The real “owner” of your brand – is your target

Brands are  relationships. And like romantic relationships, they are only healthy when you are in one with someone who really values what you have to offer.

That’s why every semester in Brand School we focus on answering 4 major questions with our students- and these 4 questions begin with the most critical question – “WHO do you want to be in a relationship with?”

Who – are the most important targets for the brand?
What – is going to compel them to choose and stay loyal?
Why – should these high-priority targets believe?
How – is the brand felt at every touch point?

In the lingo of today’s teens – a group for whom relationships are everything… who is your B.A.E? Your ideal target that you want and need to attract “Before Anyone Else”.

Brand School Alumni Brooke Nalle shares how zeroing on her BAE was the key to finding her Twist and growing her business.

Brooke Nalle of Sleepy on Hudson had a big breakthrough when she realized her TWIST wasn’t about helping babies sleep, it was about helping parents sleep. During the course of our conversation, we talked about a brand lesson that surprised her and she shared something really important for all of us to remember, “That my business, my brand, is about the woman who finds me, hires me.  She is not just a mother; she is a professional, a wife, a friend.”

The impact for Brooke’s business really came as she dove into the Target Audience exercise in brand school and looked at her target audience not as a woman with a child, but at all the things that woman is. That clarity allowed her to implement big changes and see fun results.

Women 25-54 is not a target.

When you’re targeting women 25-54, you’re looking too broadly. You are not really diving into what makes them tick and what keeps them up at night.  This makes it hard to really connect your brand values and promise with what they need. That’s why we create Bull’s Eye Target Personas and really dive into your target- so we can create marketing that goes directly to their hearts (not just their heads) and turns them into loyal brand ambassadors.

Let’s look at an example, Apple. I think we can all agree that people ages 3 to 83 use and love Apple products, but Apple built a strong brand by focusing on the 20-30 year old digital native -someone who is tuned in and comfortable with technology. By designing a brand experience to a narrower target, someone we all aspire to be, Apple has created an iconic brand that never discounts and is always in high demand and that attracts a broad range of loyal followers. They would not have made the same impact if they targeted “3-83”.

The foundation of your brand is your Target Audience, join our Brand School experts for a 30-minute call to focus in on your target audience. During this call, you’ll walk away with actionable next steps and clarity around how to answer the critical question of “Who is your brand’s B.A.E?”. Book your call now.


Add a Fresh Twist

This post is part of our series, “Thirteen Tips For Stronger Branding.” See the rest of the series HERE.


Fresh ideas come from looking at old problems from new perspectives. If you are only looking at and thinking about what your competition is doing, chances are you will stay in the same rut and not come up with anything new or exciting. You need to look at old challenges from new angles.

A few years back I was at an airport and saw a 747 with McDonald’s golden arches on the tail fin. I started to imagine what this McDonald’s airline would be like. I imagined it would be a good value, family friendly and most importantly it would have flexible options in terms of how I bought my ticket and any upgrades – allowing me to supersize my experience to a seat with more leg room or special menu options. As it turns out, this airline was just a figment of my imagination. It was the reflection of the neon sign in the food court on the window, and there happened to be a plane parked behind the window on the tarmac. So while it was just imaginary, it led to the very real practice of TWISTING brands in different categories to come up with new ideas. (That’s actually why I named my company BrandTwist.)

Consumers don’t live in a one-category world. For example, they make note of great customer service experiences across airlines, retail stores, dry cleaners, fast food, fine dining, taxi cabs, doctor’s offices, personal trainers…you name it. So as marketers we should constantly be looking at the larger brandscape for inspiration. A great way to leverage lateral thinking for your own brand is to imagine what a beloved brand (in a different category) would do if it took over your business. How would this brand use its brand DNA to innovate in your market?  Twist an inspirational brand (ex. Virgin, Zappos, Starbucks, Apple) with yours and see the impact it can have in creating fresh ideas for your business today.

Check out tip #13 in the series, Commit to Continual Learning.


…After all, that’s what it’s designed to do.

