Julie Cottineau: “Make time to fill up your own tank ”

Tweak your brand name, Probably one of the most successful examples of this is when Kentucky Fried Chicken officially changed the brand name to KFC. This was to draw focus away from the fried nature of the food when consumers were starting to pay more attention to healthy eating. It also capitalized on the way […]

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Tweak your brand name, Probably one of the most successful examples of this is when Kentucky Fried Chicken officially changed the brand name to KFC. This was to draw focus away from the fried nature of the food when consumers were starting to pay more attention to healthy eating. It also capitalized on the way that loyals fans were already referring to the brand.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Cottineau. Julie is Founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultancy that helps entrepreneurs and corporaitons build stronger, more profitable brands. She is the author of best-selling book TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands (Panoma Press 2016) and a globally recognized branding expert and teacher. She has been an Adjunct Professor and Guest Lecturer at Columbia, Cornell and Stanford and has supported hundreds of women entrepreneurs through her Brand School Master Class.

Julie is a frequent commentator on in media such as, Entrepreneur Magazine, C-Suite Best Seller-TV and CNN. She is the former VP of Branding at Richard Branson’s Virgin and was a Global

Account Director for Grey Global and the Executive Director of Consumer Branding at Interbrand.

She is a highly rated keynote speaker and is frequently addresses groups of women executives helping them to identify and own and their personal brand TWISTS.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Well going way, way back…when I was a little girl my parents wouldn’t let me get a pet because my brother was allergic to pet dander. Undeterred, I went into my garden, picked a rock and put it in a Cool Whip container. I poked air holes in the container and put in a blade of grass for food. Voila! I had created the pet rock. A few years later, a copywriter in San Francisco, Gary Dahl, was bemoaning the fact that friends were leaving the bar early to go feed their pets — so he created the official Pet Rock. A gag gift that made millions. I remember seeing it in stores and feeling upset that he had “stolen” my idea (I was only 10 years old at the time). But this was the beginning of my path toward finding ways I could use my creativity to develop solutions that would solve problems — and make a living from it!

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was working in advertising at Grey Global, I had the fabulous opportunity to transfer to Grey Paris for a few years to head up account management on a global P&G account. While I was fluent in the language of Procter & Gamble beauty care marketing, I did not actually speak French. The official business language with the client was English, but inside the agency it was definitely French. I really wanted to bond with my new co-workers and show them I was not the ugly American sent over from HQ to spy on them- so I dove feet first into learning their language. I learned French basically on the job, supplemented by a private tutor when I had time between meetings. Anyway, for a while my ambition to speak French outpaced my knowledge. I remember the day I asked the receptionist to reserve a meeting room for an appointment I had with my client to discuss new ad concepts. I asked her to book me a “chambre de reunion”. Well I found out quickly that “chambre” means bedroom. I should have said “salle de reunion”. That branding mistake made the way around the agency with lightning speed. But I was a good sport about teasing, and I think that went a long way to helping me be accepted as part of the French team. I ended up extending my two year contract to three years, met my French husband of 22 years (at French tennis camp- not in a chambre de reunion), and am now fluent in my beloved second language!

