With Julie Cottineau, Author of Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, Founder and CEO of BrandTwist
Breaking away from the competition in today’s crowded world is a challenge for every business and every individual. Julie Cottineau shows us how in her book, Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands.
Julie is the Founder and CEO of the brand consulting firm, BrandTwist, and the creator of brandschoolonline.com. Prior to launching her own business, she was Vice President of Brands at Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.
Twist Best Practices To Your Brand’s Advantage
Julie describes a pivotal moment that gave her a new branding vision. She was at Newark airport when she stopped in her tracks by the image of a 747 with McDonald’s golden arches on the tail fin. At that moment, she thought to herself, “Wow, that’s a different kind of airline. I bet that airline has a very service-oriented attitude, maybe a menu of options, maybe I could get on the plane, see if it was crowded and super-size my economy seat to a business class seat or a first class.” As she started getting excited, Julie realized it was a food-court McDonald’s sign reflected on her view of the 747’s tail fin, but it became her a-ha moment.
Take Off Your Brand Blinders
Almost every business wears brand blinders – living and breathing the business, looking at their immediate competition, reading the same trade publications, and inadvertently looking, sounding, and promising the same things as everybody else. She realized that to really break out, businesses must take off their brand blinders, forget about the competition, look at brands they love, and twist those best practices to their brand’s advantage.
In Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, Julie recommends becoming a student of brand, not by reading textbooks or taking classes but by being more observant of what attractive brands do to give you great customer service, win you over, and compel you to recommend them to others. Then see what you can beg, borrow, and steal to incorporate into your own brand and business strategy.
Virgin’s Brand Strategy
Since Julie worded at Virgin, it’s a brand she knows well. One of the smartest things Virgin does is to deliver the brand experience as a continuum. For instance, Virgin Atlantic airlines thinks beyond just the time that you’re on their airplanes.If you’re a first class passenger, a limousine drives you to the airport, check-in is a breeze, you can sit at a real bar on board and talk to others, and they take you to your destination when you land. Julie wants businesses thinking about all of those little touch points as opportunities to surprise and delight customers.
The #1 Mistake
In Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, Julie Cottineau says the number one mistake businesses make is thinking that their brand is just their logo, their name, and their website. As an example, adding “We Care” to your tagline only resonates if you build customer service excellence into your business model, otherwise it rings hollow.
Develop Your Personal Brand
Julie recommends personal branding as something that should start in high school, so you are better positioned to make it to a good college against other talented candidates vying for the same spots. Personal branding continues in college with making a favorable impression on your professors and classmates, which could help you land a better first job, especially with millennial unemployment running at about 9%.
With employers combing through social media accounts, Julie wants tech-savvy youngsters to curate their digital presence by highlighting strengths so employers see a theme and are not lost in a flurry of random posts.
Instead of imitating your competition, the twist within Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands is removing your “brand-blinders” to find those singular qualities that best define you and set your business apart from the pack.
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Steve Pomeranz: In a crowded business world where everyone is vying for our short attention spans, being very different from your competition is the key, and branding is one of the most important ways for businesses to break out of the crowd. Not only businesses but also for us, as individuals, personal branding is another important tool to help us get what we want from this crowded world. Julie Cottineau is Founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultant and creator of brandschoolonline.com. Prior to launching her own business, she was Vice President of Brands at Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Her new book is Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands. Julie, welcome to the show.
Julie Cottineau: Thanks, Steve, glad to be here.
Steve Pomeranz: You mention in your book, Twist, you describe a pivotal moment when you were in the airport that changed your perspective and gave you a new vision. Tell us about that.
Julie Cottineau: I was at the Newark airport, and I was traveling as a brand consultant. I was running for my plane and, frankly, not really enjoying the whole business travel experience. I find it very bland, very me-too. All the sudden, I was stopped in my tracks by the image of a 747 with McDonald’s golden arches on the tail fin. In that moment, I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a different kind of airline. I bet that airline has a very service-oriented attitude, maybe bright colors, maybe a menu of options, maybe I could get on the plane, see if it was crowded and super-size my economy seat to a business class seat or a first class.” I started getting really excited about this airplane, and I realized all the sudden that it was a mirage. It was actually the reflection of the food court on the window of the neon McDonald’s sign, and there happened to be a plane parked there.
Steve Pomeranz: What did that mean to you when you saw that? What flashed in your mind that got you moving in the direction?
Julie Cottineau: I just had such a big “aha” that the way to really break out in any category is to take off your brand blinders, to forget about what your competition is doing, look at brands that you love that are breaking through, that are doing well in other categories, and use or twist those best practices.
Steve Pomeranz: You say “brand blinders.” You think most people, most business people and individuals, walk around, and they just take on too much of a me-too attitude. You mentioned dentists in your book.