Julie Cottineau, the former VP of Brand for Richard Branson’s Virgin, and entrepreneur and a branding expert responsible for countless small business and personal branding makeovers, has created Brand School, the highly effective, premier program to help you grow your business and perfect your brand at the same time.

Receive more information about the next semester and free brand-building tools and tips when you join the BrandTwist mailing list.

“Brand School was engaging and helpful to me in learning more about myself and my business. Results came amazingly quick. Now, my brand name speaks my message immediately and I’ve expanded my reach.” – Lynn Stull, Owner Arts2Thrive 

5 Brand Trends for 2013

I don’t have a crystal ball, but that doesn’t stop me from having some opinions about what the year to come has in store. Check out my five predictions for brand trends in 2013 and let me know what you think in the comment section below!

1. The Royal Waiting

Anything Kate Middleton wears while baking the royal bun in the oven is sure to be an instant hit.  And it’s a pretty safe bet that the Duchess won’t be wearing anything too sexy or body clinging while she’s waiting for her royal heir to hatch. Will we be seeing a throw back to the formless maternity dresses and peter pan collars of Lady Diana? Probably not. You can bet Kate will continue to build her own personal brand with a maternity look that’s stylish, practical, and demure all at the same time. There’s likely a relatively unknown British maternity designer that’s about to become a household name. Look for knock-offs to appear immediately in the stores. Topshop may even start a maternity line.

2. Instagram becomes the new Facebook for tweens

Many tweens (ages 10-12) aren’t allowed to have Facebook accounts, but many others have their own iPads (or at least constant access to the family device). Bottom line: these almost-teenagers want to share everything, and pictures have always been worth a thousand words. Will this set still want to graduate to Facebook when their parents finally give the ‘okay’, or will they eventually fuel the growth of Instagram as the hottest social media channel? I predict the latter.

3. Blind Agency Pitches

The best part of the immensely popular talent show “The Voice” is the first weeks when the judges choose contestants based solely on their singing ability. Chairs facing away from the stage, the performers’ appearance has no influence on whether they make it on to one of the judge’s teams. I think agencies will soon be asked to pitch in a similar way. I mean, I can just imagine potential clients sitting enthroned in over-sized leather chairs, fingers hovering over big red buttons. Perhaps the strength of a small, relatively obscure agency’s simply brilliant core idea will finally have the chance to trump the dog and pony shows that many of the larger agencies have come to rely on.

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4. I Heart Brooklyn

This younger-brother borough has long been creeping up on its more popular counterpart (Manhattan) as the coolest place to see and be seen in the NY metro area. The shiny new Barclay Center, home to uber cool Jay-Z’s Nets, may have finally given this area the last boost it needed to wear the crown. Will Brooklyn finally win the sibling rivalry and become the focus of the iconic “I Love New York” campaign? The way it’s looking right now, it just might happen. I Heart Brooklyn bumper sticker anyone?

5. Weather or Not

For the past few years, the seasons are completely out of whack. Regardless of whether you believe in global warming, you have to admit that the temperatures are not what we used to expect each season and Mother Nature seems to be having a field day at our expense with hurricanes, October snow storms and then 60 degree Decembers. Will these changes affect the way that brands are created and marketed? For example, maybe we won’t see the same seasonal collections in fashion lines. Maybe a “round the year” collection from designers will become the norm. Hey, it could happen.


Brand innovation comes from being a keen observer of the world around us and applying inspiration from one category to another. Brand School, is our premier program that teaches you to apply lateral thinking to build your brand and your business. Brand School takes the best practices of beloved brands such as Virgin, Apple, and Zappos and brings them to life in engaging videos, interactive exercises and exclusive access to a private community of fellow entrepreneurs. Learn more about Brand School here.  If you’d like to find out about our special discounts just for our social media friends, please sign up for the BrandTwist newsletter.

“Taking the Brand School course was THE best decision I ever made for my business.” – Dr. Marina Kostina, Distance Learning Specialist, CEO of  wired@heart

Who Says B2B Has to Be Boring?

“It’s easier for Virgin to be innovative, because you’ve got a sexy consumer facing brand.”

I hear this all the time.