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

Transitioning to starting your own business can be hard. Especially when you come from a background where you have always had the strength of big brands behind you. This was the case when I decided to start my own brand consultancy, BrandTwist, after over 20 years working for large, well-known companies such as Grey, Interbrand, and Virgin. For the first few years, I would meet people at networking events and conferences and often they would look kind of dismissively at the unknown company name on my name badge and move on in search of a contact with a more recognizable brand name. That was really hard for me. I had always been sought out in those situations — because I represented brands that people had heard of and wanted to get to know. But I was not deterred. I kept building my business through thought leadership, speaking engagements, the publication of my best-selling branding book TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, and an online Brand School for entrepreneurs. In the early days, I was often introduced as Julie Cottineau, Former VP of Brand for Virgin — rather than Founder & CEO of BrandTwist. But I remember a meeting that signalled the tipping point for me. My brand building efforts were beginning to pay off in terms of exposure, a growing social media following, a lot of positive media and interviews behind the book (such as a feature on CNN) and a small business visionary award. I was at a conference and someone looked at my badge and said “Julie from BrandTwist, oh I love your work”. I kept my cool and extended my hand, but I really wanted to grab my new best friend in a bear hug. That recognition made me feel like I had arrived on the scene — with a brand that I created. I guess the lesson for others is be patient and keep at it. Brands are not built overnight.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Like everyone else, my world has been turned upside down by the Pandemic. As a thought leader, I felt the need to get out and help people navigate this new normal. I truly believe that disruption, while difficult, can be great for brands. So when the world started going crazy, I launched a micro-site called Through webinars, key notes, workshops, Facebook Live, and Brand Coaching, I’ve been helping businesses of all sizes to TWIST uncertainty into opportunity and look at new ways to focus their branding. I wanted to help as many people as possible, so I decided to offer a speed version of my 1 on 1 strategy sessions called a “Brand Booster Session”. In :30 minutes, I help a business come up with at least one idea that will bring in much needed revenue right now. I price these sessions at a very affordable rate and I give a portion of the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders. I am proud to say that we’ve done a great many of these Brand Booster Sessions over the past months, have helped a lot of businesses, and have been able to donate to a worthy cause.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Make time to fill up your own tank — intellectually, emotionally, physically. I try to follow this through regular TWISTING Tuesday’s. I set aside one day a week where for a few dedicated and precious hours, I do something new to shake things up. This could be taking a bike ride on a new trail, watching a NetFlix documentary about a subject I don’t know anything about, or visiting a new retail or museum experience (in person or online). I call this going on a Brand Safari even if it’s just for an hour — and not in Africa. During this time, I practice “Triple A” Twisting. I consciously become Aware of something new, I Analyze what makes this experience special and then I Apply what I learn to my own brand or to a client project. This keeps things fresh for me, and helps me to step away from my screen. I think keeping yourself curious and energized is really important when you work in brand innovation.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Great question. There is a lot of confusion around this even among senior executives. For me, your brand is the fundamental story of who you are as a business, what you offer, what you stand for, who you serve, and the problems you solve. It is your core identity. It is brought to life by your brand assets (name, logo, tagline, tone of voice and core brand touchpoints like a website) and your actions (how you treat clients and employees). I don’t really use the term “brand marketing”. I prefer Branding. Marketing (corporate or product) is how you get that message out and build awareness- advertising, promotions, partnerships earned media, social etc.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Many people think they don’t need to invest in branding because their business is built through referrals or word of mouth. But even if this is the case, your brand walks into the room before you and hangs around after you are gone. It can help reinforce your message and help you stay top of mind. Research has also proven that strong brands are able to charge higher premiums, minimize consideration of other brands, create word of mouth recommendations, have lower cost of acquisition for both customers and new hires, and are more easily forgiven when inevitable errors occur.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Rebranding can be a great opportunity to tell your brand’s story in a fresh way while energizing your employees and customers. There are many reasons a business might want to consider a re-brand, but here are the three I see most frequently.

1) There is a disconnect between the product and the brand. This happens fairly often in technology companies. Often, a tech company starts out with one platform or offering, but over time, they’re actually adding value in a different direction. Then they’re constantly explaining and saying, ‘Well, I know we sound like a data streaming company, but we’re not.’” If you are constantly explaining why your name doesn’t fit anymore, wasting valuable time in meetings with prospects, then it’s definitely time to consider rebranding.

2) The company has grown through merger or acquisition. Mergers can be an exciting, but also a scary time for businesses- they struggle in how to present the new entity. There is usually also a bit of internal angst and chaos. The employees of each company are trying to figure out their roles in the new structure, and often even if they are excited about the new opportunities, they are mourning the loss of the comfortable old brand they are accustomed to. Creating a new brand can be a rallying cry for internal teams to all get behind something new. It can also be a great opportunity for leadership to go out to the market with a new message that focuses the conversation on the strategic vision moving forward — which is encapsulated in a new brand.

3) The brand feels tired and even dangerously out of step with current culture and trends

I see this with a lot of brands that have been around a long time. Brands created in the past may suddenly find themselves out of step or out of sync with the present. The brand name or logo might even have become a bit of an albatross. We are seeing that right now with product, sports team, and academic institute names that are deemed culturally insensitive to the world we live in now. In addition, we often see logos that worked well on the side of a building or a traditional format, but are struggling to convert in a new digital age where many brands’ primary representation is an app on a smartphone. I’ve done quite a bit of work helping clients re-brand for the digital age.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Re-branding can be scary for many people, and it’s not an exercise for the faint of heart. I don’t think there are categorically companies that I would advise against it but there are some considerations I would urge. First of all, finding a new name can be really challenging. It’s gotten a lot more difficult in recent years to find an available trademark. When clients come to me saying they want to change the name, I first ask them to review their logo and tagline. Sometimes a current name can still work if you change the other branded elements supporting it. If you do want to consider rebranding, it’s extremely important to first decide on the brand strategy before beginning any work on new names or logos. Don’t use a creative exploratory to decide your strategy. Agree to the updated strategy first (brand promise and values) and then use this as a benchmark to evaluate new name and logo candidates. Otherwise, you will waste a lot of time and money. Branding is very subjective. Expecting an agency to “wow” you with no strategic brief agreed to up front, or a “I’ll know it when I will see it” approach is a recipe for disaster- and a waste of valuable resources. Designate a cross-functional brand development team to give input in the process, but make sure it’s clear who is the final decision maker. Usually this is the CEO in conjunction with the CMO. Deciding a new brand name, for example, should not be a democratic vote. This leads to settling on the lowest common denominator name. Going with something that everyone can live with, but no one is passionate about. A rebrand should have an internal champion that helps get everyone on board, and brands should always be launched internally with a lot of care and tools before being shared outside.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

