitment. The commitment of the government to take a very broad look at the underlying causes of the economic collapse, and seek realistic measures in order to fix it.

TOP-DOWN COMMITMENT  - A SECRET INGREDIENT OF ANY RE-BRANDING PROJECT

In the business context, the top-down commitment of senior management is a crucial element which can make or break any major re-branding project. As far as nations go, re-branding, or reshaping an image of the country vis-a-vis the minds and hearts of its target audience, also requires full commitment of its government to start thinking differently. As soon as there is commitment to start fixing one’s own problems, chances for a successful outcome of a re-branding project increase tremendously.

Although rarely on the radar screen of governments dealing with the urgency of major economic crisis, branding can actually help any government keep a broad perspective of what needs to be attained in the long term. Whereas its main preoccupations in the present situation may be of a remedial nature in the short term, and mostly directed at reforms of the banking system and tax regime, the government of Cyprus would benefit from embracing some of the following principles of branding a nation:

1) Stay positive about the future

The world loves success stories about countries emerging from economic crisis. Whereas it’s crucial to address the most urgent things first, positive morale of a good outcome is of great importance in any rebranding project, or crisis communications.

2) Identify your Unique Value Proposition

Just like any product or company, any country has something that makes it unique in the eyes of its target audience -- be it tourists, or potential investors. The Cypriot government would need to go through a major brand audit exercise, whereby it would collect all of the elements that could be considered unique for its brand, and decide on a shortlst of most powerful ones to be communicated to the world.

3) Identify your target audience

Whereas the main audience in the context of the conference consisted of Russian investors into Cyprus, the government of Cyprus should identify different categories of its target audience, which may include investors from other countries, EU, international credit rating agencies, tourists, and others.

4) Create a unique brand personality and brand positioning

Based on an in-depth brand audit, and having identified its unique DNA, Cyprus should then translate this into a credible and inspirational brand personality.

5) Roll out the new brand positioning through a high-impact communications campaign across offline and online channels

Depending on the previously identified target audience, select channels for rolling out a brand communications campaign

Whereas many governments still tend to view re-branding campaigns simply as advertising initiatives aimed at fostering growth of the tourist sector, it’s worth looking at country re-branding from a different, more strategic, angle. In the case of Cyprus, a re-branding project would be highly beneficial as it would help the government to identify the main areas requiring immediate fixes, allowing at the same time to keep a broad perspective of exciting opportunities that the future holds for this beautiful sunny island.

The Branding Bandwagon

Happy Valentine’s day -- to all those who celebrate it, and also to those who don’t. Because even if the meaning of Valentine’s day does not play such an important role in your life, I bet you have noticed its existence today. Many, many times.

Pretty much every brand I follow throughout Schmoozy Fox’s social media channels, has wished me, and the rest of its fans, a happy Valentine’s day. From just a couple messages early this morning, it all turned into a massive wave of red hearts as the day progressed.

Let’s call this festive herd behavior branding bandwagon. The question is: what value does this bring to brands? And what value does it bring to customers?

The bandwagon effect refers to “people doing certain things because other people are doing them, regardless of their own beliefs, which they may ignore or override.” (source: Wikipedia) So, many brands will be posting their messages on Valentine’s day not because they are exploding from love towards their customers, but simply because it’s just something other companies do. And of course, often this may seem like a great idea to sell more products.

But in reality, it’s really difficult to say how much of such commercial corporate messaging gets into the hearts of the target audience. My guess is, probably very little. The bigger the snowfall of pink and red-colored images, the less our brains are likely to single out the message.  And the less chance you have to get your marketing material noticed.

A similar Branding Brandwagon effect occurs during other festive seasons, such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc.

My advice to brands is: unless it’s something meaningful to you, and unless your post brings a lot of value to your target audience, just go and celebrate Valentine’s Day with your loved ones, and wait till tomorrow to post your next Facebook status update. This will give you a better chance to get your message across in a more efficient and elegant way.

Skunkfunk: edgy fashion from Bilbao

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

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

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

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews

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

Mikel: Different. Lifestyle. Cosmopolitan.

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

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

Olga: In how many countries do you sell?

