A brand is a story well told. But even the best stories can be told better. No matter how established a brand is, there is always room for improvement, for innovation. At the last meeting of the NJ Chapter of MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group), Julie Cottineau, BrandTwist CEO and founder, shared some thoughts on how to build an innovative brand.

First, just so we are all on the same page, let’s go over what a brand is. A brand is not a logo, name, or ad. A brand is a promise that delivers value. A brand is an experience.

The brand is the difference between McDonalds’ coffee and Starbucks. McDonalds may have better coffee than Starbucks, but it doesn’t offer the same experience that Starbucks does (next time someone asks to meet at Starbucks, suggest McDonalds instead and watch their reaction!). McDonalds offers coffee. Starbucks enables an experience.

McDonalds is offering a great product, but is not really innovating what it does. Starbucks on the other hand, is an innovative brand. The founders of Starbucks recognized a problem (a lack of high quality coffee available to consumers), created an innovative solution, and brought it to market and in the process, became the largest coffeehouse in the world.

You don’t have to create a multi-billion dollar brand to be innovative. There are countless small ways you can be innovative in your own company right now. Recounting her days at Virgin Airlines, Contineau talked about her “vomit bag moment.”

The FAA requires airplanes to carry vomit bags in all the seats and most airlines use plain bags, devoid of any branding. Not Virgin. Instead, Virgin made their bags bright red (the company color) and covered them with a humorous message asking “How did air travel become so bloody awful?” It’s a simple thing, but it is an excellent extension of Virgin’s brand.

What about you, what’s your “vomit bag moment?” Where are you “phoning it in” in your business?

Christmas is coming—are you sending your customers a boring card with a sleigh on it? That card says nothing about your brand and is a missed opportunity (unless of course, you sell sleds, in which case, carry on!).

Think about the things you have to do anyway in your business—things like invoices, emails, and yes, Christmas cards. Surely there are ways to make these pieces fully branded and work for you instead of just being another thing you have to do.

To find the inspiration to really make invoices an extension of your brand, you’ll need to be creative. Try out Cottineau’s technique of “brand twisting:”

Brand twisting involves combining the good parts of multiple brands to create a fusion where the sum is greater than the parts. If you worked for a hotel chain, brand twisting could like this:

Virgin Airlines + Your Hotels = New innovations for your hotel. (Such as a more streamlined check-in process or an exciting lobby theme to replace the ubiquitous beige, etc.)

It doesn’t really matter what you come up with. Just try it.

Use brands that are as far away from yours as possible to find the most innovation. (If you’re McDonalds, think Google instead of Burger King. If you’re Intel, think Starbucks, not AMD.) Comparing what you’re doing to what everyone else is doing in your industry is not going to give you new ideas. Get out of the industry box and elevate your brand with a twist!  Thank you Julie.

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