Julie Cottineau, Founder and CEO of BrandTwist and Brand School Master Class, is all about twisting, moving, and shaking — your brand, that is. Fitting, since the former VP of Brand at Virgin has much to celebrate these days. Her background is so rich with experience, studying communications at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, later taking up arms at ad agency Grey Worldwide, before going on to lead innovation at Interbrand.
Before founding BrandTwist and the Brand School Master Class, Julie was working shoulder-to-shoulder with Richard Branson at Virgin, learning hands-on how to scale new products and delight consumers in the airline, hotel, and retail industries along the way.
Today, she advises and consults emerging brands on their brand strategy, positioning, and unique opportunities in the marketplace. Julie has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, founders and CEO’s to bring products and services to market, through group-led sessions that encourage clients to reframe their thinking.
What is it about big, beloved brands like Apple, IKEA or Starbucks that can be “twisted” to apply to their own, she asks? Listen in!
Tune in, subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or Vimeo, and be sure to share this episode. As always, you can let us know what you think on Twitter or Facebook.
Amanda: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of On Branding by Phase 3. I’m your host Amanda Serfozo.
Amanda: On today’s show we talk wit Julie Cottineau, founder of Brand Twist and Brand School Master Class.
Amanda: Julie Cottineau is all about twisting, moving, and shaking. Your brand, that is. Her background is so rich with experience studying Communications at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania and later taking up arms at ad agency Grey Worldwide before going on to lead innovation at Interbrand. Before founding Brand Twist and the Brand School Master Class, Julie was working shoulder to shoulder with Richard Branson at Virgin learning hands on how to scale new products and delight customers in the airline, hotel, and retail industries along the way. Today she advised and consults emerging brands on their brand strategy, positioning, and opportunity in the marketplace. “What is it about big beloved brands like Apple or Starbucks that can be twisted to apply to their own?” she asks.
Amanda: Are you listening? Chime into the conversation as you listen by tweeting us at @BrandFever using the hashtag #OnBranding.
Amanda: Alright Julie let’s just start with a little bit about you and your background. Can you tell us a little bit about where it was and when it was that you fell in love with branding and you knew that branding was just something that you had to pursue?
Julie: Sure it actually goes back a very long time because it was when I was eight. When I was eight I was growing up in Marblehead, Massachusetts which is a very beautiful seaside town just northeast of Boston. I had this wonderful very idyllic childhood but there was one major thing missing from my life which was a pet. My brother is and was very allergic to pet dander, so my parents said no. And I was so desperate for something furry or something that I could call my own that I went into my backyard and I took a rock and I put it in a Cool Whip container and I poked holes in the Cool Whip container and I put grass in the bottom of it so it could eat or have a bed, and I created the pet rock! This was in 1974 and two years later in 1976 on the other side of the country in San Francisco a guy named Gary Dahl, who was a copywriter in San Francisco, was out for drinks after work with some friends and one by one they started to leave the bar to go home to walk their dog or feed the cat. And he thought there’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be a low maintenance pet. And so he created the official Pet Rock, stole my idea, and made a lot of money even though it was a fad. Really from that moment on, this has been about 40 years, I thought I want to do this for a living. I want to create new solutions for problems. Gary and I, even though we had very different backgrounds and on the surface nothing in common, we were both trying to create a new kind of pet. The only difference is that he marketed it, got it out there, gave it a name, gave it packaging, and made some money off of it. To this day, one: I think he stole my idea but two: it’s really taught me about the importance and the fun in coming up with ideas that solve problems and then packaging in such a way. Giving them a name, giving them an identity, getting them out into market in a way that can help lots of people. So I think I’ve been in branding since I was eight.
Amanda: I love that. I think that you should get some royalties off of that! Solutions and finding solutions, that’s really the foundation and the basis of branding. Tell me a little bit about your work with Virgin. Tell us what you were a part of there.
Julie: It was such an exciting opportunity for me because Virgin really does opporate on the same philosophy that I was just talking about. They go into markets where they think that the companies and the businesses have become complacent where they are not giving consumers new ideas or new choices and they shake things up. So they’ve done that in the airline industry, the mobile phone industry, and the banking industry. Soon to do it in the hotel industry. So when I got the call from Virgin I said yes right away because I thought this is what I want to do. I want to be able to come up with better ways of doing things, answer those new solutions for consumers and do it in a way that’s fun and cheeky and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Amanda: And you mentioned shaking things up which is something that’s on the minds of every marketer and every person in branding right now. What do you think is the foundation of shaking things up? How do brands really shake things up? How do they stay fresh and relevant, especially in an industry where people are always just trying to find something new.
