We recently sat down with Julie Cottineau, brand strategy expert and author of TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, to discuss how businesses can look outside their own category and comfort zone for inspiration—and success.
What was the inspiration for BrandTwist?
JC: The breakthrough moment that sparked the concept of the Twist happened at an airport during a business trip. Running late for a flight, I was underwhelmed by how all the airlines were branded in the same drab colors, with very little difference in customer experience. I had to keep looking at my boarding pass to remember which carrier I was booked on. Then I noticed something different: A plane on the tarmac with a McDonald’s logo. “Wow!” I thought, “This stands out…”
I was intrigued, and wondered, “What would a trip on this plane be like? Would it have a more colorful and fun décor? Could I get a super-sized seat?” I imagined it as a good value, family friendly, with lots of flexible options. It turned out to be a mirage… the McDonald’s sign in the food court was reflected in the window and a plane just happened to be in the right spot to make it appear as if it was a McDonald’s-branded plane. But that moment where the McDonald’s brand seemed to Twist out of category was my inspiration. This is why I called my company BrandTwist.
Sounds like the “Twist” concept can be applied to more than just business brand strategy. How have you personally incorporated it into your career?
JC: Each of us is a brand. If you’re a celebrity, entrepreneur or business owner, you directly represent your company/product. As an employee you represent the brand employing you. If you’re job hunting or expanding your career, your personal brand helps you get noticed. In designing the BrandTwist brand, I chose a color I am personally passionate about—purple. Whenever I appear as an ambassador of my brand, I wear this color, so it’s synonymous with both the personal brand of Julie and my BrandTwist business. It makes both a little more memorable. At events, I have attendees put their business cards in a purple bucket. Paying attention to those touchpoints is important, because they add up to help you stand out.
How can a company use brand strategy effectively to inspire its customers to be brand ambassadors?
JC: Making and keeping a meaningful promise is critical to any relationship. And all strong relationships—business or human—are built on trust. Your brand promise is not just about what your product does, it’s about how using it makes people feel. There are other brands with better technology than Apple—but owning and using an Apple product makes people feel like they are part of a world where they can create anything they set their minds to. Brands that connect with consumers’ hearts, not just their minds, tend to build stronger relationships and create ambassadors.
How long have you been running the Brand School Master Class? What’s the key takeaway?
JC: Brand School is now in its fifth year. Being an online program, we’re able to accommodate students from throughout the U.S. and around the world, which brings fresh perspectives for creative problem solving. The key takeaway is looking for an out-of-category Twist that can help you break through. I teach how to look at other successful brands and imagine how Twisting them with yours can open up new delivery channels, more innovative products, and liven up your branding.
How can large corporations benefit from having a brand buddy and/or taking inspiration from an outside organization or different field?
JC: Taking inspiration from outside your own category and Twisting your brand with those ideas to inspire a new approach, fresh idea, new channel of delivery—or a way to make your customer’s life a little easier—is effective for businesses of any size.
It’s difficult to view our brand as an outsider does. Having it reviewed by fresh eyes can be a real value-add because they see you without “brand blinders” and provide a helpful evaluation of their experience—some actionable or bright ideas and Twists that may never have occurred to you—to help get messages across more effectively.
Want an assessment of your own brand’s health and how Twisting could help your business? Consider applying for a Free Brand Health Check with BrandTwist.
Julie Cottineau is the author of the bestselling book “TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands,” and the founder/CEO of BrandTwist, a branding consultancy, and the Brand School Online branding program. Previously, she was VP of Brand for Richard Branson’s Virgin company, as well as Interbrand and Grey Global. She has served as an adjunct professor of marketing at both Cornell and Columbia universities, and is often quoted in top business media such as Entrepreneur magazine, CNN and Forbes.com.
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