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Big Blue (www.bigblue.co.za) is a proudly South African and fiercely unconventional company with an aversion to anything corporate and mainstream. It has 16 stores countrywide, each with a unique personality and feel.
The stores incorporate the Kitsch+Kool, Kommon-soosgrondkagelkakkie-geskenkwinkels and Blue Room decor brands, and sells fashion items for seriously individual dressers.
At the end of 2005 Big Blue developed a website which it wanted to work as a business tool. The concept of 'Makhulu Polane' was born and with it, probably South Africa's first social media campaign.
Loosely translated, 'Makhulu Polane' means 'Big Idea' - the perfect catchphrase for a t-shirt design competition. "The thinking was that designers show us their big idea and we'll make them famous," explains Melissa Attree, local social media expert and the campaign's mastermind.
The campaign had a number of goals: to source and support new designers, improve sales and build the Big Blue brand. A t-shirt design competition fitted perfectly, given that t-shirts are Big Blue's biggest and fastest selling item. The first competition took place in 2006 and was marketed exclusively online.
Melissa explains: "We listened online for a long time, using mainly Google Alerts, and discovered forums and blogs that discussed art and design. We started seeding links onto these forums, talking to editors and sending them news. We also targeted design schools to get the students involved."
In that first year, Big Blue received 350 entries. Then, as now, the winning design received a R20 000 cash prize, and was on sale in all the stores for two months. The total campaign was done for R25 000. The 2009 competition drew more than 600 entries and Makhulu Polane is now a fixture on the local annual design calendar.
The Big Blue team uses all the social media platforms, as well as bigger websites and communities such as www.BizCommunity.co.za. For instance, they publish the best t-shirt designs as an album on Facebook and Flickr, and they produce an animated version for YouTube.
In 2010 they plan to build a social network and community where people can vote for their favourite designs and build a social network., "But," says Melissa, "the campaign will always remain niche-focused and quirky. Big Blue wants to retain its brand identity and will not over-commercialise".