Julie: I think that it starts with fundamentally making sure that there’s an audience for your idea. I think a lot of companies get caught up in innovation for innovation’s sake. I think the technology industry is a great example of that where they keep making things faster. And I don’t know that anyone is asking for it to be faster. When I look at my phone, for example, for me it’s not so much 3Gs or 4Gs, it’s other things that I wish it could do. And I think that a lot of things like the iPhone are starting to do that. But I always tell marketers not to focus on innovation but to focus on usefulness. And when you focus on usefulness you really have to put your consumer, your target audience, at the heart of your ideation. Because you really have to think about what do they need? What’s keeping them up at night? What do they wish was different? What are they tired of? And it’s not so much to listen to them to say they’re asking for something specific. At Virgin we did very little consumer research. We weren’t asking people, “Would you fly on this plane?” Or, “Would you enjoy this hotel experience?” We were more listening for, “What’s wrong with today? What’s broken? And what do you wish could be different?” And really importantly, “What do you enjoy in other industries?” That’s really the basis for my philosophy of twisting and brand twist. I think that consumers live in a multi-category world. They don’t live in a world that’s dominated by your category and your industry. So if they have a great experience, for example, in the Apple Store where they’re able to check out a handheld device. They’re able to go to the Genius Bar and feel smarter when they leave. They’re able to touch and play with the products. Once they have that experience and then they walk into your dry cleaner, your coffee shop, your hotel, or your bank, they don’t forget the way they were just treated and what they enjoyed. And in fact that contrast makes it more difficult for them. Whenever I innovate with clients I always say, “Let’s forget about the category that you work in. Let’s completely forget about it. Let’s actually focus on who your consumer is, what’s missing, and also what they’re enjoying in other categories and see how we can twist those ideas to innovate for your brand.”
Amanda: That’s what Brand Twist is all about. It’s a social consulting model, less one on one therapy and more about connecting 10 to 12 brand builders in similar growth stages over the course of 12 weeks. Julie guides the entire conversation of course, creating video lessons, sharing best practice guides, and giving her students homework – yes homework – whether it be observation, brainstorming, or mapping the future of their brand.
Amanda: So now you’re working at Brand Twist, that is your own company. Is it a consultancy would you say or is it an agency? What would you categorize it as?
Julie: Yeah it’s a consultancy and a brand learning practice. I work specifically with clients on their brands but I also work with a lot of entrepreneurs where I’m guiding them on best practices and giving them the tools but they’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
Amanda: Gotcha. So you are doing Brand Twist and you’re also doing the Brand School Master Class. Run us through a little bit about that, what you do, what your offerings are. Just give us the full picture of what it is that Julia’s doing right now.
Julie: Not sleeping, I can tell you that! Not sleeping at all because I also have two teenagers so I’m doing a lot. Brand Twist is pretty classical consulting. I work with clients really on brand strategy, innovation, naming, and brand stories. And I work with a lot of clients who are either launching a brand or have a brand or product that’s been in the marketplace for a few years. They have proof of concept. Things are going pretty well because they’re answering a need, but then they realize that they’re product actually doesn’t have a brand around it. It’s doing well because the product is good but I help them create the brand around it. What is that promise? What’s that overarching emotional benefit? So that as competition comes in fast and furious, which it seems to do in every market, they’ll have a leadership positioning that they can fall back on and they won’t get distracted by competitors that are coming in and undercutting their prices and things like that. So that’s Brand Twist. Brand School is something that I created a couple of years ago because I wanted to help entrepreneurs. I loved working with Richard Branson and some other really smart entrepreneurs at Virgin. And I love new ideas and I love people who put their heart and soul into creating their own business. But I couldn’t necessarily help them in the traditional consulting model because when they are starting up they’re very high on need and short on cash. So what I decided to do was put together these groups, very small groups, in a master class of 10 to 12 entrepreneurs at the same time where we meet every week for 12 weeks. I share with them best practices and everything that they need to build their brand. I share those through videos. But I also share through hands-on learning in the form of homework exercises. We might talk about target audience for example. What makes a great target? How to approach your target audience. And then they’ll do a homework assignment where they’ll have to actually think about what they just learned and apply it to their own business and create and ideal target for their own business. So it’s a 12 week program. It’s partly online and it’s also enhanced virtual in that we have office hours once a week on a webinar platform with some video chat. And then they also get some one on one time with me. What’s really cool about it is they learn from each other. That’s why I do it in groups because even though in every class they have completely different businesses – everything from marketing consultants, photographers, people who have wine or food businesses – they’re really different. But they’re able to build on each other’s ideas and offer support and I think it’s creating that community aspect. I’m giving them advice but I love the advice that they give each other as well.
