Why Brands Like American Girl Build Fans Not Customers

Great brands touch consumers hearts, not just their heads. They go beyond rational proof points and connect on an emotional level, and that’s why it’s the last criteria for the brands we choose on our BrandTwist Safari. So our Safari attendees can see brands that get this.

These brands know that branding is a relationship, not a transaction.

Ever feel so passionate about a brand you can’t wait to tell your friends all about it? You’re on a mission to get them to try it too so you can share this experience? When you feel and act this way, you’ve become a brand ambassador and your relationship has gone way beyond the “client zone” to something deeper.

I remember back in the day my friend Shari couldn’t believe I had not yet tried Netflix (this was back in the red envelope era). Every time I would see her she would pester me about it. I actually had a fleeting suspicion that she might be getting a commission from them. Not until I tried the brand and realize how much it changed my ability to watch TV and movies on my terms- did I understand why she was being so persistent.

The difference between fans and buyers.

When we choose brand experiences to visit on our guided BrandTwist Safaris, we look for brands that have fans – not just buyers. Brands that understand the emotional need they are filling – and who work hard to keep that relationship healthy.

American Girl Place is one such experience we will be visiting on our upcoming Safari.

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This brand really gets that they are not just selling dolls. They are fostering important friendships. The entire brand experience is designed around this special bond.  From the cafe where you can dine with your doll, the hospital where dolls are treated with special TLC, the Hair Salon with its pampering services for both girl and doll -even the clothes where you can dress like twins – American Girl is fostering a unique friendship. And not surprisingly, given this bond, commanding a premium price.

Your business can learn so much from TWISTING with American Girl and other brands about building deeper, and more profitable relationships with your customers

Join us in person in NYC as we visit Microsoft, American Girl, and more on our Brand Safari.

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Get Out From Behind Your Desk – Go Experience Brands

Are you experiencing the world through your computer or phone screen?  As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you need to hit the streets, experience the brandscape through the eyes of your customers – to truly know how to meet their needs and offer something of value that will break through the competitive clutter and get noticed.

This is why BrandTwist Safaris are so valuable because they take us out of our every day and put us in the center of experiences where we learn important lessons about branding which are then applied directly through Interactive, hands-on exercises to TWIST that inspiration and create actionable innovative brand ideas for new products or services.

BrandTwist Safaris have been applied successfully for companies like Virgin and Spotify in iconic neighborhoods including Times Square, SoHo and Rockefeller Center. The good news is they can happen anywhere.

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Can you build your brand by hanging out in a lego store?

Big brands, like Microsoft, are building flagship stores all over the world to change how their customers engage with their brand. Allowing customers to experience a brand by touching and feeling, or even playing with the brand.

For the next 5 weeks, we’re going to talk about how you can go on your own Brand Safari, and what to look for. Even better, this series is leading up to a Brand Safari in NYC at the Flagship Microsoft Experience Store – that 30 lucky applicants will be able to attend.

You don’t need to be in Manhattan to do a BrandTwist Safari, you don’t even need to be in a large city. The most important thing is to pick locations/experiences to visit that are 1) away from your category – to maximize the freshness of the ideas and 2) are locations that connect deeply with their targets. Don’t forget, the value is about getting out of your everyday and away from your own business.

If you are not sure where you would go on a BrandTwist Safari ask yourself these question:

  1. What are the brand experiences that really engage people?
  2. What’s hot and why?
  3. What’s a best-kept local secret?
  4. Where do all the teens love to go?
  5. Where do the tourists go in your town or city?
  6. Where does the customer service rock?

No matter where you go, the trick to getting the most out of your Brand Safari is to observe and record what is going on around you – bring a notebook or a clipboard with paper, take photographs, buy something from the store or location and see what the purchase experience is like and the packaging. Do they give you your purchase in a plain paper or plastic bag – or does the brand use the packaging as a walking billboard – like the Build-a-Bear Cardboard bear homes?

Dig into the details, that’s where the best insights are and write everything down. You never know what could inspire your own TWIST later.

Stay tuned for our next post, we’re going to dig in on some specific details around where to go and how to TWIST those valuable insights with your own business.

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Small Business Brand TWISTS – Dr. Tim Aquatics

Dr. Tim runs an aquarium supply company and has an impressive list of professional credentials including a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution and marine biology. Before Brand School, the “about me” section of his website was a laundry list of academic degrees, published articles, industry titles and honors, but it practically required a Ph.D. to read and understand it.

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The problem?