Well guess what? That’s not 100% true.

We do a lot of marketing directly to the trade (e.g. travel professionals, financial advisers, HR and benefits executives etc).

And in all this Business to Business communications we don’t check our “Virginity” at the door.

I believe people are people.

Whether they are at home, at work, or at play.

They don’t change their personalities, lose their senses of humor or abandon the brands they admire as soon as they walk into their offices.

Certainly not all of our B2B efforts are successful.  We’ve had our fair share of failures. But usually this is driven by specific market pressures rather than any mistakes we make in communicating to these audiences.

In Business to Business branding, just like consumer branding, you’ve got to go in with a point of differentiation, connect with your audience, and deliver superior value and experiences.

Here’s 5 Quick Tips for Helping B2B Brands Break Through

#1. Say it with Style

I think a lot of brands think they have to speak in a “corporate” tone of voice when communicating to trade targets. I don’t get this. I don’t know anyone who likes to be spoken to like a robot.
Keep reading »

Is Your Brand Friend-Worthy?

As a follow up to my recent post on You Don’t Need a Social Media Strategy which seemed to hit a nerve (thanks for all the comments!) I wanted to delve deeper into the idea of whether your brand is ready to be social.

With all the talk of “friends, followers, and fans” it feels like high school all over again.

It seems like many brands are so focused on obtaining prom queen status, they are missing point.

They’re spending a lot of time obsessing about how to win the popularity vote and get the most followers and friends on Facebook and Twitter etc.

Instead, they need to step back and ask the very simple, but quite fundamental question:

“Does my brand have what it takes to be a good friend?”

If not, asking consumers to become your friend can actually back fire. Most of us already have more relationships than we feel we can handle. Don’t ask us to commit to another one unless you are sure you can deliver some added value.

Figuring this out whether your brand is “friend-worthy” is pretty similar to evaluating friendships in real life.

Here are 5 QuickTips to figure out if your Brand is friend-worthy:

I think they work for evaluating both human and the brand relationships.
Keep reading »

5 Tips for Building a Better (Visual) Resume

This post, 5 Tips for Building a Better (Visual) Resume, is another in our series providing insight and action steps for those who are job seeking. Julie Cottineau gives her top tips and shares insights from her 25+ years at great companies such as Grey, Interbrand and Virgin. You can read more entries in this Career series HERE

Portfolios have long been a critical job search component of people in Creative positions.

But I think they are an effective tool for anyone looking to sell themselves.

Pictures do paint a thousand words.

And many people in today’s visually oriented society simply respond better to images.

My advice is to create a visual resume.

There are two ways to do this.

One is an online service. I haven’t actually used this but it looks interesting.

The other, which I use, is to create a portfolio that acts as an accompanying piece to your traditional resume.

It simply brings your traditional resume to life in images.

Here’s 5 Tips on how to create this kind of impactful visual resume:

#1 Start by bringing your personal brand to life:

The first page of my visual resume talks about my background. So it’s a montage of images of people, places, and events that are important to me and help define who I am as a brand.

It’s got pictures of the town I grew up in, an emblem from my University, logos of a few of the brands that I am passionate about, and even a snap shot of my family.

It even has a picture of a pet rock.

This last image is a great conversation starter and allows me to tell a story about how I first got inspired to go into marketing at a very young age (more on that in another post).

The montage is colorful, upbeat, fun- all personality traits I want to make sure come through.

#2 Put your work experience into pictures as well as words:

The next section of my visual resume brings to life my work experience.

For example, when I talk about the accounts I worked on in advertising, I show the logos and even some of the ads.

Keep reading »

5 Tips for More Effective Conference Calls

With the economy low and business travel down significantly, it seems that Conference Calls are replacing in person meetings at a rate similar to that of post September 11th.

This may be better for the budget, but not always great for getting business done.

There’s definitely an art and science to running an effective conference call (especially one with multiple parties involved).

I participate in dozens of calls each week and in my observations not everyone running them has effectively mastered this.

Here are 5 quick tips to make the most of everyone’s time:

#1. Make sure the agenda and materials are distributed well ahead of time.