Amanda: One of the things that’s most difficult, whether you work in an agency setting or serve as an independent consultant like Julie, is getting the client to think abstractly about things like voice and tone, brand promise, and positioning statements. Julie says that she shirks abstract thinking in favor of hands on participation and real talk.
Amanda: One of the things that seems really challenging, and always seems really challenging to me, when you work in an agency setting or when you do a Skillshare class or when you do what you’re doing with the videos and creating a community, is getting people to think abstractly in a course or in a conversation about things like a mission statement or brand promise or look and feel, or something I do which is voice and tone. How do you get people to break out of their shells of thinking about brands and get them to think abstractly about what they want those things to sound like and feel like?
Julie: That’s a great question. I don’t like to get abstract because with some audiences, particularly entrepreneurs, if it gets too abstract then you lose them. So what I do is I really focus on best practices and hands on learning. So I will share brands that I admire like MailChimp and Virgin and some brands that have great tones of voice and I guess that’s as abstract as we get. We look at best practices in lots of different categories. But then very quickly we isolate what’s working for those brands and we twist it with my clients’ brands, with the entrepreneurs’ brands. You’re always operating on two levels. One levels is, “What’s going on out there that I’m inspired by?” And very quickly the second level is, “What can I do with that information? How can I use it on my own brand?”
Amanda: Yeah you just mentioned that in a podcast that I was just listening to the other day with Stacey Harris of Hit the Mic. You mentioned looking at a Starbucks or looking at an IKEA and just isolating the things you like about that brand and then twisting it into your own. Could you give me an example of something were a student of yours was able to derive from looking at a brand like that? Or a success story of someone in your class who was able to do that in a particular way?
Julie: Sure I had one student that comes to mind who has a consulting firm that helps nonprofits. She helps leaders of nonprofits become better leaders. And she needed to redo her website. When she first started her business she just put up something that had her name and her experience and the copy was really dry, it wasn’t inspirational at all. So we did this twisting exercise and I said, “What’s a brand that you really love?” And for her it was Mini Cooper. She owns a Mini Cooper. She’s one of those people who if you met her she would try to sell you a Mini Cooper.
Amanda: An evangelist!
Julie: An evangelist, exactly. Even though she doesn’t work for them she loves the culture around it, the energy around it. She loves actually, and this is true of a lot of Mini Cooper drivers, how you can feel the car when you’re driving. The boxiness is an advantage because you feel very much one with the car. So she twisted her consultancy with Mini Cooper and she came up with a tagline which was, “Providing successful roadmaps for innovation.” She used this whole idea of roads maps, being a nonprofit leader you’re often on this journey and you need help navigating. She redid her tagline and she redid her website. Mini Cooper is very bold in their visuals. They have these frames that they use in their advertising but then they have a full bleed, very colorful image. She put that on her website, showing some of the nonprofit organizations pictures from those. The whole thing became very high octane, very impactful, and has a sense of urgency to it. She works for organizations for women in Africa and all these things that really had nothing to do with Mini Cooper. But she got to an idea that was really breakthrough because she thought outside of her category and she twisted with a brand that she’s really passionate about.
Amanda: The twist is where brands start to gain ground and identify their unique positions and competitive advantages. It’s about studying what works for brands that are out in the market and reframing their successes to fit the student’s own brand.
Amanda: One of the other things that I’m curious about is you’re very active on Twitter, you’re very active through social media, always sharing, always creating content. Tell us about the types of content that you produce on a pretty consistent basis.