His ideal target included regular “Joe” aquarium enthusiasts who are looking for support in keeping their aquariums healthy and vibrant. Through the work Tim did in Brand School, he transitioned his brand idea from “science-based solutions” to “success at any level.” He now deliberately presents a less intimidating, more welcoming user experience (complete with an interactive recipe TWIST – think of your favorite Food Network show) where buyers feel more at ease to interact with the brand and ask more questions.

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Do you see the difference this personal and authentic TWIST adds?

 

It makes his brand more approachable, more relatable, and more likely to attract the amateur aquarium enthusiast who might be turned off by a brand that seems too scientific and overly authoritative.

“Before Brand School, we were more a ‘science’ brand but now the brand is about being a natural fish care company.  That was common with dogs and cats but we were the first with fish. The products, liquids, and fish food are natural and that resonates with consumers who see fish and an aquarium as a slice of nature in their home.”

That wasn’t the only way Tim used the TWIST lessons he learned in Brand School. They also used a TWIST to overcome objections when launching a new product.

 

“We had developed the first 100% natural, non-GMO fish food but a possible roadblock was the customer had to make it themselves which takes only 5 minutes to make a month’s worth of food.  So we twisted that possible negative – “Oh, I have to make the fish food” into a positive “ Really, I can make my own fish food”  by adding our EXTRAS which are various additions (think of them as spices) that one adds to food to customize it for their fish.”

“The EXTRAS come in pepper grinders so the consumer literally ‘twists’ the EXTRAS into the food before placing the food in the freezer to gel. This makes the food easy to demonstrate and you see the smile on people’s faces as they instantly see this is fun and not hard at all.  We even had a major store in NJ have their clerks dress up as cooks and demo the fish food – it’s a great YouTube video”.

Tim now has a powerful understanding of how to use TWISTS in his brand, but it he admits it wasn’t always easy.

 

“Initially it was hard to maintain focus and concentrate on running everything through the pillars but, as with most things, the more you do it the easier it gets and, this is the surprise, it actually makes it easier to make decisions. It if doesn’t fit – it’s out.”

“You have to trust the process. It was such a great experience for me. Though, after delving in, doing the work is hard. There is resistance, but having access to Julie with the one-on-one meetings helped to move the needle so we can continue in breaking through with a more creative flair to our brand. I’m so grateful I went through it.”

Opera With A More Approachable TWIST

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Opera is an elite art form, with high ticket prices only available to a select few. Right? Wrong!

The Metropolitan Opera continues its 10-year tradition with a TWIST of live transmission of season openers on multiple screens in Times Square.

Last year viewers were treated to Verdi’s Otello. This year it was Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which will also be screened in 100 movie theaters around the world – offering yet another, more affordable way for the brand to broaden its reach.

This might seem like a bad idea of “giving away” content, when it could be purchased at higher prices. But it’s actually a smart strategy of reaching out to new users who might be unfamiliar with opera and intimidated by an unfamiliar experience in the ritzy Metropolitan Operah House.  Plus it creates good will and great publicity.

What products or services could your business offer with the TWIST of being free or available in unexpected venues to widen your reach?

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Finding the right TWIST can help your brand innovate and deliver. In TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, Brand School founder Julie Cottineau provides a clear road map to build a stronger more distinctive brand – complete with examples from real life small business owners who have successfully completed our Brand School program. Pick up your copy today.

Twist Your Brand – Grow Your Business

BrandTwist and BrandSchoolOnline.com & CEO, former VP of Brand for Richard Branson’s Virgin, author of “TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands” and Westchester, NY resident is a guest on the Business Council of Westchesters “Westchester Means Business”, radio program on WVOX. The Council’s Executive Vice President & COO, John Ravitz, conducted the interview. This session is full of takeaways on the fundamentals of branding for the small business owner and non-profit, how entrepreneurs can TWIST with larger brands to boost their own marketing, innovation and branding, and how working at Virgin inspired Julie’s own entrepreneurial journey.

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Finding the right TWIST can help your brand innovate and deliver. In TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, Brand School founder Julie Cottineau provides a clear road map to build a stronger more distinctive brand – complete with examples from real life small business owners who have successfully completed our Brand School program. Pick up your copy today.

Live Your Twist – Quick Twist Video #5

 

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Create fresh ideas for your business by TWISTING your brand with a successful out-of-category brand. Julie Cottineau, BrandTwist and Brand School founder, author of TWIST and former VP of Brand at Virgin shares her proven approach for creating inspired and actionable ideas.

More Quick Twist Video tips here.

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TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands by Brand School founder Julie Cottineau.

