Transparency and honesty is key: the world is quickly changing and so isthe request from your customer for transparency. Down the line, being honest and true to your customers will pay off.
Have a unique product offering: it is too easy to have a product thateveryone has and put fancy marketing on top of it. Invest in innovation and a unique product.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicolas and Linzi Nemeth. They have a very sweet story with their dog named Filou. Nico is a true Parisian. Although he lives in New York now, he was born and raised in Paris. Linzi, originally from Pennsylvania, moved to the Big Apple for her career. Neither of them was looking for love or a dog for that matter.
After a sweet relationship tradition and a pup who decided to try and snack on them, they knew that sugary treats wouldn’t be good for Filou. As a result, Nico started to make Filou her own macarons himself. The idea for Bonne et Filou was born.
After months of making dog-friendly macarons fit for royalty, Filou and all other pampered pooches can eat dog-friendly macarons, just like French royalty.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me today! I come from such a different background than the dog food industry. I was an investment banker financing private equity deals for 7 years. My first exposure to this industry was when I worked on a deal with a massive pet food retailer. I learned so much about the industry itself and also about how the many products we feed our dogs are all mass-marketed, and most of the time unhealthy. There is a clear need for better, more natural, and humane products.
When I moved to the United States 10 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see the interest in dogs that prevails in this country. I noticed how everyone treats their dogs like family, which is very different from Europe. This mentality is quickly driving customer consumption when they shop for their dogs. That’s where I believe the opportunity stands. On one side, you have dog parents that always want more premium and natural products, and on the other side, you have all these old school brands with mass products that try to become more premium, but it’s not in their brand DNA. That’s the problem we tried to resolve by creating Bonne et Filou, the first luxury dog treats brand, with the launch of dog macarons, in very humanized packaging.
A lot of people ask me why we came up with a macaron? The answer can be cheesy but it was driven by love. My wife, Linzi, and I had a little dating tradition back in the days, where I used to surprise her and sneak a box of macarons in her purse every time we were out. When we adopted our dog, Filou, she kept trying to eat those macarons but they were not healthy for her. One morning, I woke up and came up with the idea to create a luxury dog treats brand that would be based on THE macaron.
The macaron is so popular that it needs no introduction, it’s literally the symbol of French pastry and excellence. If it’s so popular and beloved by humans, shouldn’t dogs also get a taste too?
It was a perfect opportunity for me to take a drastic turn in my life from banking and do something meaningful and impactful. As my wife says, I went from Investment Banking to Macaron Baking.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Honestly, there are so many examples to choose from. As a new brand, it is hard to judge what is going to work versus what is not going to work.
As a young brand, you are always striving for brand awareness. So, when a celebrity or someone with a lot of following uses your product, you (i) are so happy and (ii) want the world to know. One day, we had a very famous “influencer” (2 million + followers) love our product so much that they posted on social media about it. Nothing is better than organic posting. We were so happy about it and started reposting it everywhere and used it as a communication tool.
Since I’m French and not American, I had no clue who that “celebrity” was. My team didn’t double-check it either and we were all impressed by the number of followers: 2 million!! For a small brand, that was impressive. Wait for it…
The “celebrity” was actually a former pornstar who had previous headlines associated with animal abuse. Well, not only did it not fit the elegant and refined luxury brand we wanted to create, but animal abuse for a brand of dog lovers? It was probably the biggest communication issue we have had.
We started receiving dozens of messages from customers and followers that were shocked that a brand like us would want to be associated with such a person.
What did we do? We owned it! We answered each individual message, telling them the truth. We had made a mistake and although we had no clue who she was, we were just excited to have somebody with a big following post about us. By owning up to our mistake and apologizing, we actually had half of these complaints turn into orders. It was an important lesson for us: stay genuine, authentic, transparent to your core customer base, and don’t try to go where you don’t belong. It’s extremely important for a brand to stay true to its values and core mission, before anything else!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a business owner, I would tend to answer “literally everything makes our brand stand out”. We are the first real luxury brand in a dog treats industry that is primarily very mass-marketed. We came up with a product that has no precedent in the market, something new and unique: dog macarons. Many dog owners understand the concept of washing their hands after giving their dog a treat. Bonne et Filou dog macarons not only look and smell good but also make your dog feel special. From the product to the packaging, our dog macarons are way more than just a treat or a gift, they enhance the bond between owner and dog.