Julie: Well we’re always looking for the twist. We’re always looking for and celebrating and sharing information about a brand that did something different. And we’re really passionate about brands that are just on the verge of breaking through. We’re not obsessed with covering the household names, the Cokes and Pepsis of the world. We’re more interested in brands that on smaller budgets are doing something really unique. So we have a whole segment called Brands That Twist. We’ve covered brands like Birchbox and Uber, Bee Raw Honey, brands that are small but are doing something interesting. We present what that twist is and then we always talk about, “How can this apply to your own business?” Whether it’s large or small what are the lessons learned? That’s primarily what we do. And then we also tweet out a lot of inspiration. Sometimes during the day if you’re looking at Twitter if you’re stuck at your desk working, some people tweet out a quote from Richard Branson or from Jeff Bezos or just something that will give people a shot of adrenaline. We love guest posts too so if you have any listeners out there who are interested in contributing a guest post, Jamie is my social media editor so you just need to email firstname.lastname@example.org and pitch her an idea for a post and we’ll work with you to make it great, to make it on brand, and then we always add a bio and a link back to your site. So we do that for students, we do that for professionals, just anyone who has an interesting opinion on brand that we can get out there.
Amanda: When you’ve been working with brands for over a decade, you’ve seen them grow up, fail, and thrive, how have brands changed over the years as technology, social media, and brand storytelling entered the Matrix?
Amanda: The concept of a brand has really changed. It used to be the power was all in the hands of corporate. Now it’s really trickled down into, “Anybody can create a brand.” How has the concept of a brand changed in your eyes throughout the years, especially now that brands are accountable for every move that they make online, offline, what they say, what they do? How has that changed over the years for you?
Julie: That’s a great question. I think fundamentally a lot of things have stayed the same. As we were talking about before strong brands answer a need. They have a very clear benefit and that benefit is usually more emotional than it is about helping you get stuff done. For example I don’t really think Apple is about technology, I think it’s about imagination. I think Nike is about achievement, not just about running shoes. I think strong brands have always had what I call a top of a pyramid benefit. One thing that’s changed is we live in a much more visual world right now. A world where people, particularly younger generations, are sharing things on Instagram, for example. And I think that you really need to pay more attention than you did in the past on your money shot. What’s that one image of your brand that somebody can take a photograph of and share it with their circles? I did an article for Forbes.com with Allen Adamson from Landor and called this ‘word of eye’. It’s not just word of mouth anymore, it’s word of eye. Because I think that’s the way, particularly younger generations, process information. So for example in Virgin America when you walk into the plane there’s a signal that the brand experience is very powerful and very different right from the minute that you enter because of the mood lighting. It’s not just yellow and harsh and looks like you’re about to have your appendix removed, it’s these beautiful shades of purple. The number of people that walk in and take a picture of that on their phone and then upload it while they’re on the plane, because the Virgin America planes are all WiFi enabled, and say, “Look where I am, look what I’m doing,” that’s great word of eye.
Amanda: It reminds me of something Al Ries says about the visual hammer and just having that one image that just concretes the whole package. For Virgin it’s the mood lighting. For Nike it’s the swish. So true. This goes in a little bit with something Gary Vaynerchuk was mentioning in a talk I was watching the other day when I was doing the research and writing questions for this interview, he mentioned that brands are really concerned about content today but they’re also trying to figure out how to tell stories in context. Right time, right place. He says it’s really about the psychology of the platform and tailoring content for the context. So you go on Pinterest and you’re relaxing and you have an aspiration to buy something. You’re looking at bags or shoes. Facebook is about socialization and catching up with friends. Twitter is realtime information, news. How would you suggest that today’s brands tell stories in context and really break down that big mantra of achievement or imagination? How can they break it down and let it trickle down into smaller bits of the story?
