Westchester Entrepreneur Reveals Branding 'TWIST'

Dobbs Ferry-based Julie Cottineau has had branding in her blood for as long as she can remember. “My interest and passion began at a very young age,” she says. “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 U.S.”

Unofficially coming up with the concept for what would become a million-dollar idea as a pre-teen was only the start of Cottineau’s career. The budding entrepreneur went on to work as a go-to branding guru for such big-name companies as Intel, Virgin, and Avon.

“At Virgin, I fell in love with entrepreneurialism, and I took [Virgin Group founder] Richard [Branson]’s slogan of, ‘Screw it. Let’s Do it’ to heart,” recalls Cottineau. “I quit my job and started my own consultancy, BrandTwist, and my online Brand School about five years ago, and have never looked back. The culmination of these experiences led me to [write] TWIST: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands.

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One of the secrets Conttineau touches on in her book, and which came to define much of her prior work, is her book’s namesake “twist.” As she describes, “Whenever I am working with a company—whether it’s Orbitz, Intel, Virgin or Avon—I always focus on building the twist to create a stronger and more differentiated brand. This involves looking outside of a client’s category, taking off brand blinders, and twisting lessons from other successful brands to create fresher, more impactful ideas.”

Cottineau utilized this concept to aid in the formation of Virgin Hotels, which launched last year in Chicago and she characterizes as “a twist on business and leisure travel.” By that point, drafting a book that elucidated her spectrum of branding know-how seemed like an obvious next step. “I reach a lot of people in my corporate work,” she explains. “But I wanted to expand my message to a broader audience. A book is a great platform for that. It’s a very accessible introduction into the philosophy of twisting and can help entrepreneurs, small business owners, students, and nonprofits around the world.”

Cottineau feels businesses often make several major mistakes at the outset, like waiting too long to begin brand building. “You need to do it as soon as you have a business idea,” insists Cottineau. “It’s fundamental to your business strategy, not an afterthought.”

Second, Cottineau warns against failing to find that crucial twist. “It’s really hard to break through these days,” she empathizes. “You need to be able to quickly and effectively communicate what is unique and better about your business.” 

Finally, she notes that companies often make the mistake of focusing on what they sell versus how they make people feel, observing that, “Too many businesses spend too much time, energy, and web copy on what they offer.”

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Ahead, Cottineau hopes to broaden her reach by expanding the scope of Brand School, and possibly participating in a regular television or radio show, both of which she is currently looking into, and which would serve as further platforms for her most quintessential advice: “Focus on how you deliver the experience, what you make people feel, and what they will be able to accomplish.”

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