Ideally 24 hours ahead to give everyone a chance to read through them. This is also important in today’s mobile world where many people connect to calls while working remotely (e.g. driving, walking, in cabs). If you send documents in advance, they can download any attachments before leaving their home or office.

Keep reading »

Common Blunders in Brand Naming

What’s in a name? Well with all due deference to Mr. Shakespeare….a lot.

Naming is one of the hardest things about creating a brand.

It may appear deceptively easy. After all most of us have successfully named pets, children, favorite body parts, etc.

But finding an appropriate and legally available trademark is actually very difficult.

It’s been a while since naming was my full time job. I had the privilege and the pleasure of leading the crack Verbal Identity group at Interbrand for many years.

Last week I was asked by 3 separate friends for naming counsel for their start-ups. This got me thinking about the old days and the triumphs and tribulations of naming. So I decided to dust off my verbal identity cap and share my advice here.

Most Common Naming Mistakes
1. Not agreeing to the strategic role of the name upfront
2. Evaluating names without the proper context
3. Expecting lightning bolts and the perfect name to appear
4. Treating final name selection as a democratic decision
5. Not leaving enough time for the naming process

Here’s some more perspective on each of these “naming blunders”:

1.Not agreeing to the strategic role of the name upfront
We tend to expect a lot of brand names. Be catchy, stand out from the competition, not too long (ex. 6 letters, 2 syllables), legally available, available as a URL, and my favorite recent criteria…become part of the current vernacular like Twitter or Google (e.g. “I Googled him last night”).

Phew! That’s a lot. Well the truth is it’s a rare name that can accomplish all that. So it’s best to hone in on the specific role of the name. One way to do this is a proper naming brief. List the 3 (no more) key benefits the name should convey. Agree to the priority and make them as well-defined as possible (e.g. “delicious” or “confidence” are too vague, be more specific). Remember, you have other tools in your branding tool box (e.g. logo, tagline, advertising)to convey elements of the message. Don’t put the burden 100% on the name to communicate every nuance of your strategy and positioning.

2.Evaluating names without the proper context
To my point above, the quickest way to kill a name is to evaluate at it as a simple word without any context. This is a lazy approach, and quite frankly it doesn’t really reflect the way the name would be seen in real life. Can you imagine choosing any of the following names today just by seeing them in black and white on a piece of paper: Apple, Virgin, Nike, Starbucks, Kodak, Haagen Dazs, IKEA?

Each of these names has come to mean something because of the powerful branding that surrounds them. If you are creating new names for a company, then imagine answering the phone at reception with that name, pretend you are at a sales meeting and someone asks you what your company name means…prepare a brand story for the name and see if it serves as a platform to give an interesting answer. One that helps you to tell a compelling story and quickly get to the point about what’s special about your company.

Consider creating some rough logo designs for the names you are evaluating. A good name, should be easy for a designer to spin in a lot of different directions. And remember that the colors, font, and shape of the logo can help you speak to a lot of the attributes and benefits that might not be conveyed in the name. For example if one of your product or company’s benefits is security, you don’t need to put “sure or secure” in the name. The concept of stability can be communicated through color, font, or simply by the people that are behind the company or product.

3.Expecting lightning bolts and the perfect name to appear
I can only remember one time in all my years naming at Interbrand, when we all knew immediately that we had come upon the “perfect” name. This was when we created the name Orbitz for what was then a fledgling web travel service. Usually names need a maturation process. Either they grow on you naturally, or they grow as you continue to poke and prod and explore them with some of the methods I mentioned above. This especially true if you are changing a company name (e.g. a merger, acquisition or need to start clean). The old name, though it may be flawed, is comfortable. It’s like when you get married and you may change your name. It’s going to feel awkward at first, which is normal because it’s what you are used to, but eventually the “new” name will also feel right. Give names a chance to marinate, and don’t set up as an unrealistic expectation the “we’ll know it when we see it” or “lightning bolt effect”. To this end, it’s a good idea to keep a healthy handful of names on your “Short list” (preferably 5-10) because they will inevitably get knocked about in the trademark process (more on that later).

