With our monthly theme covering relevant CX literature, we talked with Julie Cottineau, a branding expert, about her recently published book Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands and relevant trends in branding and customer experience.

in-text-photoJulie, it’s lovely to have you in the CXM, congratulations on the new book. In it, you focus on the non-profits and small businesses that have to fight a certain type of challenges in the ever-changing market. What could be the main thing those companies should focus on when developing their customer experience?

You really need to clearly define your consumer and direct your focus on them, specifically. One of the biggest branding mistakes I see small business make is that they target everyone. They have broad and generic advertising headlines and website copy. But when your brand stays at this very general level it is hard for your ideal consumer to see that you’re really speaking to them and it’s a struggle for them to feel connected or feel compelled enough to take action. But if you can put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand what they need, what they worry about, what keeps them up at night, what – on a deep level –they desire – and how you can deliver that – you’ll reach more people who will be willing to take action and keep returning to your brand.

Your experience is closely connected to gigantic brands, such as Virgin Group. In what ways can such practices developed for larger brands be applied to developing strategies for small businesses?

During my five years as V.P. of Brand at Virgin, I witnessed the passion and excitement that Richard Branson and other entrepreneurs who worked with Virgin embody. That inspired me to break out on my own and create BrandTwist, my branding consultancy and Brand School Master Class, a branding program that helps entrepreneurs create breakthrough brands to take their businesses further.

Virgin embraces innovation and encourages fresh ideas and taking calculated risks. Small business can do the same. It’s even more important for small business owners to find fresh ways to reach more customers and stand out. Richard’s mottos, “Screw it! Let’s do it!” and “Fail harder” are reminders that it is okay to try new things – even If they may not be successful because what you learn from the both the successes and failures are both valuable.

As the VP of Brand at Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, you were overseeing branding strategy for both new and established Virgin companies in North America. What did your path to that position look like? What has and has not changed throughout your career?

My passion for creative problem solving began at an early age- around 8, when my parents wouldn’t let me have a pet because of my brother’s allergies. Undaunted, I took a rock from my garden, put it in a Cool Whip container, poked holes in the lid so the rock could “breathe” and voila Instant pet rock! A few years later the official Pet Rock was invented by Gary Dahl and he made millions.

Throughout my career at Grey Global, Interbrand, Virgin and my own Brand consultancy, BrandTwist, and Branding School, Brand School online.com I have been obsessed with finding creative solutions- ideas with a TWIST- to problems. My own life has also been filled with wonderful TWISTS. I originally wanted to be a TV broadcaster, but my time as an exchange student in a summer work/study program in London during university led me to advertise. This was the only internship available and I fell in love with this discipline that used both the creative and analytical sides of my brain. During my ten years at Grey Global, I was transferred to the Grey Paris office for three years. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t speak any French. Over time I became fluent, and a chance meeting at a French tennis camp led me to me bring home a little “souvenir”. We’ve been married now for 20 years, living in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York with two wonderful teenage children.

What are the most important do’s and don’ts of branding today? To what extent does branding affect the overall customer experience?

Making and keeping a meaningful promise is critical to any relationship. This is just as true today as it was decades ago. And strong brand relationships, like most human relationships, are built on trust. A brand is what defines a business, product or personality and is the way you communicate to your customer what you stand for, what your promise is, and how you will deliver that promise. Your Brand Promise is not just about what the product does – it’s about how using the product makes your customer feel. For example, 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.

Today, you need to make sure that every touchpoint in the customer experience is communicating and supporting your brand message. It’s not just about traditional advertising and marketing. It’s also how your employees act, what people say about you in social media, brand partnerships and having brand ambassadors that speak on behalf of your brand. People are becoming increasingly wary of traditional communication like TV ads.

In the world of Social Media, it’s all about creating Word of Mouth and Word of Eye… a quick visual reminder of your brand that can appear on mobile devices and in virtual realities that can surprise and delight your customers.

Can you share some interesting customer experience practices that truly blew your mind recently?

I recently used UBER and noticed that I had the option of sending my playlist to the car – which means that from the moment I enter the vehicle my favorite music would be playing. It’s a little touch of customization that empowers consumers and also says “We care”.

They will also forward my ride details and itinerary to a friend, colleague or family member – this is a tiny convenient perk that also adds more “trust” factor to their brand.

I guess then, the magic formula would be “trust, with a twist”. Thank you very much for your time. We wish you many more successful twists in the future.

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