Julie: That’s a fantastic question. I think it’s really about a couple of things. I think it’s about authenticity, making sure that your story is not so fabricated, so that you can share, and I think social media is great for that. You can share as a brand more behind the scenes. “This is what we’re trying. This is what we’re hoping for but we’d love to hear from you. This is what we’re thinking, what do you think?” Much more of an interaction. I think it’s also still about answering that consumer need and making sure that you know where your target lives and you know what mood they’re in when they’re using each different social media. And I think the third thing is, in my class for example, we have a session on social media. One of our eight lessons is on social media and it’s called Strategically Social. And one of the first things that we say is, “Don’t jump on the bandwagon of ‘Oh I have to get a Pinterest page, I need to be on Facebook,’ just because everyone’s telling you that you do.” It’s much better to first think about, just like you would with any traditional media, “What is it that my customer needs? Where are they? Strategically how can I use this to build my brand?” And I think it’s much better to do fewer things really well than to have a presence everywhere. And I also think it’s really important not to overlook, particularly for brands that are business-to-business, not to overlook the less sexy social media, like LinkedIn, that can be really powerful because when somebody goes into LinkedIn they’re in a business mindset, they’re looking for quality information, they’re looking for quality connections, and I think you can provide a lot there. I also think YouTube is great. If you’re a brand that’s really helping people solve problems and if part of the dialog you can have with your customers is really, “How do you get stuff done?” I think a lot of how-to videos on YouTube really connect. I’ve seen different brands, brands that are in DIY for example, do really well on YouTube, or technology brands, because they take customers through a step by step tutorial and that’s creating a connection. That is fulfilling your brand promise. It might not be a sexy as having 10,000 Twitter followers or being on Instagram but if it’s helping people feel that you really understand what they need, and it’s still a sharable medium – you can still like that video or you can like a LinkedIn post and people see that you liked that post, or comment on a post – I think that those are the two that really ought to be looked at a lot more closely. And it can be really overwhelming. All of my students at the beginning of class and a lot of the clients that I have say, “We don’t like social media.” And I’ll say, “Well what don’t you like about it?” And it really turns out that it’s not that they don’t like it, it’s just if you haven’t been born digital, if you’re over 30, then it does feel like all the sudden somebody’s forcing you to learn a foreign language. And rather than making people learn Italian, Greek, Japanese, and Chinese all at the same time, which is definitely not a recipe for success unless you happen to be unbelievably talented in that area, then just pick one and get fluent in one. And then you can start to explore the others if you want to.
Amanda: Julie says one of the biggest things people get wrong is this: branding and advertising are not made equal.
Amanda: You wrote on your blog recently about the difference between branding and advertising. People just doing branding and advertising just for the sake of branding and advertising, or innovating. Can you define the difference between branding and advertising and why people might misconstrue one for the other.
Julie: Sure and it’s a very common question. Often I say to people, “What’s your biggest branding challenge?” And they’ll say, “Awareness.” And to me awareness isn’t a branding challenge, awareness is a marketing and advertising challenge. I think branding is really about defining who you are, who you serve, and what’s different about you. And you really need to get that right. I’ve done a lot of headlines that say don’t waste another dollar on marketing or advertising until you really understand your brand. And I think once you understand who you serve, what you offer, and what’s different about you then you can advertise that. And advertising is really trying to get that message to the right people at the right time.
Amanda: Over the course of our conversation Julie and I spoke a lot about failure in branding. Failure in brand loyalty, flat product launches, and missing the mark. Julie says she’s thankful for her time at Virgin, a company that’s truly fearless when it comes to failing, hard.
Amanda: The spotlight seems to always be on you, or always on your brand. Do you think that there’s room for a trial and error exercise when you are just a new brand, to figure out what your brand’s message really is?
Julie: I’m a huge fan of failure. And actually that’s one of the things that I really learned from Richard Branson, was to fail harder. Because at Virgin there’s no punishment for failing. In fact some of the biggest Virgin failures, like Virgin Cola which was a big failure, are some of the biggest learning opportunities. When Virgin didn’t do well at Virgin Cola, one of the things that they learned was not to just launch products anymore, that they would be much better off launching experiences like airlines and hotels and health clubs and spaceship travel and all these wonderful things. Because I think there’s an analysis paralysis that happens with all of us. When I talk to my clients I just say, “If this sounds like a good idea that we’ve come up with here together as part of class let’s just try it. Tomorrow in the next email that you write or in the next client conversation that you have or the next Facebook post that you want to put up, just try the idea. Just use some of that language and see if people are leaning in and if they’re getting it. And if they’re not then observe why and amend it.” But I think it’s much better to have 10 ideas in the marketplace that fail than 100 ideas stuck in your head or stuck in a presentation book somewhere, because then you’re gonna be learning. And you have to manage your risk. Richard talks about this too. When he started Virgin Atlantic, for example, he didn’t know anything about the airline business. He was actually a record executive with Virgin Records. He didn’t buy 10 planes, he leased one plane with the fundamental idea that there had to be a better way to fly. There had to be an alternative to the stuffy experience that airline travel was back then. And he felt fundamentally that if he wanted a different way to fly then everybody else was probably looking for a different way to fly. But he didn’t bankrupt his whole music empire for this. He took a very calculated risk starting with one plane that could basically be returned at the end of the year if it didn’t work out.