Julie Cottineau: I think in every category. It’s not like they’re making a mistake; I think it’s natural. It’s just that you live and breathe your business; you’re looking at your competition; you’re reading certain trade publications. For a lot of small businesses, you’re spending a lot of energy trying to look legitimate and often that means inadvertently sounding and looking and promising the same things as everybody else.
Steve Pomeranz: So, if I’m a small business person and I have a limited budget, how do I start thinking about this seemingly creative exercise that I’m going to have to develop? Maybe I have someone helping me with logo and so on. How do I do all of this? How do I get from point A to the point where you want me to be?
Julie Cottineau: I think the first thing is you have to just become a student of brand. I don’t mean textbooks or classes or something complicated. I mean just start to notice which brands you as a human being, not necessarily as a business person, are noticing. Where are you getting great customer service? What are the brands that you are raving about that you’re telling your friends and family that they need to try? Then really look at what those brands are doing specifically, not just in terms of their logo and messaging, but their whole experience. Then thinking about what could you beg, borrow, and steal to incorporate into your own brand?
Steve Pomeranz: What can we learn? There are a lot of great, iconic brands in our world. These are brands that have been developed, in some cases, over a hundred years or more, thinking of Coca-Cola and the like. Give us a takeaway that we can learn from a Coca-Cola or an Apple or a Virgin.
Julie Cottineau: Virgin obviously is a brand near and dear to my heart. I think one of the smartest things that Virgin does is they look at the brand experience as a continuum. They don’t just think about your airline experiences, the time that you’re on the plane. For Virgin Atlantic, for example, they pick you up, they drive you in a limousine to the airport, they make it easier to check in, they have a different kind of clubhouse experience. On the plane, they have a different approach to entertainment, they have a bar in the middle of upper class, a real bar where you can sit and have a drink and chat. Then when you land, they’ll take you to your destination. It’s all of those little touch points, large and small, that we should be thinking about as business people. What are the moments of magic when I can surprise and delight my customer?
Steve Pomeranz: It sounds to me, though, you’re talking about the difference between a brand and a business model. In my own mind, what you’ve just described to me is a business model of heightened service, extra service, something special, but is that the brand that a small business person is thinking or is that a business model?
Julie Cottineau: It’s a great question, Steve. In my mind, they are the same thing. Your brand is your business. The number one mistake I see large and small clients making is they think that their brand is just their logo, their name, their website. One of the things that I encourage my students and clients to think about from the very beginning is “how can I build in branded elements, magic moments, to my business model?” So if what you see missing in your category is customer service, don’t just add that on in the end with a tagline that says, “We care.” Really build it into the way the business is structured. That’s brand.
Steve Pomeranz: Find the need and fill it is what my daddy used to say. I think it follows that theme. My guest is Julie Cottineau, she is the CEO of BrandTwist, and also Brand School Online. She was also the Vice President of Brands at Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Her book is Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands. Let’s talk about personal branding, Julie. You mention that you should start thinking about your brand really early on in junior high school or something.
Julie Cottineau: Yeah, I do. I have two teenagers, one who’s in college and one’s a sophomore in high school. It’s really hard to get into college these days. There’s just so many different candidates vying for the same spots. I think early on you have to start to think about your own personal brand narrative. “What am I going to write in my essay that helps this university who has a split second to look at each application, understand me, get me, and want to know more about me?”
Steve Pomeranz: I’m thinking about Legally Blonde right now, and the video that she sent. That made an impression on me; I don’t want to go there. Millennials, in particular, you mentioned that the unemployment rate nationwide for millennials is 9% or something around that figure. They’ve really got to figure out how they’re going to get what they want from this world. What are you suggesting to them at their later ages?
Julie Cottineau: One of the great things about millennials is they’re digital-native. They’re really good at social media, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, whatever it is these days. Curate your content. Make sure that what you’re putting out there is telling the story that you want to be out for potential employers. I also think editing is really important. A lot of millennials have grown up with so many different talents. Their parents are asking them to get involved in sports, in arts, in community service, and all these different things. That’s fabulous, it’s creating really well-rounded people but, as an employer, it can be a little overwhelming to understand somebody. I suggest you pick one thing that you’re passionate about. For my daughter, it was music, but she used her community service around music. She did work in a music therapy institute; she worked as a music TA at our synagogue; her thesis for her senior paper was around the idea of music in literature. You can make it well-rounded, but, if you make it well-rounded and focused at the same time, then people are going to understand your personal brand, your story a lot easier.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s very good advice. The book is Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands. My guest is Julie Cottineau. Julie, is there a website people can go to?
Julie Cottineau: Yeah. They can go to brandtwist.com.
Steve Pomeranz: Brandtwist.com. Julie, thank you so much for joining me.
Julie Cottineau: Thanks for having me.