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

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

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2

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

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1

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

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

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

Olga: What are Skunkfunk’s plans for 2013?

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

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

The power of brand endorsements

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

The Thank You Economy
The Thank You Economy

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

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

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

Celebrity endorsements - the glitz and glamor of branding

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

Face value

Jimmy Wales Wikipedia
Jimmy Wales Wikipedia

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

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

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

Forget the rational

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

KimCattrall
KimCattrall

Famous faces help sell shoes

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

Persuasiveness of fame

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

Reaching_for_the_stars_schmoozy_fox
Reaching_for_the_stars_schmoozy_fox

Clearly defined brands influence purchasing decisions

running track
running track

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design thinking vs analytical thinking

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

MINI: an exciting drive

Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox
Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox
MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox
MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MINI_family_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox
MINI_family_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

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

Confused about your brand positioning? Stop advertising

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Source: The Truly Deeply blog

 

 

Building Russian brands

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

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

 

RUSSIAN BRANDS GLOBALLY

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

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

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

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

BRAND STRATEGY IS THE ANSWER

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

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

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

IMPORTANCE OF SUCCESS LOCALLY

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

 

 

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

 

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

Kipling customizes its brand mascot

I've written extensively about brand mascots which can play an important role in making your brand funky and remarkable. I've also interviewed Kipling in my Funky Brand Interview series. Today, I will show you how Kipling keeps us all engaged in its brand by allowing artistic and creative people (like myself :) ) customize its brand mascot -- the Kipling Monkey. In the UK, Kipling has organized a Mashed Up Monkey contest in collaboration with the Dazed and Confused magazine. If you want to create a unique Kipling Mascot, then submit it for review on the Mashed Up Monkey site, and maybe you will be the lucky winner. The winner will receive worth of £ 500 Kipling goodies, have his or her design displayed in the window of Kipling's London shop, and get featured in Dazed and Confused. I've customized a monkey, and the result is a very foxy orange monkey that you can see here. Unfortunately, I can't submit it for the competition as I am not a UK citizen, and don't qualify.

 

As I wrote in the Funky Brand interview with Kipling, innovation through collaboration with artists lies at the core of Kipling's brand strategy. Allowing artists and creative people to customize its brand mascot is yet another step which supports this strategy.

In France, Kipling has collaborated with 10 designers and stylists who have customized the Kipling Monkey.  All of the customized designs will be displayed at the Galerie de la Tour in Paris from June 1st till June 26th. The proceeds from this exhibition will be donated to Red Cross in Japan.

 

SCHMOOZY FOX in FT's Business of Luxury edition

On June 6, 2011 he Financial Times' Business of Luxury supplement featured an article about diffusion brands and affordable luxury (you might need to register with FT to view the article). The article addresses benefits and possible disadvantages of introducing the so called diffusion brands -- a strategy often used by luxury brands to cash in on their well-established image and boost revenues by positioning a new, more democratic, child brand as affordable luxury.  An example of this strategy is the luxury brand Armani launching its more affordable diffusion brand Armani Exchange. I was interviewed for this article, and you can read my views there. Whereas launching affordable luxury brands as diffusion lines is often practiced by luxury companies, creating an affordable luxury brand from scratch is also possible, and in many cases very successful. An example is Victoria's Secret in the United States.

Perils of lifestyle brand positioning

Lifestyle and self-expression Have you noticed that more and more brands position themselves as lifestyle these days? You wander into a store thinking you’ll be checking out home decoration items, and instead, you end up browsing seemingly unrelated goods -- books, clothing, food -- at a lifestyle boutique, or lifestyle concept store. It reminds me of my my recent visit to Merci Merci, a concept store in Paris. There, you can even sit down and have a cup of coffee whilst looking at flowery aprons and dresses displayed in the shop. Another one, Cook and Book in Brussels, offers a possibility to express your artsy lifestyle by having lunch while surrounded by art and style books, which one can also buy.

