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Branding is both an art and a science and it's a living, breathing discipline that’s always changing. We can’t take a class, get a degree, and sit back on our laurels and say we’re brand “experts”. Even those of us who have been successfully making a living for a long time in building and managing brands need to stay on our toes.

That’s because we live in a world where there are unprecedented changes in technology, social media and consumer macro trends, and all of these have an impact on the way we create strong brands that engage our consumers.

The good news is there has never been a more exciting time to be a digital marketer. The bad news is that it’s never been more challenging.

That’s why if you’re going to be in the game, you’ve got to play to win and commit to continual learning. 

Forget everything you knew

I remember running a conference about seven years ago for senior marketers at Virgin and asking for a show of hands of those in the group who were familiar with Facebook.

At that time only a few hands went up. By now, Facebook is a familiar marketing tool…but it’s been joined by Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter. Who knows what other new social media platforms will come out today. Add on mobile marketing, tablets, viral videos; it’s enough to make your head spin.

The fundamentals of strong branding have stayed the same, though: know who you want to target, offer them something of value (tangible and intangible) and send a clear and consistent message across all your touch points.

What has changed is the way to get your message out and the engagement that many consumers have come to expect, even demand, has fundamentally changed the rules of the game.

Stop pondering social media, join the conversation

I hear people all the time who debate the pros and cons of certain social media (everything from Linked In to Pinterest) but have never actually gone out and engaged hands on in these channels.

That’s a big mistake, but one that can be easily fixed. Stop your intellectual navel gazing and go out and get your hands dirty.

You can start small. But start. Follow other people on Twitter, comment on blog posts, join a few Linked in groups and see the conversations and hot topics. Chances are you won’t be observing for long. Don’t feel like you need to make a major splash in these media right away.

Like traditional channels it important to first create a solid brand strategy and figure out what role social media and other off line channels can play in executing that strategy. But don’t just sit on the sidelines.

Commit to learning one fact about social media every day. And like most subjects, you learn more by doing then by debating.

Get out and go on a brand safari 

It’s so important to look at your brand with fresh eyes. In order to do that, you can’t continue to sit behind your computer and do what you’ve always done. New marketing techniques come from experimenting with new ideas.

Go on a brand safari: take a trip somewhere. It doesn’t have to be to another city, or even cost money. If you live in New York, head to an area of Manhattan you’ve never been – I promise there is one. If you’re in South Dakota? Take a drive.

Once you’re experiencing a new environment, take a few photos and a few minutes to jot down any new feelings or inspiration you’re feeling at the moment. Once you’re back in your office, or even back to your home (if your home is your office, even better!), start thinking about different ways you can translate this inspiration over to your brand. 

Look at old problems from fresh perspectives 

Fresh ideas come from looking at old problems from new perspectives. If you are only looking at and thinking about what your competition is doing, chances are you will stay in the same rut and not come up with anything new or exciting.

When I am in a creative rut, I like to play a game where I imagine how another brand would approach my challenge. I think about how Starbucks, Virgin, Ikea have been successful, what makes up their Brand DNA and I "Twist" it my brand.

For example, if I am trying to figure out new ideas for an airline… I think about what Starbucks would do. How they might change the interior of the plane to give it more of a sense of community that they do so well. Would the seats face one another? What would BMW do? Maybe their famous German engineers would find a more efficient way to get passengers on and off the plane.

I repeat this exercise with a bunch of my favorite brands, and until I have a well of fresh ideas. Then I get to work refining the ideas and making them more feasible for my task at hand.

It might sound far -fetched by it can lead to some interesting, actionable ideas. I am such a big fan of lateral thinking this is actually why I named my company BrandTwist. Even holding client meetings in unexpected or different locations can change the dynamics and help you break through to a new level in your relationship.

You’d be surprised how different an outcome is for your brand if you approach it in a slightly different way. The important thing is that you and your brand are consistently evolving, adapting...and yest twisting. 

Learn from your customers

Your customers don’t always know what they want – but sometimes, they do. Just as you must take your business out of its comfort zone in order to grow and provide your customer base with a new product or idea, you can’t always assume you know everything.

Use a friend, a family member or perhaps someone you don’t know all too well to help you with what might be your first customer experience audit. Ask them to think about and record the moment they start to interact with your product up until the time they set it down, leave the store or your business’ environment, or log off your website.

What do they like about your brand? What’s missing or what ‘nice-to-haves’ could you implement for them? If you need multiple surveys in order to make a judgment about how to move forward, consider conducting a survey through a low-cost website like SurveyMonkey. 

The time you invest now in your consumer will pay off big-time for your bottom line. I promise.  

Commit to learning one new thing every week

I know it seems like there’s a lot going on every day in social media. There IS. But the more quickly you demonstrate your effectiveness in some areas to your consumers, the better off your brand will be.

There are a variety of ways your brand can be involved in the digital and social space: through participating in webinars, taking classes provided by industry education leaders like General Assembly or Skillshare.

Even attending meet ups or networking events organized through your company or in fields you’re curious about are key to your professional development. The growth you do doesn’t need to break the bank, and online learning can be an efficient and effective way to brush up on your digital marketing and branding skills.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on travel or take extra-long breaks at the office. Commit to one hour a day – probably the length of that TV show on Bravo you record on your DVR at home.

Take that hour on your lunch break; multitask if you have to. After all, the great entrepreneurs do it. You could be one of them. 

No matter what learning path you choose, make sure you take the first steps...and  travel often.

