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.

BrandTwist Brand Safari TWIST American Girl

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.

TWIST Book Julie Cottineau

How to Create Brand Ambassadors

“Launching A Business Is Essentially An Adventure In Problem-Solving”. Richard Branson

Great brands change people’s lives. They make it easier to get things done, open our eyes to new solutions, connect us with like-minded communities and help us to accomplish more. One of the things we a explore on BrandTwist Brand Safaris is how exactly brands solve their customer’s’ problems – and what lessons can your business learn and TWIST with to create loyal brand ambassadors.

Does your customer have a problem with too many options?

Birchbox is a great example of a brand that has solved the issue of how to choose from the hundreds, if not thousands, of new beauty products that seem to pop up every day.  They’ve taken the overwhelm out of the beauty shopping experience by curating customizable sample boxes that are delivered each month to your doorstep. You then decide in the comfort of your own home what works for you- and then can easily click through on their site to buy any of the products you’ve tried in a low commitment trial size.

BrandTwist Blog template (8)While the brand exists mainly online, they have a brick and mortar store in SoHo. This is one of the favorite stops on our Safari. Our attendees walk away inspired with new ways to make it easier for their customers (in categories way outside beauty) to make confident choices.

Sonos, another favorite Safari stop, is also a great example of a brand that helps their customers solve the problem of what sound system to buy – by showing their product integrated into real life scenarios. This is a big TWIST from the big box electronic retailers where the components are stacked on shelves with no way to evaluate the product.

At the Sonos brand experience store in SoHo – you enter into different rooms where you can sit back and enjoy the music – in different set ups with different components- and make a smarter choice about what’s actually going to work in your home.

The starting location for our next Brand Safari, Microsoft, is another example of problem-solving. In addition to enabling customers to engage with the computers, software, and even video game systems before they buy, they offer support and classes to solve the problem of not being able to take full advantage of your purchase.

Today’s buyer in any category has almost too many options. How can your business TWIST lessons from these solution focused brands to help offer real value to your customers?

Our next BrandTwist Brand Safari is coming up, be sure to reserve your spot now to save as part of our Back to School Back to Brand Building event.

 TWIST Book Julie Cottineau

Why Every Touch Point Matters in Your Brand

One of the things I love about BrandTwist Brand Safaris is we get to experience first hand many different touch points and then TWIST this inspiration with your brand. The importance of the multiple touch points is that transcending the ordinary and walking the talk isn’t enough if they only happen in one place.

So when we go into this immersive experience of a BrandTwist Brand Safari we’re able to explore the importance of inspiring at every turn.

Great brands maximize all brand touchpoints to convey a unique experience. They don’t just rely on traditional media to get across their message- they build their brand promise into the product or service experience.

Can a vomit bag surprise and delight?

In my book TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands. I talk about One of my favorite “surprise and delight” moments with Virgin Atlantic’s use of “vomit bag” moments.

Virgin ran a promotion on Virgin Atlantic when they used the vomit bags in the seat pockets as marketing messages. These bags are in every seat back on every flight. But they are usually plain white and a missed opportunity – right in front of passengers for the six-plus hour flight.

Virgin Atlantic branded the bags its signature red, and included engaging copy about how flying used to be fun, then became terrible, and Virgin’s mission was to make it fun again. It began with: “How did air travel become so bloody awful? First, they took away the meals. Then the pretzels. And then the peanuts. All seven of them….” It ended with: “Flying should make you feel like you are a virgin again (flying-wise of course). It should feel new. And on Virgin Atlantic Airways it always will.”

This is a creative touch point. Taking a moment that is a necessary part of the experience (it’s literally an FAA requirement) and using it as a moment to surprise and delight the customer and support Virgin’s brand promise that this is a different way to fly.

Virgin America also uses other touchpoints such as the purple mood lighting, the unique safety video, and any time seat ordering inspires at every turn and show (not tell) the experience is a “Breath of Fresh Airline”.

Snapple literally inspires at every turn with the messages under their caps. All bottles need caps, but Snapple uses this moment to engage the purchaser and stand out from all of the other beverages – and present the brand as a truly refreshing choice.

One of the things I love about BrandTwist Brand Safaris is we get to experience first hand these touch points and then TWIST this inspiration with your brand.