Tweak your brand name

Probably one of the most successful examples of this is when Kentucky Fried Chicken officially changed the brand name to KFC. This was to draw focus away from the fried nature of the food when consumers were starting to pay more attention to healthy eating. It also capitalized on the way that loyals fans were already referring to the brand.

Refresh your brand logo

Starbucks is a good example of this. In 1971 they started with a wood cut elaborate mermaid logo with the word “coffee, tea, spices”. In the late 80’s/early 90’s they simplified the mermaid design and the language underneath only referred to coffee. More recently, in the last decade, they have removed any words from the logo and further simplified and zoomed in on the mermaid design to make it more app friendly.

Infuse energy through a new tagline

Coca-Cola does this pretty frequently. The brand has always stood for enjoyment but from time to time they refresh the brand (pun intended) with a new tagline/advertising slogan. In 1929 the brand used the slogan “The Pause that Refreshes”. It was updated over the years with notable lines “It’s the Real Thing” (1971 — with the famous “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing” jingle), “Always Coca-Cola” (1973), and Open Happiness (2009). These updates keep the brand current. However, it’s important to note that this iconic brand has never strayed from its core brand promise of enjoyment. It just finds new and relevant brand expressions.

Revolutionize with a whole new brand (name, logo, website)

There are many examples of brands that have opted for a revolution vs. an evolution strategy. An interesting one is Clear Channel radio who rebranded to I Heart Media in an effort to reshape perceptions of the company for the digital age when radio’s dominance is being challenged by digital entries like Pandora and Spotify. Comcast’s rebranding of its Cable Division to Xfinity to more effectively compete in an increasingly “on demand” driven market is another example.

Elevate and existing or under-leveraged brand within your portfolio

Developing and clearing a new trademark is a big challenge (I know I’ve mentioned that already). Often a great alternative strategy is to look and see if there is a trademark you already own that can play a more important role. Often this could be a product brand, a brand name of a singular division, or even a dormant trademark acquired as part of buying another company. This is what retailer Dayton Hudson Corporation did when it renamed the company behind one of its star brands and became the Target Corporation.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I think one example of a national nonprofit that is doing really important work is Feeding America. They were originally called America’s Second Harvest- The Nation’s Food Bank Network. The rebranding is explained on their website as a way to “ invite the public to understand and commit to fighting hunger, clearly acknowledging that each of us is connected to it. Our efforts to engage the public will have faster results because the name is so direct and action-oriented, which will translate to a better use of our resources.” As part of this rebrand, my own local Food Bank of Westchester was changed to Feeding Westchester. I love this example because it TWISTS the name away from a focus on the location, towards the benefit — and wonderful service they provide. I think any company can learn from this by examining if your brand is too focused on what you sell versus the value you bring. In Feeding Westchester’s case, I think they also remove some of the stigma for people who need help. Food insecurity is a huge problem in the US and people need support more than ever. I think when a “Brand Makeover” makes it easier for people to connect with what you have to offer that’s a huge success- no matter what type of business you are in.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire a movement to “Dream.Dare.Do”. I know so many people who have great ideas for innovative products or services and they just sit on them. Often these ideas are responses to something they wish were better or different in their own experiences — but could also help so many others. It doesn’t have to be the ultimate innovation. Often incremental improvements on the status quo can really improve people’s lives. The world needs new solutions right now — new TWISTS on old problems. I would love everyone to commit one day a week to working on something new, something they are really passionate about that solves a problem which could have a ripple effect of impact.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorites is from my mentor, Richard Branson. He frequently says “Screw it. Let’s Do it!” This reminds me not to overthink everything. If you have an idea that you are passionate about, get it out in the market. Get some reactions and revise as you learn. Don’t wait until it’s perfect and don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can follow me on Twitter at @jcottin, instagram at @brand_twist or on Linkedin. We also frequently post interesting brand perspectives and TWISTS on our blog at and invitations to Covid specific branding webinars on

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

Thank you. It was truly a pleasure.

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