Meeting the challenge of expanding Stonz into new markets
If you follow me as @DenVan on Twitter, information pills you might have seen that I contributed to a Dan Misener piece in today’s Globe and Mail. It was a brand strategy critique of the Canadian kids footwear and winter-wear brand Stonz. But as with many such things, order the advice I provided was about twice as long as the space they had for me. So for Stonz, and all brand managers (and geeks), I’ve included my full thoughts below.
First of all, here’s the Globe and Mail Article (click to visit)
(Article here) (PDF file here)
The Stonz brand strategy challenge
As the article says, Stonz is a Vancouver-based company that manufactures a growing portfolio of clothing and footwear for children. But their signature product, and the one most deeply associated with the Stonz brand, is the type of booty you see above for infants and toddlers. It’s big selling point: two rip cords help to keep it on your toddler’s feet – which is a real plus for us parents.
Their big problem: knock-offs. And this is particularly a problem as the company tried to expand into new markets overseas. Or as the article describes it:
(Founder and CEO Lisa Will) has seen several competing products that bear a strong resemblance to the all-weather outdoor baby boots sold by her company. She has even seen ads for “fake stonz” pop up online.
Ms. Will believes her booties were the “originals,” but while the company has secured worldwide trademarks for the Stonz brand, it does not hold any patents on its bootie design or other products, she says.
What the brand strategy experts (and I) say
Dan Misener pulled together three experts to address this problem.
- Karinna Nobbs, lecturer in fashion branding and retail strategy,London College of Fashion
- Joyce Groote, president and CEO of Holeys Canada of Delta, B.C.
- Dennis Van Staalduinen, president of Ottawa-based Brandvelope Consulting (yes, that’s me)
Karinna and Joyce focused on building a brand story around the moms that founded the company, and to highlight the “original” and Canadian nature of the brand. And I fully agree. But I think Stonz has a bigger problem. I think the name is a serious liability. Here was my full comment:
My brand strategy advice for Stonz (full text)
When I asked my wife – the chief buyer of clothing for our three kids – to name some children’s boot brands off the top of her head, she rattled off Cougars, Sorels, Uggs, Bogs, and “Kamiviks” (sic.).
Ever heard of Stonz? “Nope,” she said.
“How about these?” I asked her, showing her the company Web site. “Oh, those!” She said. “We had a pair of those booties for a while.”
She remembered the “booties” but not the Stonz brand.
That’s a problem
Product innovation and pure marketing chutzpah have gotten this company very far indeed, and congratulations to them for that. But apparel products, promotions, supply chains, and social media campaigns are far too easy (and legal) to copy. What can’t be copied is a strong, memorable brand “hook” that makes one product the brand all similar products are compared to.
Think of the Canadian-invented footwear product “Foam Creations,” which only became a global phenomenon and a billion dollar public company when an American team bought it, and re-launched it under the much stronger brand name, Crocs.
How do I know it’s a more effective name? Because all last week I was telling my kids “Put your Crocs on. We’re going to the beach!” But I can’t even imagine saying to my toddler on a cold winter day: “Let’s put your Stonz (Stones? Stons?) on and go outside.” I would just say “booties”.
I don’t think it’s too late for these smart, driven entrepreneurs to thoughtfully and strategically re-launch their core brand. But I do think it needs to happen. And soon.
But what do you think?
Am I being to hard on that name? Is it really necessary to change it? Weigh in in the comments below!
Interesting story. Hindsight is always easy, so I am always careful with other products (as you’ve done with Crocs) to make the comparison about brand strength. Lots of conditions go into that kind of momentum. That being said, there’s a breakdown in the story from the product/style to the name and the identity. As a consumer, I don’t know why they are called Stonz—a word that doesn’t sound fun, charming or comfortable—so it doesn’t stick in my mind. It looks like a great product, and they seem to be doing well. But I would say the name seems to be making it harder to get traction. My two cents.
Oh, @SJAbbott I’d say that’s worth at LEAST 2.75 cents (adjusted for inflation of course).
You’re right of course about the danger of one-to-one comparisons. No two brands are alike. And yes, Crocs are their own animal entirely, worthy of their own LONG blog post. I chose them as an example because they are a universally recognized footwear brand that, despite the same problems with knock-off imitators, are a name readily uses as a proxy for that whole category of products.
I am from the Czech Republic and I have just ordered (through a local e-shop) the first pair of Stonz for my son. These booties are becoming quite popular here. While now I am becoming quite afraid if I get the original or the fake ones, I have to say that (here in the Czech environment) the name looks and sounds quite cool, although it does not associate anything specific. Pretty interesting, isn’t it?