 

Ways of expressing one’s lifestyle have become abundant. As far as selecting products goes, consumers are presented with endless flavors, designs and scents to choose from, mix and assemble into unique combinations which express their unique lifestyles. In fact, so many brands offer mass customization, that ways of self-expression have become all-pervasive. When so many brands are trying to tap into people’s needs for self-expression and strive for lifestyle positioning, maybe it’s time to find other ways to make your brand stand out from the crowd?

Lifestyle brands expose themselves to cross-category competition

A study published this month in Journal of Marketing (( Competing for Consumer Identity: Limits to Self-Expression and the Perils of Lifestyle Branding, Alexander Chernev, Ryan Hamilton, & David Gal, Journal of Marketing, May 2011)) concludes that by positioning their brands as lifestyle, companies “expose themselves to much broader, cross-category competition for a share of a consumer’s identity.” ((ibid.)) This goes against the widely accepted belief that lifestyle brand positioning is less likely to bring products and services into direct confrontation with competing brands.

 

At first sight, the logic of the latter seems clear. Let’s say, you are launching a soft drink in a very competitive market. How would you position it? Even if it has an amazing taste, the tendency nowadays is to avoid simply positioning it as a tasty drink. That’s just too plain vanilla. Instead, you might want to tap into the lifestyles of your consumers, trying to understand how your drink will allow them to express themselves. By positioning a drink not just as a tasty drink, but something else -- let’s say, a way to express one’s energy, creativity, sportiness, sense of achievement, etc. -- your company wants to signal that it has a great product to offer.  It also wants to avoid somebody else coming to the market with a tastier drink.

 

However, by positioning your drink as a lifestyle product, you enter into competition with other products as well -- branded and non-branded -- that compete with each other as means of facilitating consumers’ self-expression. In fact, your drink may very well be competing with a car, a mobile phone and a local trendy restaurant, all at once.

 

Competition across product categories

In the not-so-remote past, the common approach amongst marketers was to take for granted the fact that “consumers’ brand preferences are not likely to be affected by their actions in unrelated product categories and/or domains.” (( ibid. )) Drinks were positioned against competitor drinks, and cars were positioned in ways that made them differ from competing cars. In contrast to this approach, the study shows that this is no longer the case.

According to its authors, "Consumer brand preferences are a function of the activities they were involved in prior to evaluating a given brand—more specifically, the degree to which these prior activities afforded the opportunity to express their identities. ((Ibid., p 67))

In other words, consumer’s choice of a certain brand of mobile phone with lifestyle positioning can be influenced by his or her self-expression activities undertaken prior to making that choice. For instance, writing a blog article, creating a painting or sharing news with friends on Facebook could have already addressed your potential consumers’ needs for self-expression before your marketing message has reached them. In other words, self-expression is finite and can be satiated by very many different things, not only branded products.

 

What should brand managers do?

First of all, it’s simply helpful to be aware of the dynamics of self-expression among your consumers. By realizing that your consumers’ self-expression is finite, and that your brand competes with other brands, concepts and activities far from your product category, you will be well prepared to create smart brand strategies.

 

Second, rethink the lifestyle positioning of your product. Does it really make you stand out from the crowd and be truly funky? If everybody is doing it, maybe it’s time for another big thing. Like launching a really tasty soft drink.

 

 

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.

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!

 

The word "schmoozing" spotted in French

Finally, I don't have to explain to my French-speaking friends what the word "schmoozing" means! :) Well, at least I can from now on refer them to an article that appeared in this week's edition of Références, a Belgian weekly for employment seekers and career-focused individuals.

Schmoozing: mode d'emploi(s)

The article focuses on the kind of "schmoozing" (particularly, its online variety) one does to find a job. For me personally, and of course, for SCHMOOZY FOX as a company, this word has a broader meaning.

Ladies and gentlemen, schmoozing is HIGH POWER NETWORKING.  The kind that involves co-operating, building relationships and closing win-win deals.

All of this with the objective of enhancing the client's product or service brand.

In my brand strategy work, schmoozing capabilities come in very handy when assessing my clients' potential and spotting opportunities for brand partnerships, brand endorsements and co-branding.

So, from now on, vive le schmoozing!

schmoozing definition

Source: Schmoozing: mode d"emploi(s) by Rafal Naczyk in Références, 19.02.11

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