Branding Guru Shares Strategies for Success

By | June 13, 2013

I recently interviewed Julie Cottineau, an internationally-recognized branding expert. Julie is the founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultancy company that helps entrepreneurs and corporations build their brands and leverage them as business assets.

Before starting her own company, Julie 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 US and France.

Check out her wonderful blog at  You can follow her on Twitter at @jcottin. She is also the creator of a unique  online branding class for entrepreneurs: www.BrandSchoolOnline. com. Julie lives in Westchester, NY with her French husband and two teenage children.

Jane Applegate (JA): Did you ever think you would become a worldwide branding consultant?

Julie Cottineau (JC): I always knew I wanted to do something creative. When I was little my parents would not let me have 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 discovered that 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 with all of the many fans we have for BrandTwist around the world. Right now, my online Brand School has students from France, Spain, South Africa and Croatia. In October, I am going to Croatia to give a Master Class on branding for the Eastern European region.

JA: What was your initial career plan?

JC: I wanted to be a TV anchor. When I was in college, I had internships at CBS stations in Boston and Philadelphia. But these experiences (as rich and valuable as they were) made me realize it wasn’t news reporting that interested me. It was the communication of new information and the dialogue and action that takes place around new ideas. So, eventually I switched my focus to branding which is more of a two-way relationship than TV news which often feels like information that is being pushed out- via a one-sided conversation.

JA: How do you define ‘brand’? Isn’t it just a company logo?

 JC: I believe 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.

 JA: What is the biggest mistake business owners make when it comes to branding?

JC: The biggest mistake I see is 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.

JA:  What are some of your greatest success stories? Clients you have helped?

 JC: 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 US. I helped new initiatives like Virgin Hotels, which is launching in 2014. I also encouraged Virgin Mobile and Virgin America to collaborate more. While at Interbrand, I did a lot of brand building and naming for brands like TDAmeritrade, Orbitz and Subaru Tribeca.

 JA:  Like many of our FFN fans, you are a busy working mother. What do you do for rest and relaxation?

JC: I am not a yoga /mediation type of person. I find that activities like Zumba and trail bike riding are actually 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.

 JA: How do you balance work and family life?

 JC: 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.

JA: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs just starting a business?

 JC: Focus on defining and building your brand from the beginning, not as an after thought. 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 entrepreneur’s 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.

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