Amanda: Yeah incremental steps and calculated risk. And I think that’s what he’s know for. I think he’s know for being radical, he’s kind of an icon for branding and trying new things, like space exploration now is a new one. Who knows what he’s gonna come up with in the next year. But that’s why people love him, because he’s so novel and always got his hands in different things that are exciting. Tell us just one or two pieces of advice that you got from working with Richard and maybe how you’re using it today with Brand Twist and Brand School.
Julie: Sure there’s so many. The first lesson I learned from Richard was really focus on the people. In his case a lot of that is focusing on the employees. I did a lot of market launches with him for new products and he would always want to know, “How’s the staff doing? Are they being included in the events? Are they excited about what we’re doing?” I remember once when we were in Boston launching Virgin Money, after the launch we got a police escort with the mayor of Boston back to the airport. Which was kind of silly. It was like a 20 minute drive in the middle of the day. We really didn’t need it. But as soon as we got to the airport he got out of the car and he went around and thanked all of the policemen on their motorcycles. The little guys. Even before he shook the hand of the mayor of Boston, or whatever dignitary was there, I remember that. I remember so many anecdotes like that. I was in Indianapolis with him and he took a car back to the airport. The next day I had the same cab driver and reserved black car. And he said to me, “Where do you want to sit?” And I was a little taken aback, I said, “Well I’m gonna sit in the back if that’s okay with you. I’m gonna make a phone call on the way to the airport. Why?” And he said, “Well yesterday I took your boss and he sat upfront with me.” And he talked to him – I think he was from Somalia , and Rich is really interested in Africa – but he talked to him the whole half an hour way into the airport about his family, how he liked living in America, what challenges he had. I think that’s what makes Richard so successful is he really cares and connects with people. So through those conversations he’s learning. He’s really in touch, even though he’s a billionaire, he’s really in touch with people and what they want and what they need. And I try to do that now ever since then. Whenever I’m in a taxi I try to have a conversation. I still sit in the back, I have to say, because I feel a little safer, especially in New York City. But I try to take an opportunity for those moments, particularly because a lot of the people that I meet like that are small business owners. And for me, because I have a school for small business owners – I was just out in California and I spent some time talking to the manager of a local restaurant while I was waiting for my friends to join me for dinner. And I learned a lot about what his challenges were and it was really useful. That’s the first lesson, is be a people person whether the people are your employees or your customers. And I think the second lesson is really what he calls, “Screw it let’s do it.” Which is what we were just talking about which is about failing harder and failing faster. So if you have an idea that seems to you like a really good idea – you’ve talked to people you know and they say, “Wow, that’s a really good idea. That really helps me solve a problem. That would be really useful to me,” then the next thing I would do is start to try it and not wait until it’s perfect. I really think that perfection is the enemy of progress.
Amanda: Yes, so true. Just get it out there and just iterate on it. We mentioned incremental changes and calculated risks. Just get it out there and continue to make it better. And I think Brand Twist and Brand School is really helping people get in touch with that. Congratulations to you, I think you’re really helping people make better brands everyday.
Julie: Thank you, that’s my mission.
Amanda: And I love what you said about Richard with the taxi driver. I take Uber pretty much every day and it’s a brand that I love. I try to talk to every driver every time I am in the car about what they love about the service and what some of their pain points are. I think constantly trying to learn and to be a good listener are definitely two of the biggest things about success that are themes of really successful people. Before we go I was originally going to ask you three household name brands that are really owning their brands message or identity. But I would love to hear about a few more students that you’ve connected with and that you’ve helped nurture, and maybe a few brands that are really owning it after taking Brand School and working with you.
