Julie Cottineau

Lessons I Learned From Virgin - Julie Cottinueau

What do the Pet Rock, Virgin and Zumba have in common? They were all integral to the launch and growth of BrandTwist, a two-year-old consultancy owned and operated by fempreneur Julie Cottineau. BrandTwist provides brand strategy, innovation and naming for corporations.

Julie is also passionate about helping smaller entrepreneurs and in 2013 she launched Brand School by BrandTwist - an online learning format that brings her expertise to many entrepreneurs and small business owners all over the world.

Cottineau is a branding rock star who has worked with big brands like Intel, Avon, and Virgin and has trained clients in the US, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Australia and Croatia. But one of her biggest claims to fame happened at the age of 8, when she became the unofficial inventor of the Pet Rock! According to Julie, "My parents wouldn't let me get a pet because my older brother was allergic to any kind of pet dander. So rather than take no for an answer, I went into the garden, took a plastic Cool Whip container, put a rock into the container, and put grass in it for food and poked holes in the lid so the rock could ‘breathe'. Voila, I had my pet. My parents thought I was crazy until two years later, Gary Dahl – a copywriter in San Francisco – was sitting in a bar listening to his friends complain about their pets and how much maintenance they required. This gave him the idea for the perfect pet: a rock that would not need to be fed, walked, bathed, etc. He created an instructional manual and a carrier for the rock and sold 1.5 million pet rocks and became a millionaire. I used to joke that he ‘stole' my idea."

Joking aside, after years of experience and reflection on this story Julie learned two important lessons:

  1. Great ideas come from solving real problems. "Both Gary and I were looking to create alternative pets to get around some of the common issues of real pets," said Julie.
  2. It doesn't matter how good your idea is if it never gets to market.

She continued, "I follow these two principles to this day."

So, what motivates this busy mom of two teenagers, who refers to balance as "work/life juggling"? "I am a big believer in lateral thinking. Looking for a fresh out-of-category twist that can help my clients and students break through in their branding challenges. If you are only thinking about best practices in your own business category and what your competition is doing, chances are you will stay in the same rut and not come up with anything new or exciting."

Thus Julie's business name, BrandTwist.

Julie has an interesting exercise she is known for, called ‘Brand Fan Innovation Exercise "This exercise imagines what a successful brand like Apple, Coca-Cola or McDonald's would do if it took over your business for a day. How would they apply everything that has made them successful brands to improve your business? It twists their brand DNA with yours to create new ideas in all areas of a brand experience.

"Brand Fan Innovation Exercise is played in teams like a game, and it's really fun and energizing. I have used it with clients such as Intel, Avon, and Virgin to create 100's of new ideas across many different categories in a really short time."

Fantastic exercise! But what's almost as fantastic was the story she told about how she came up with the technique. The brand maven continued, "I was at an airport and saw a 747 plane with the 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 inspire new ideas."

A confident and intelligent woman, it was surprising to hear Julie confess she wasn't sure if she was cut out to be an entrepreneur. "For the first twenty years of my career, I had always worked for big companies. I spent about 10 years at Grey Advertising – in the U.S. and France – and another 10 years at Interbrand, a global branding consultancy. So while I was always innovating the approaches we took to creating advertising and branding solutions for clients, I had a pretty big safety net of some very large and well-respected corporations behind me. It was never really my business (or mortgage) on the line."

Christine Dubyts  |  www.dubytscom.com
Christine Dubyts is crazy about marketing and helping businesses stay in business, grow and prosper. As a fempreneur she has a special interest in working with other women business owners with their marketing and business growth efforts.