4.Treating final name selection as a democratic decision
Names are subjective. One man’s weed may be another man’s rose. This is why most of us decline to share a future baby’s name with even close friends and family until the baby has been born and the birth announcements printed. Because we don’t want the “harmless” opinions that come with sharing this decision. Example: “Oh really, the bully who used to torture me in 3rd grade was named X”. Not really relevant or helpful. That’s why it’s really important when you are going through a naming process to be clear up front who has the final say. It shouldn’t be a democratic vote . Pros and cons for each name should be gathered and considered, opinions can be heard. But you are certainly not going to get everyone to agree.

At some point, someone has to make a decision. And then begin the very important process of getting internal audiences to understand, and eventually, embrace the new name. Ideally this should be done as a series of powerful communications (visuals, videos, and brand stories) before the name is launched externally. An ideal goal is to have anyone from the receptionist to the CFO be able to articulate with certainty, passion, and consistency the message behind the new name.

5.Not leaving enough time for the naming processWell, you’re probably already exhausted by the process if you are still reading this post. But as you can see there is a lot that goes into finding a powerful and available name. I haven’t even touched on the rigors and the nuances of trademark and URL search (and the important investigations and negotiations that usually follow). Very few names appear available at first blush and the difference between a good and bad IP attorney is the former will counsel you on how to get one of the names you want, the latter will just say no. What always amazes me is that people spend months even years bringing a product or company to the point that it is ready for launch, but only leave a few months (and sometimes only weeks!) for the naming process.

That’s just bad planning. Start early. It’s one of the most important decisions you can make in developing your brand. It’s the first and one of the most powerful signals to the world on what you are about. Give it the time it deserves. And believe me you want time on your side, and not working against you, if you do find yourself negotiating for a trademark or URL.

My last piece of advice, is to remember any name can work (ex. Chase Bank, The Pep Boys, Woolworth’s etc).

A good name is one that is legally available.

A great name is one that is available and gives you a starting point on which to build a strong brand.

Treat naming as an art and a science, invest the time and money in the proper resources to help you, and you will significantly increase your likelihood of creating a great brand name.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What good and bad naming practices have you seen?

Ways to Be a Better Client

I got good response (many via Facebook) on Monday’s post on “5 Key Agency Mistakes”.

A few people suggested I turn the tables and outline some criteria for being a good Client.

The following is based on reader suggestions (thank you, you know who you are) as well as my experience (again) having been on both sides of the table.

So here goes:

5 Ways to Be a Better Client:

1.You hired the Agency for their expertise- now listen
Clients spend a lot of time seeking out just the right partner to help them attack a particular problem or maximize and opportunity. And then many end up questioning and pushing back on every suggestion. Some challenging is definitely healthy, but pushing back on everything signals either a bad fit, a lack of trust, or the inability to cede control. Let the experts do the job you chose them for.

2.Ask for ideas outside of your Agency’s core competency
At the same time, it’s great to bring your agency into decisions that are outside of their immediate zone of expertise. It shows that you really value them as a strategic/creative partner and it may also lead to a fresh point of view. I’ve gotten fabulous naming suggestions from a graphic designer, and terrific partnership ideas from my research company.

3 All great work begins with a great brief. Or at least a well thought out one. Take the time to write down and think through, what you really want. What does success look like and how will the idea/output need to be socialized before it is implemented? This can be a collaborative process with the Agency, but take the time up front to do it and really listen to the Agency’s suggestions and concerns. They’ve seen lots of briefs (both good and bad) and can recognize pitfalls early on (see point 1).

In case you haven’t seen it hilarious video about the process of creating a “better stop sign”. Notice how the brief keeps evolving.

4. Be demanding, but not completely unreasonable. It’s fine to push and we are all under a lot of pressure for deadlines and fire drills from management. But too many “I need this by tomorrow at 8 am” (when you are calling at 6pm) will just burn out the Agency and over time the work will suffer. It’s a bit like the boy crying wolf. Step back and think is it really an emergency, or just poor planning. If its the latter, think what changes you can make to minimize this.