BrandTwist - Nespresso Brand Safari

Nespresso, for example, offers a coffee bar in its experience store in SoHo. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in. Coffee specialists (employees are brand touchpoints too) treat you to the latest flavors. The wall of colorful capsules also transforms product inventory into pure art.

Want to discover your next “vomit bag” moment. Join us for our next BrandTwist Brand Safari and notice how great brands don’t just market to you, they immerse you in the experience at every turn.

TWIST Book Julie Cottineau

Walk Your Talk by Living Your Brand Promise Every Day

Last week we talked about the importance of Transcending the Ordinary, the issue is though that it can’t end with one idea or one-touch point. It’s critical that you are living and breathing your TWIST. That’s why this week I’m sharing two brands who walk the talk.

What does “Walk the Talk” mean?

Brands that “Walk the Talk”  are brands that live their brand values – they don’t just talk about them, they bring them to life through their actions and behaviors. Employees are a key touch point for the brand and important brand ambassadors.

REI is a great brand to visit on a BrandTwist  Safari. It has many touch points which help set this brand apart and are on proud display in the stores, in walking the talk. One of the brand missions of REI is “dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship”. They showcase this in the store, but also share it with the “employee in action” wall. This is a whole wall of photos showcasing employees participating in outdoor activities.

 REI BrandTwist Brand Safari Brand Inspiration

Do you walk the talk even when it’s the opposite of what everyone else is doing?

One of the most publicized ways they speak to that mission is the award winning #OptOutside campaign. Instead of opening their doors on Black Friday (or even Thanksgiving) they forgo the sales and urge not only customers, but employees to go outside. This also speaks to their business model. In 1938 REI launched, and in their own words they chose to begin a “consumer co-op, rather than a publicly-traded company, enables us to focus on the long-term interests of the co-op and our members. We answer to you—our members—and run our business accordingly.”

Do you and your employees walk the talk?

To really ingrain this experience at every touch point it starts with employees. Microsoft, for example, starts every morning with the Microsoft team doing a “Stand Up” meeting where they get the employees excited for the day- sort of a pep rally based on the brand values. And they end the day with a similar “Stand Down” meeting- recognizing and celebrating the positive on-brand behaviors of the team members during the day, and no doubt discussing how to continuously improve.

 How can your business be inspired by great brands like Microsoft and REI to “Walk the Talk”? Are you brand values celebrated front and center? Are you and your team living them every day?

TWIST Book Julie Cottineau

Transcend the Ordinary and Rise Above Your Competition

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 6.59.13 AMNow that we’ve got you planning your next Brand Safari it’s time to figure out what to look for. Over the next few weeks, we’ll talk about what we look for on our BrandTwist Brand Safari’s, kicking off with T – Transcend the Ordinary.

Today we’re going to talk about how brands like Coco-Mat and Microsoft transcend the ordinary with their customers by allowing customers to experience their brands in a way that’s different from anyone else.

Let’s start with talking about what it means to transcend the ordinary, I think it’s about looking for brands that go beyond what’s expected. Transcend ordinary experiences to provide something fresh. It’s about how your clients experience your brand. Coco-Mat and their flagship store is a great example of this.

Can buying a mattress be relaxing?

On a recent Safari, we visited the iconic Coco-Mat store in SoHo for some hands on inspiration that attendees then TWISTED with their own businesses. Coco-Mat has shaken up the mattress category on every level by providing mattresses that are customizable by layer and made with all natural materials- like coconut fiber (hence the name). No metal springs are used. That’s not even the best TWIST though.

Cocomat Brand Safari BrandTwist Brand Experience

They also have TWISTED the sales experience and transcended the sometimes stereotypical pushy mattress seller to a more thoughtful and zen experience. Their sleep specialists invite you to spend a few hours or even the night in a special “nap suite” in their SoHo store. They will make up the bed with the exact mattress you are thinking of purchasing. So you are sure that it’s the right fit. There’s a bathroom with shower in the suite and calming scents and decor.

It’s shifting an experience that can be stressful and frustrating and instead allowing you to experience the ease of their company at every step. It’s a completely unique experience that turns category norms on their heads. How can you relieve any friction in your buying experience for your customers- and make the process of engaging with your business as smooth and “dreamy” as possible?

How does Microsoft transcend the ordinary?

The idea of letting potential customers experience your brand instead of selling them on the idea is something Microsoft has done well with their flagship store in New York. Which is exactly why we’ll be hosting a Brand Safari in the NYC Experience Store there in September.