The biggest compliment I could receive is when a new customer tells me they thought our dog macarons were for humans until they tried to take a bite out of them. While they are safe for human consumption and our dogs love them, they aren’t the sugary macarons humans are used to. We designed these vet-approved dog macarons carefully with nutritionists specifically as a hard treat for dogs to be able to enjoy for an extended period of time.
In addition to the product itself, Bonne et Filou is an authentic, transparent, and honest brand. We source our ingredients and hand make our products in the USA, only with all-natural and human-grade ingredients. Creating a luxury brand in the dog industry is not easy and we consider that the key to success is to not take ourselves too seriously. Modern luxury can be fun, playful, and joyous. One thing is important though: no matter what form luxury takes, it is always sophisticated, which I believe Bonne et Filou is every day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We launched the brand less than a year ago and we are already in 330+ stores across the United States including major retailers like Dillard’s and Neiman Marcus. We are lucky to have exciting new projects every month. Outside of new products and packaging releases, we are preparing for a launch in South Korea, a 2-month Holiday market in Bryant Park NY, and the opening of new retailers.
The biggest thing we are working on right now is the mission of giving back to charity. Back in March at the beginning of the global pandemic, we launched an initiative to donate 10% of our sales to help place dogs in foster homes with people that are self-isolating because of the pandemic. We want to make these initiatives more permanent in the future.
Our customers tend to be in wealthy demographics and their dogs are the most pampered out there. Life is unfair and so many other dogs in the world are far from being that lucky. If there is one positive impact of COVID in the United States, it is the drastic reduction of dogs in shelters. Although we are happy about this reduction, there are still many dogs in the world suffering in conditions sometimes tolerated by governments. We are in the process of launching a partnership with Nana’s Haven, a rescue organization saving dogs from the Meat Trade in Asia and high kill shelters, with the mission of finding them a home in the United States. Over 30 million dogs are victims of the meat trade in Asia and we think it is important for us as a dog treat brand to help those dogs in need.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Brand marketing is truly what is inside your DNA and identity. Who we are, why we exist, our story, our values, our commitment, our impact. All these things would make a brand impossible to exist if they were not as solid as a rock! True brand marketing generates customer emotions and leads to customer retention and the opportunity to build a community.
Product marketing is how you communicate your brand marketing and acquire your customers.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
We come back to the above concept of brand vs. product marketing. As the years go by, the online shopper is becoming less and less inclined to be faithful to a brand. Brand marketing is the only thing that can retain this shopper.
It would be misleading to say brand marketing could live without product marketing. If you have a strong brand DNA but no way to spread it, your brand is likely to live a short time. The stronger your brand marketing is, the cheaper your product marketing will be, and the faster you can expand your brand and awareness. Once again, DNA is key, stick with who you are and what you believe in!
BUT, there is a big but, the consumer goods world is becoming more and more competitive. Each brand has different resources to spread their DNA. A brand backed-up by VC money will rather invest more massively than a family-owned brand. It’s hard to compete but the smaller brand will likely invest in a smarter way, more in line with its DNA, rather than the big brand that will be pressured by the need for fast results. When the small brand lasts long and becomes a big one, 9 times out of 10, it’s mainly driven by its DNA and investment in its brand. That is the secret sauce. It is a long and painful investment, but this is an investment you cannot avoid.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
1. Define a clear and strong DNA since day 1: you should stick to your brandvalues and message across the board. It’s ok to test different things but don’t compromise on who your brand is.
2. Transparency and honesty is key: the world is quickly changing and so isthe request from your customer for transparency. Down the line, being honest and true to your customers will pay off.
3. Have a unique product offering: it is too easy to have a product thateveryone has and put fancy marketing on top of it. Invest in innovation and a unique product.
4. Turn your customer into a brand ambassador: Involve your customers inthe evolution of the brand by listening to their opinions, considering their feedback, and their need for future products. It will reinforce the strength of your brand community.
5. Be fun and impactful: create a fun environment your customer will want tostick with and impact the world with initiatives that will leave a mark.
I’ll add a 6th one just for the fun, to provide impeccable customer service: always make sure your customer is happy, it is what will make this customer stick around with your brand.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
It is impressive how powerful Chewy.com has become over the years and most of this brand building was done by mainly one thing: impeccable customer service and always putting the customer first. From speed and quality of service to building a loyal following base with their educative and fun videos to sending handwritten cards when your pet passes away: everything has been set up for success since day 1.