“This bold book encourages entrepreneurs and brand owners across all types of businesses to think outside the limits of their category and take risks, and gives them the tools to make them stand out from their competitors.” - Laura Winston, attorney, Kim Winston LLP

 

A Sweet Twist That Delivers Results

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Many non-profits rely on volunteers – but some actions, like giving blood, require a temporarily unpleasant experience to contribute to long term benefits.

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service TWISTED with some out-of-category top celebrity chefs and Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster to promote the message that donating blood, beyond doing a good deed, is a fun, approachable and friendly experience. They focus on the biscuit (cookie) given after donating as a delicious, desirable – even sensuous – reward.

“Giving blood feels good.” “Enjoy the best biscuit after saving three lives.”

A spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down worked for Mary Poppins. What “sugar” can you deliver to your clients and customers to make it easier to say “Yes” to your service or product?

Brand School gives you easy, actionable tools that you can use right away to boost your brand’s impact. Get access to our team of experts and enjoy support and inspiration from an exclusive community of like-minded business owners, non-profits and entrepreneurs.  Learn more about Brand School and see if your business qualifies for a one-on-one Brand Health Check Strategy Session at BrandSchoolOnline.com

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“Brand School was helped us set structure to our process, define our target and recognize our customer’s motivations. We were able to create timely taglines and better define our branding campaigns.” - Randi Curhan, Development Coordinator for Redwood High School Foundation, Non-profit

Sneezing on the Go with a Twist

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“Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel” – good advice for drivers, but when you’ve got kids in the back seat, sneezing, sniffling and spilling, that can be a challenge.

While rummaging to find a box of tissues for her young children, mother of three Amy Davis had a close call with a neighbor’s fence. Days later she found the tissue box scrunched on the floor behind the seat. With tissue box in one hand and an eye on the car cup holder, Amy had an “Ah ha!” moment. She realized that what she and thousands of others needed were to have tissues and wipes closer at hand.

Amy took a tissue box and TWISTED it with a travel mug to create the Kiss-u Tissue Tube.  Kiss-u Tissues and Wipes are designed to go in a car cup holder but can fit anywhere a water bottle can go. Eco-friendly, the cardboard tubes are the only reusable and re-fillable dispensers on the market; they have re-sealable tops, and you can customize the tubes with your own design. Kiss-u was a 2014 PPI Most Innovative Product of the Year Finalist.

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Amy created a successful new product delivery system by taking a personal problem and TWISTING for a unique solution.

Are you paying attention to your target’s un-met needs?

Brand School can help you dive into what keeps your target up at night and twisting these insights into innovative product and services. Find out now if your brand qualifies for our upcoming session.

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“Brand School really allowed me to go deep into what my practice was about and how to implement it” - Sandeep Manchanda, Giraffe Partners Program Management 

Innovative Connecting at 35,000 Feet

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Since commercial airlines became popular in the 50’s nothing much has changed. Unless you are on a luxury jet, most of us sit like anonymous sardines. We believe the airline industry is ripe for innovation and we often tell the true story of how we created the innovation TWISTING technique through a mix up with a McDonald’s mirage at Newark airport a few years ago.

When we do this TWISTING exercise in workshops and Brand School we often ask participants to imagine what would happen if a traditional airline like Delta would twist with an iconic brand like Starbucks – how would the airline experience become more innovative? Most respondents say that it would be great if we could have more convivial seating and make more meaningful connections on airlines, like we do at Starbucks. After all, Starbucks is not about coffee, it’s really about community.

We’re wondering if maybe the folks from Delta have been reading our BrandTwist blog or sneaking into the workshops, because they recently launched “Innovation Class” - a mentoring program at 35,000 feet that allows people to travel with innovators and use the flight time for valuable business connections.

Looking outside of your category for inspiration is one of the best ways to create fresh ideas and stand out in your market.

What iconic brand can your business TWIST with to reach new heights?

Brand School Master Class inspires innovative thinking to implement TWISTS like these that can broaden your business’ reach. Enrolling now – see if your brand qualifies HERE.

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“Brand School turned out to be like the Mastercard commercial, priceless.The one-on-one sessions really allowed me to go deep into what my practice was about and how to implement it” - Sandeep Manchanda, Giraffe Partners Program Management

Twisting Book Trailers to Boost Any Business

Book trailers bring big business. These video spots don’t stand out for their star-power alone, but for their formal inventiveness and willingness to take risks as well. In this guest post, Liam Powel shows how your business can take what publishing houses are doing to market their authors and products and apply those same ideas to your business for big marketing and brand-building benefits through video trailers.