Microsoft experience stores give potential customers the opportunity to interact with the products. This helps them fall in love through learning more about the features. This is evident in the innovative Youth Spark coding camps.

These camps not only serve the community (another way to transcend) but it also gives consumers the opportunity to engage with the product, and fall in love with a product.

How can you transcend the ordinary?

Now it’s time for action, look for brands that turn the category norms on their heads. Remember, the best brands to TWIST with are outside of your category so get creative. Think about brands you love or have experienced that provide the opposite of what you expect (ex. a zen mattress buying experience instead of a stressful one).

Then TWIST this with your business. How can you tackle head on and rise above the common pain points in your category to provide a fresh, memorable and compelling brand experience?

Don’t forget to stay tuned, we’ll be talking about Walking the talk when we return with our next post.

Can’t wait to experience the TWIST for yourself? Grab one of our limited Safari spots for September here.

TWIST Book Julie Cottineau

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.

Microsoft Experience BrandTwist Brand Safari Experience

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.

TWIST Book Julie Cottineau

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 4.17.42 PM

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.”

What’s My TWIST? Unexpected experts can help your brand.

Far too often, brands get stuck sounding, looking, and feeling the same way to consumers as any other competitor in their field. These brands aren’t standing out from the bunch; they’re merely doing just enough to fit in and survive. The most successful brands owe that success to the fact that they’re different. It’s why you gravitate to Apple before Dell, and why you can’t forget GEICO’s gecko. To stand out you need to get some outside perspective and a little inspiration.

What's My Twist Panel - Unique experts give feedback

The “What’s my TWIST Panel” technique does just that.

The “inspired experts” panel uncovers fresh language by taking experts in related but distinctly different fields and asks questions to extract fresh language that can be TWISTED with your own brand.

For example, recently we helped a pharmaceutical client with an over-the-counter medication focused on protection, by bringing in four unusual experts:

  • A former fireman
  • A bouncer
  • A computer security consultant
  • And an insurance agent

The essential element of this panel was that the client had no idea what fields the experts were in. Similar to the classic “What’s My Line?” game show – the occupations of the panelists were guessed and revealed at the very end. This kept the pharmaceutical executives focused on active listening for fresh language that they could then TWIST to add distinction to their marketing.

The panel was asked questions such as:

  • “What does protection mean in your field?”
  • “What happens when there is a failure of protection?”
  • “What are the emotions involved? The consequences?”
  • “How do you act to prevent future breakdowns?”

The results? Fresh perspectives on providing control, comfort, and confidence to consumers in the most vulnerable situations – that can be TWISTED into marketing that breaks through.

What experts would you invite to your What’s My TWIST? panel and what related, but distinct categories should your brand be learning from? Learn about more TWISTING techniques in TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands.

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A TWIST On Graduation Gifts

It’s graduation season! That means that some will be sending off their children to college, some will be going to college, and the rest of us will just be watching. Either way, we all know someone who is taking that next big step to becoming an adult. Now more than ever it’s important to set them up for success on this path because they are the future. Invest in the future today with these graduation gift ideas sure to add a TWIST to the lives of this upcoming freshman class!

Avoid the Freshman 15

Graduation Gift Ideas - Flavor Fusion WaerIt is a reality that plagues thousands nationwide annually, and I mean it is just that, a reality. Statistics, as well as testimonials from suffering college freshman, have shown that the stress induced by their first year in college leads to students packing on pounds, fifteen on average. Though fifteen pounds does sound quite drastic, it is a very real figure and one that every freshman should try to avoid. To help them in doing so, gift them the Flavor Fusion Water Bottle, a water bottle that infuses fruits and vegetables into your water; granting it the sweetness of juice, but neglecting the harmful sugars found in juices known to lead to fat gain. This bottle is sure to help lead a healthier lifestyle and certainly puts a twist on the traditional water bottle!

Get it here.

 Change the way you charge

Graduation Gift Idea - iPhone Charge PackThese days it seems like no one can put down their cell phones, and though our freshman will experience a change of scenery, this likely will not change. Some see this as a problem, others take no issue with it, but if you truly want your college freshman to love their gift, enable this problem. This can be done with the Mophie Juice Pack Air for the iPhone. This chargeable case comes with many features, and at its peak, it can provide you with 27 hours of battery life, so on the go, whether it be an internship or a boring lecture, you’re good to go. Not only that, it also serves its function as a case well, providing level two high impact protection for your iPhone.