Obviously, it is hard to replicate this model for small companies because Chewy never really looked at its bottom line (aka profitability — thank you PE money) since they had so much cash behind them and could afford to lose cash every single quarter (and still does). But for small brands like Bonne et Filou, it’s important to keep focusing on your customer even with small budgets. This should be a priority. The client is king and a happy one comes back! Some things can be done easily and are not costly such as answering within a few hours of any requests, following up with customers to know if they are happy (by text and email), answering and engaging with every single customer and follower on social media, etc. For small businesses, it’s a fine line between great support and resources available.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand-building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
I see sales as an indirect result of the success of your brand building campaign. For instance, digital marketing would help to generate an immediate flow of sales but is this amount an absolute measure of your brand’s success? Absolutely not, there is a lot of ways to measure your brand building campaign, including (i) customer engagement: the more your customers engage with your brand, the more you can create a community; (ii) ratings and reviews: these are a direct indicator of your brand success, the more reviews, the more satisfied customers and the most repeat transactions; (iii) brand awareness: a direct measure of how well you’re doing building your brand, etc. The end result will eventually be more sales, but it shouldn’t be your only tool to assess the success of your brand.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Some old-school professionals and marketers still have a hard time understanding how powerful social media is. Probably even too powerful but that’s not a debate for today. I think it became one of the most important components in building a successful brand, if not the most important.
It helps you to build a loyal following, gives you live feedback on your progress and products, increases the exposure of your brand, can help to develop partnerships with other businesses, helps boost business development, and of course improve sales.
One of my favorite aspects of social media is the feedback you can receive from your social media accounts. Back in the day, brands were spending thousands, if not millions in customer panels and surveys to understand how your brand is doing and perceived by customers (some still do it). Now, you can do it for a fraction of the cost through social media.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Well, first be ready for a massive unstoppable roller-coaster, this is not for everyone. You need to be strong and ready to be disappointed a thousand times before a first positive outcome. Too many times, successful brands can hide the fact that many brands fail. What I love about business in the US vs. Europe is that “failing” is not considered like a failure but more as a source of knowledge and improvement for the next one. If it’s not the first or second business, it will be the third one. Never give up and always believe in yourself. Work as hard as you can but don’t forget where your priorities stand. And definitely make gut-based decisions, you will be changing your mind 5 times before realizing your first natural opinion was most likely the right one business-wise.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well two things:
● In the human area: It’s above my pay grade to change the world but it’severyone’s responsibility to act in a respectful way and leave a better (or at least not worse) world for our children. Just for everyone to use common sense and minimum respect would already change the world so much. There is a quote from a famous French witty film director, Michel Audiard, that says (and it might not translate the best way): “If we put a red dot on the forehead of all idiots, the world would look like a field of poppies”. I like the metaphor, that is sadly very true and I’m shocked every day by the average behavior of most people. A simple effort could help a lot.
● Well since you can see I didn’t change the world, the second is in the animal area: it is shocking to me how much we spend trying to save the world, mostof the time vainly, and don’t spend enough time on animal abuse and cruelty, something still legal in most countries. When you see in Asia that a dog could be either (i) spoiled and live like a millionaire or (ii) happily eaten at dinner, killed in the most barbaric death, there is something definitely wrong! Don’t hesitate to help this cause and get more knowledgeable. A lot of us have no clue of what happens out there. And as our new charity partner, Nana’s Haven, would say: “Knowledge is the key to change”.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To be a good professional, always start to study late for exams because it teaches you how to manage time and tackle emergencies.” — Bill Gates
It’s definitely how I have managed to shape myself and understand what priorities mean. It doesn’t mean you should do everything late, but it actually helps to understand how to prioritize the most important tasks and to pay attention to detail for what truly matters. Helpful for when you build a brand from scratch!
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
So many of them. I love learning about stories, it’s inspiring, full of advice, and free consulting!
I will stay in the pet industry and come back to my Chewy answer and say Ryan Cohen (founder of Chewy.com). His advice and stories on how he created such a unique brand so quickly, his disruption of the pet food retailers (Amazon-style). Any business owner could benefit from this.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Youtube + LinkedIn + Pinterest
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.