Buff up your company's brand in 2013

Jan 22, 2013
Buff up your company's brand in 2013
Starbucks Corp.

If you’ve joined a gym, started working out and lost a few pounds since Jan. 1, now it’s time to buff up your brand in 2013. Many business owners think a brand is just a logo or color scheme, but not so, according to Julie Cottineau, founder and CEO of BrandTwist.com.

A former VP of brand for Richard Branson’s Virgin companies in North America, Cottineau is one of America’s top branding consultants and lecturers who recently launched an online program called Brand School.

I was lucky to catch up with her to ask why a strong brand is so important to the success of your small business.

“A strong brand serves as a powerful decision-making lens,” said Cottineau. “If you have a clear idea of what your brand stands for, you can make important business decisions more quickly and with more impact.”

She contends that once you start making daily decisions through a “brand lens,” you will make decisions faster and more efficiently with “less second-guessing.”

Brand should influence every decision you make, “from who you target, what you promise, who you partner with, how you use social media, which products you develop—even what color to paint the walls of your office.”

So what exactly is a brand?

“I like to define brands as relationships that secure value,” she said. “You offer something of value (a product or service) and in turn, the brand’s constituents return that value by investing in you with their pocketbooks and also with their hearts.”

Bottom line: a strong brand helps you connect emotionally with your customers and clients.

“For example, why would you pay more for a cup of coffee from Starbucks than from your local deli?” Cottineau asked. “It’s not all about the beans and the brewing. It’s really about the brand and the experience and emotions that Starbucks provides.”

So, what can you do right now to improve your brand?

First, do your homework. Start by following brand experts and reading their blogs. (Cottineau’s Twitter handle is: @jcottin.) Look for branding groups on social media networks like LinkedIn. Study powerful brands like Nike and McDonald’s. Nike isn’t just selling sportswear and running shoes—it sells confidence and the promise of achieving your best.

Wander through a book store or visit Amazon to buy a few books on branding. There are lots of them, including:

Then, figure out what your brand promise will be. Cottineau says a brand promise is “a promise to deliver a specific and predictable result—every time.”

“Great brands don’t just promise to get things done; they promise to make people feel like they can do more,” she said. “McDonald’s isn’t just touting the benefits of its burgers—it’s serving up smiles.”

Finally, I asked her to share some of her favorite brands.

“I’m a bit partial to Richard Branson’s Virgin because I spent five years there as vice president of brand, helping grow Virgin’s footprint in North America. … Virgin has taken a single brand promise of shaking it up and offering something better to consumers and applied it to so many different categories—from airlines to mobile phones to music festivals—all under one brand.”

She is also a huge fan of Zappos and the way “they focus on customer service by delivering happiness—and not just shoes.”



Jane Applegate
Jane Applegate is the author of four books on small business success, including 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business, published by Bloomberg/Wiley in all formats. Her multimedia production company produces a variety of corporate-sponsored events. Visit www.theapplegatenetwork.com for video profiles, interviews and advice from national experts.