Get it here.

Running shoes with a TWIST!

Grad gift ideas - adidas Running shoesCollege students tend to care about two things, style, and comfort. The Adidas Ultra Boost fulfills this, but is also a world-class performance shoe, and can work for any student who needs to go for a run to alleviate college stress. The patented boost technology is said to be the most comfortable option on the market, and the elegant look of the show turns fashionista heads everywhere.

 Get them here

Marketing 101

TWIST Book Cover - graduation gift ideasOf the upcoming freshman class, there are thousands of entrepreneurs, future C.E.O’s, and aspiring businessmen and women who will have to truly master the craft to ensure success in the future. This means an understanding at all levels, not solely focusing on one aspect like management, but also knowing a bit about marketing as well. After all, effective marketing is why you have an iPhone, or why you gravitate towards the Mac computer before a Dell, it’s not merely a matter of preference. Sure your freshman’s marketing courses will show them a lot, but it’s traditional, outdated, and just like any marketing course anywhere else. None of it will stand out. If you truly want success for them, get them this book.

Get it here.

Take a little study break

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 9.49.30 AMOftentimes studying can be a bore. Ok, I lied, studying is a bore. It’s something we only do because we have to. However, it can be fun, and over at ThinkGeek they’ve found a way to do just that. With these table tennis notebooks, not only can you store all of your notes, but you can also turn study breaks into ping pong tournaments. This set provides everything but a cool study partner to play with, so go ahead, add a TWIST to your next study session!

Get it here.

About the Author:

BrandTwist Intern - Graduation Guest PostEnrique Garcia is working as an intern at BrandTwist for this month. He is a high school senior from Dobbs Ferry, New York and will be graduating in June. In the fall Enrique will be attending the business school at Manhattan College, concentrating in both finance and marketing. 

Interested in guest blogging for BrandTwist? Contact jamie@brandtwist.com.

Small Business TWISTS – Rey Insurance Agency

Brand School Alumni, Linda Rey, has a family-owned insurance agency that celebrates its roots in the community. This includes a unique TWIST of sending out email advisories during bad weather with very localized updates on specific road closings and streets to avoid. This is something the larger companies could never do. And Linda’s customers are grateful. It’s one thing for an insurance agency to talk about its auto insurance policies, it’s another for it to actually keep you safe on the road.

Before Brand School it had been about 15 years since Rey Insurance had updated the brand. And as Linda put it, “we never really went through the process of what a business does for branding purposes. We didn’t have a strategy for how we wanted to look. Brand School afforded us the opportunity to explore how that might work for us without breaking the bank!”

Rey Insurance - Before and After Branding

One lesson from Brand School that helped Linda was to think about storytelling. Approaching their brand with that objective allowed them to be more human and step away from “textbook language about insurance”. Linda shares one of the ways they’ve implemented the TWIST, “BEING FUN in our DESIGN by presenting ideas and concepts about insurance that bring attention to considering the possibility vs. avoiding the consequences.”

Rey Insurance New Website Logo Update Rebrand

Linda transitioned her brand from a traditional family-owned insurance promise to a more modern “We help you GET insurance” brand idea. When she did this, she realized that her red and blue logo developed in 2000 blended in too much with her competitors and undermined her company’s TWIST of approachability.

She kept the core element of the shape but updated it with vibrant colors, which were inspired by her favorite organic grocer. When she walked into this grocery store, the fruits and vegetables were so inviting and colorful that she wanted to pick them up and put them in her basket. She loved the new logo so much she added bright throw pillows that adorn the reception area of the agency. This splash of color is distinctive for her category and really underscores her brand’s intention to be friendlier, more welcoming and more down-to-earth than traditional insurance agencies.

Before an After Rey Brand Logos

Investing the time in finding the TWIST and following that up with action, made a big impact on Rey Insurance. The key there is doing the work. It can feel overwhelming to implement, but that’s where the support of Brand School can really help. Linda says it best, “(Brand School) 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.”

Brand School by Brand Twist  Branding Course for your Small Business

Brand School, our highly effective, premier branding program, delivers the tools and steps you need to strengthen your brand and your business’ connection to your market. Get our free brand-building tips and receive immediate updates about Brand School’s exclusive programs when you sign up for our newsletter at BrandSchoolOnline.com.