5. Say thank you, often and loudly. Nothing motivates like genuine praise. It will keep your partners going the extra mile, forgiving some minor transgressions on points 1-4 and keep the best people wanting to work on your account. Consider going beyond the one on one thank you to a more public acknowledgement. Allow them to present your work at conferences, thank them publicly when presenting the ideas internally, even share some credit in the press. Acknowledgement for work well done, helps keep Agencies strong by attracting high caliber talent and clients. This will benefit you in the long run.

Plus it’s just good manners to acknowledge other people’s hard work and positive contributions and …god knows we could all use more of that.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
How do Clients shine or stumble?

Key Agency Mistakes

I spent the first 20 years of my career on the agency side (Grey, Interbrand) and then I became a client (Virgin).

Boy, do I have a whole new perspective now.

It’s like that movie “Switch” by Blake Edwards

Don’t know if you seen it, but this man womanizes one too many women and is shot by his angry jilted lover. Instead of dying, God sends him back to earth in the body of a woman to see what it really feels like to be on the receiving end of all his wrong doing.

The body he inhabits, by the way is Ellen Barkin’s body ( not too shabby).

Anyway, it’s full of lots of funny sight gags and some touching insight into how the “other half” lives.

I feel lucky to have this unique, albeit somewhat different, perspective now too.
After almost 3 years as a client, I’ve sat through a fair number of pitches and worked with all sorts of agencies (e.g. advertising, branding, web, and research) and I think I’ve gained some valuable insight.

Most of this is actually blindingly obvious and probably things that you already know. But the question is, are you following these principles? Or do you get lazy, or tired, or scared and revert back to bad behaviors?

Here’s my advice for Agencies (from someone who’s been on both sides. Note: these are my personal opinions- they don’t represent a formal Virgin point of view:

Top 5 Agency Mistakes

1. Stop showing your “proprietary” model. You may think your pyramid,triangle, hexagon, trapezoid is unique. Trust me, it’s not. Everyone’s got a shape. The more important thing is how do you think? And the best way to demonstrate this is to actually come in with a point of view about my brand. It can be way off base. It doesn’t really matter. As long as you’ve done your homework, maybe some man in the street research, and made some logical assumptions. The important thing is to show (not tell) how you get from point A to point B.

2. Choose the right team to bring to the meeting. Don’t bring people who genuinely don’t like each other. You may think it doesn’t show but it does. After meeting one agency, we weren’t ready to hire them…but we did seriously discuss pitching in for their group therapy. The dysfunctional nature of the team was that obvious. Also don’t bring too many people, and people who don’t have a role in the meeting. It’s a foreshadowing of large, ineffective and expensive project teams to come.

3. Once you win the business start right away. It’s like having a great date and then having to wait days and months to see each other again. It takes the buzz off the romance. The contracts and terms need to be worked out, but don’t let that get in the way of harnessing the positive chemistry and beginning to work together. The day after you get the good news, take the client to breakfast or drinks, and just start talking and maybe even a bit of back of napkin sketching.

4. Once you pass the honeymoon period don’t disappear. I understand the economics of many of the Agency pricing models. It certainly doesn’t make financial sense to maintain 100% of the Creative Director’s time as the project moves from the idea to implementation phase. However, that doesn’t mean they should become a ghost. There are low cost ways to keep in touch. Give a call from time to time, drop in for lunch etc. It’s by staying in touch when you are not really needed that you prove loyalty and stay top of mind for the next project.

5. Ignoring your own internal culture. Many brands like Virgin have strong internal cultures. We gravitate to Agency’s that also do. They have a good time, don’t take themselves too seriously, and celebrate their people and their culture. This could mean sending out fun and inexpensive tchotchkes, sharing interesting facts about their own people on the walls or website (even in the bathroom stalls) and generally putting some action behind the overused assertion that “our people are our greatest asset/differentiators”. Often I’m invited to Agency celebrations, and most of the time I can’t or don’t go. But it’s important to know that they are happening. Because usually that means they are attracting and keeping talented people. And that’s good for everyone.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
How do Agencies succeed or fail on your eyes?