By Jane Applegate
Julie Cottineau is an internationally-recognized branding expert and the founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultancy that helps entrepreneurs and corporations build their brands and leverage them as business assets.
Before starting her own company, Julie (pictured left) was the VP of Brand at Richard Branson’s Virgin Group overseeing branding strategy for all Virgin companies in North America. Prior to joining Virgin, Julie served as Executive Director of Consumer Branding at Interbrand as well as a VP management supervisor at Grey Worldwide in both the United States and France.
Jane Applegate: Did you ever think you would become a worldwide branding consultant?
Julie Cottineau: I always knew I wanted to do something creative. When I was little my parents wouldn’t let me get a pet because my brother was allergic. So, I went out to the garden and put a rock in a plastic container and created my own Pet Rock. This was years before Pet Rocks became a fad in the US. Early on, I liked to create products that addressed consumer needs. I have been steadily building my audience in North America over the past years. I’m really pleased and gratified how many fans we have for BrandTwist around the world. Right now, my online Brand School has students from France, Spain, South Africa and Croatia. And in October I am going to Croatia to give a Master Class on branding for the Eastern European region.
APPLEGATE: How do you define ‘brand’? Isn’t it just a company logo?
COTTINEAU: Brand is so much more than a name, logo or a website. It’s a differentiated promise that over time, builds a relationship with a customer—and those relationships (if cultivated with care) deliver tangible value. It’s why we pay $5 for a cup of Starbucks’ coffee versus $2 dollars for coffee from a local deli. Starbucks is delivering much more than a caffeine fix. It’s an experience—a place where we can get refueled physically and emotionally—that’s why we pay a premium.
APPLEGATE: What is the biggest mistake business owners make when it comes to branding?
COTTINEAU: They don’t pay enough attention to brand. Brands need investment, expertise, and constant attention. It’s your most valuable business asset. It’s your relationship with your customer. You need to keep it healthy and it will help you build loyalty. Strong brands have tangible business benefits. They allow you to charge a premium, get customers to ask for you by name. Brands also increase the trial of new products and services, enjoy strong word of mouth and help you be forgiven more easily when you mess up. And let’s face it, all brands, even Apple, make mistakes from time to time.
APPLEGATE: What are some of your greatest success stories?
COTTINEAU: I am very proud of the work I did for Virgin. As the VP of brand, I helped set the strategy for growth in the U.S. I helped new initiatives like Virgin Hotels, which launches 2014. While at Interbrand, I did a lot of brand building and naming for brands like TDAmeritrade, Orbitz and Subaru Tribeca.
APPLEGATE: You are a busy working mother. What do you do for rest and relaxation?
COTTINEAU: I am not a yoga /mediation type of person. Activities like Zumba and trail bike riding are the best for me for blowing off steam. I like to be moving and concentrating on what I am doing, whether its following dance steps or shifting my bike gears. This helps me to let go of work for a while and clear my mind.
APPLEGATE: How do you balance work and family life?
COTTINEAU: Personally I think “balance” is a bit of a myth. I don’t think you can really attain it. I think of it more as “work/life juggling.” I try to do the best I can at any given moment. I have two teenagers so it’s not easy. But I have a good support system and I try to be there as much as I can for my family. I also share what’s going on with my work, and why it’s important to me, so they will want to be supportive. My son, in particular, always asks me about my client projects or the classes I am teaching—and he has great ideas. I think he is a future marketer in the making.
APPLEGATE: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs just starting a business?
COTTINEAU: Focus on defining and building your brand from the beginning, not as an afterthought. A strong brand is an entrepreneur’s secret weapon. It can serve as a great framework and filter for all the thousands of decisions that entrepreneurs need to make on a daily basis. From how to raise money, who to hire, what to name your company, how to use social media…even how to present yourself at meetings. A strong brand will help you make these decisions quicker and with more confidence.
To learn more from Julie, check out her blog (BrandTwist) and follow her on Twitter at @jcottin.
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