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LITTLE FAILURE’S BIG SUCCESS. 

If you’re not up on literature, you may not have heard of Gary Shteyngart, but odds are you will soon.  The quirky satirist – whose novel Super Sad True Love Story garnered him a spot on the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” list two years ago – is known for his biting wit, bumbling characters, and stunning backdrops. Little Failure, a memoir released early in January, 2014 by Random House, has already garnered glowing reviews, and if history is any guide, sales are radiant as well.

To hype the title, Random House released a “book trailer” – if you’re not familiar with the form, it’s exactly what it sounds like – and Shteyngart’s are grade-A satire. Little Failure has already made a splash because of its star-studded cast, featuring James Franco, Rashida Jones, Alex Karpovsky, and of course, Shteyngart too. Random House, no stranger to the medium or its capacity to push publicity, had previously released a similar trailer for Super Sad – it’s just as hilarious, and can be seen here.

However, these video spots don’t stand out for their star-power alone, which any hefty budget could use to garner attention, but for their formal inventiveness and willingness to take risks as well. This is what we’re interested in. Let’s look at a few lessons from the art of the book trailer that you can apply to your brand and business.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO BREAK NEW GROUND. 

The vast majority of book trailers are fairly one-dimensional, composed of excerpts from a work read over a series of simple images or videos. Few build a narrative, and among the small number that do, fewer still are as cunning or generally well-composed as those for Little Failure or Super Sad.

So aside from it seeming strange, or stunt-ish, for a piece of literary non-fiction to engage potential consumers through such an infrequently, and often ill-used media form, Shteyngart’s piece distinguishes itself for its wryly inventive quality. Particularly when compared to other book trailers, Little Failure’s comes off as sketch comedy, worrying less about clearly pushing the product (the memoir itself) and more about conveying core value propositions in an engagingly slant, indirect way.

So what if you won’t be able to hire out a Hollywood star to shill your brand anytime soon?  This release, Worst Case Scenario Survival Video Series: BREAKUPS, couldn’t either, nor could this Skagboys video, but each crafted compelling content – well within their means – and made efficient, inventive use of a quirky medium to engage their audiences, new and old. The latter trailer, for Skagboys, is particularly on point, a wonderfully executed example of consistent brand identity – note how the skeleton from the video is modeled after the novel’s cover image, and how the whole tone is very much in line with Irvine Welsh’s writing – that only required a Final Cut video editing program and some papier mâché to get up and running.

Sometimes, especially if you’re a solopreneur, all it takes is going the extra mile, even if you have to run it alone.

SO YOU DON’T RUN A PUBLISHING HOUSE? 

Whatever industry your brand is competing in, don’t be afraid to go beyond convention when reaching out to potential consumers. Brands, particularly emerging ones, too often fear venturing beyond a simple benefit analysis or overt calls-to-action while representing themselves – from taglines and logos to small collateral. Slant approaches aren’t only for the industry bigwigs: they can be for everyone, if you’re willing to take the risk.

Successful trailers use inventive, thoughtful approaches to innovating an established medium.  They convey how their product functions, who uses it, and where it’s used to inform and entertain.

What if a video, or a trailer, isn’t right for you? The point is to reach out to your consumers in engaging, surprising, direct ways – trailer or no trailer. Here are a few tips and lessons we can take away from Random House’s – and other’s – use of an innovative form.

  1. Ask yourself: is there a particular aspect of your brand – logo, tone, media presence – you think could benefit from an overhaul or re-imagining? If so, isolate it and take a moment to ask yourself how it could be better and what could be gained by crossing a line of convention here or there.
  2. Think lateral.  Make a list of potential media you’d like to engage in that you haven’t already. Is it video? A social platform? If media isn’t at the forefront of your concerns, what elements of design, or tones of voice, would be exciting and new for you to experiment with?
  3. Spend the time to develop a high concept, and stick with it. Measure twice, cut once.
  4. Think lifestyle and/or novel, layered tones. Slant, or indirect, approaches to brand development aren’t just for established presences in the market – emerging brands can use them too.
  5. Always assume the most of your consumer, and expect the most from your brand.

About the author: 

Liam Powell is Lead Copywriter at Imagemme, a Brand Innovation Lab based in TriBeCa, NYC. He recently received a Masters from Columbia University, where he would catch the occasional glimpse of the man himself – Gary Shteyngart – walking the long, marble halls. You can connect with Liam on Facebook, and on Twitter he is @YazooStScandal (from the Dylan song).

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