Julie Cottineau

Published 3 January, 2013 by Julie Cottineau

Julie Cottineau, founder of the brand consultancy BrandTwist and the new Brand School, has been an executive at Interbrand and VP of Brand for Virgin. You reach her at Julie@BrandTwist.com or follow her on twitter @jcottin.

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Aaron Hoos

Great post, Julie! I particularly love the idea about solving one brand's problems with innovative "twists" inspired by how another brand would handle the situation. It's a great idea and has positive consequences that reach far beyond the scope of branding!

To the larger point of your blog: Companies do indeed need to keep up to the changing face of the web. One of the challenges that many mid- and large-sized organizations seem to be having is not necessarily with the perceived value (many know the importance of social media in today's marketplace) but with adoption -- specifically, "who is in charge of social media?", "how do we break the 9-5 workplace mindset to participate in social media 'round the clock?", "how do we handle criticism that appears in social media?", and the biggest question I most frequently hear: "how do we measure success?". I frequently don't have to "sell" a company on why need to be in social media. Rather, I have to help them understand the answers to these questions.

Thanks again for such a great post, Julie!

almost 4 years ago

Julie Cottineau

Julie Cottineau, Founder at BrandTwist

Thanks Aaron. Great comments. I agree I have seen many different models within the different companies at Virgin of who "owns" social media ranging from the web guys, the PR folks, to the customers service teams, and general brand/marketing departments. I am not sure there is one "right" answer. Do you? I think it's important that whoever is in charge realizes it's not a 9 to 5 medium and keeps in constant communication with the rest of the organization. I also think that proving the ROI of social media is the holy grail. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Best,

Julie

almost 4 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

"Your customers don’t always know what they want – but sometimes, they do."

Sometimes we get so used to the way things work that we don't realize there is a problem for our customers. When you know the ins and out and tricks of navigating your website, customer service channel or checkout process you might never see the problem. Ask your customers and learn from what they have to say!

almost 4 years ago

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Aaron Hoos

(Ref. Julie's reply to my comment) Yes, ROI is definitely the holy grail of social media. Totally agree! The challenge is measurability. You and I both know that social media, like face-to-face networking, is highly effective but hard to measure. (Sites like Klout and Kred are *trying* to apply some metrics but I don't think they're there yet... Not fully, at least). But businesses rightly want measurability in their marketing/selling/promotion efforts, so identifying how someone was influenced by social media to turn into a customer is key. However, just like in other networking scenarios, it's not always easy for a business to say "that specific interation or relationship was what brought that customer through the door".

almost 4 years ago

Julie Cottineau

Julie Cottineau, Founder at BrandTwist

Nick, thanks for the comment. Glad to see we struck a chord.

Aaron, I agree it's hard to pin the ROI to the specific social media interaction. But as a start, I tell my client to stop looking at "vanity" metrics such as counting friends and followers, and focus more on engagement. Are people re-tweeting, commenting, sharing your posts and when you put an offer out that designed to drive traffic to your website or to a product are your "fans" taking action?

almost 4 years ago

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Sandra Pickering, Founding Partner at opentoSmall Business

Another great piece, Julie.
'Borrowing' from other brands is one of the most powerful ways to inspire ways of refreshing a brand.
It's important to select brands that have relevance to your own brand. That rarely means competitors. In fact, the way competitors do something is almost certainly NOT the way your business will do it well: imagine if Virgin airlines had borrowed the same style of talking to customers as British Airways!
Instead, it helps to look at brand in other categories playing the same role as your brand in your market. Virgin is more likely to be inspired by brands such as Harley Davidson acting as challengers/mavericks/outlaws in other categories.
To do this well, we use a structured approach based on brand archetypes - making sure that ideas really do fit your brand.

Does anyone know other ways to ensure fit?

almost 4 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Sandra Pickering, Founding Partner at opentoSmall Business

Another great piece, Julie.
'Borrowing' from other brands is one of the most powerful ways to inspire ways of refreshing a brand.
It's important to select brands that have relevance to your own brand. That rarely means competitors. In fact, the way competitors do something is almost certainly NOT the way your business will do it well: imagine if Virgin airlines had borrowed the same style of talking to customers as British Airways!
Instead, it helps to look at brand in other categories playing the same role as your brand in your market. Virgin is more likely to be inspired by brands such as Harley Davidson acting as challengers/mavericks/outlaws in other categories.
To do this well, we use a structured approach based on brand archetypes - making sure that ideas really do fit your brand.

Does anyone know other ways to ensure fit?

almost 4 years ago

Julie Cottineau

Julie Cottineau, Founder at BrandTwist

Great comment Sandra. I couldn't agree more. When I do this kind of inspiration exercise I try two things. First I like to find brands that have met the same challenge I am grappling with but in a completely different category. For example, I was once working with Avon to figure out how to make their catalogue more shoppable. To get inspired we ignored all of the other cosmetics brands and instead looked to Ikea, and BMW and other brands that had a great customer experience. The second thing I try to do is look for an opposite target audience. So again, if I am dealing with a product targeted at middle aged women, I will look for inspiration from brands targeted to men, or teens, kids or even babies. I find the father away you get from your "givens" (category, target) the more you open up to inspiration that can then be molded to fit your need.

Would love to hear other ideas.

almost 4 years ago

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Sandra Pickering, Founding Partner at opentoSmall Business

Very nice idea to look at an 'opposite' target audience.
I'll borrow that if I may :)

Sandra

almost 4 years ago

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