Julie: Sure. One of my students was Ned Towle from Westchester Wine School. Ned’s had his own wine school for about 12 years. He had a successful corporate career before he started the wine school. He’s got a lot of degrees in wine, he’s super knowledgable. But when I started with him his messaging was all about wine expertise. And the thing is that’s not very differentiated. There are a lot of experts – Gary Vaynerchuk is one of them, Robert Parker – a lot of people who will teach you about wine and actually a lot of people who will teach you about it for free. So we worked together to think about his ideal client. His ideal client, the people who were coming most often to his classes, were people who were learning about wine because they wanted to enjoy life. They really weren’t looking for so-called ‘expertise’. They were looking for some direction. But what they really wanted to do was spend a great night out with some really fun people talking about something that they were really passionate about. One of the things about wine is that it transports us. If we’re talking about French wines or Italian wines you can’t help also talking about the country and the culture and all that. Ned realized that his differentiator was really that learning about wine helped you enjoy life. So he changed his tagline to, “Uncork the joy of living.”
Amanda: Oh I love that!
Julie: And he changed the photos on his website, which used to be him with a glass of wine looking kind of serious and erudite, to pictures of his students all together at tables enjoying wine. And he actually introduced some new products. He does now wine tours of the North Fork and Long Island where there’s a lot of wineries. The biggest thing that I’m most proud of is he raised all his prices. Because he realized if he can really hone in on his ideal target and what he was offering them and what they valued – once you attract the right people and you promise and deliver on the right thing, then price becomes less of an issue. Because they’re not comparing you to the three options anymore, the free podcasts that you can get on wine, they’re comparing you to other experiences they have like going out to a very nice restaurant or going to the theater or going away for the weekend. And when he became more of an experiential brand, and he was clear on who he was targeting, he had more confidence to raise his prices to really the level that they should have been because he’s incredibly knowledgable and he creates incredible environments for people to enjoy wine. He was just in the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks ago so I’m really proud of that. It’s Westchester Wine School.
Amanda: Wow, what a great story! So true – you feel more legitimate once you have direction and have a presence for your brand like that. You can charge those prices because you don’t feel like you have to compete like you said with the free guys. So congrats to him! Wow, what an excellent story. And Julie before we let you go could you give us just a little bit of an outro for where people can connect with you online? Maybe your website, maybe some of your social feeds?
Julie: Sure. If you’re an entrepreneur the best place to reach me is brandschoolonline.com. And I actually offer free 45 minute Brand Health Checks. These are strategy sessions with me where we can talk about your brand and talk about some of the challenges. You walk away with a few ideas right away. And then if you need more help it’s a way for us to evaluate whether you would be a good candidate for any of our brand school programs. So that’s brandschoolonline.com and apply for your free Brand Health Check. If you’re a larger business and you’re interested in more traditional consulting or even having me come in and do a Brand Twist workshop with your employees, I do them often for marketing offsites and for leadership conferences, then it’s brandtwist.com. And if you just want to say hi or interact to get to know each other I love talking to people on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @jcottin. I have a great Twitter community, people who are really engaged and passionate about brand. We retweet a lot of people’s content. We just have great discussions on Twitter and also on our Brand Twist Facebook page. That’s where I’d love to say hello.
Amanda: Awesome. Julie thank you so much for being on and thank you for what you do. I have been working with brands for a couple years now, mostly doing copywriting and content, but I just love what you’re doing and you’re definitely an inspiration to me and to all the brand nerds out there, so thank you.
Julie: Thank you, and I have to say I love Brand Fever. I have the fever as well! I’m burning with the passion of brand and I love what you guys are doing. I love the thought leadership position you’re taking and I’m so glad we met and discovered one another because I’m now a big fan as well.
Amanda: Aw thanks! Oh that’s awesome. Thank you so much Julie, that means a lot. I’ll let everyone on our team know that you’re loving us. That’s good to hear.
Julie: Alright thank you.
Amanda: Have a great day!
Julie: You too!
Amanda: Thank you loyal listeners for tuning in. While you’re listening we’d love if you would give On Branding a rating or review on iTunes. And don’t forget to visit us on the Phase 3 show page at phase3mc.com/onbranding. No matter where you go you’re brand is always on, so take On Branding with you.