Julie Cottineau

Posts by Julie Cottineau

The Magic Ingredient


In honor of the World Innovation Forum in NYC last week I was poking around on YouTube and came across this clip from a 2006 Forum session. I hadn’t seen it before, and I think it’s worth watching.

Andy Cohen, an inspirational speaker, taught the audience a coin trick and gave an important lesson in what we each bring to innovation.

He believes the real magic of innovation, lies not in the ability to master the trick. But rather in what each of us brings to the table. Our uniqueness, makes the solutions unique. It creates the sparkle and the “ahh”.

I believe this. I’ve seen alot of innovation companies who claim to have “proprietary” methodology. But in the end, I think a lot of it (on paper) is the same.

What I think makes the difference between an OK innovation experience or outcome and a truly inspired one…is the people.

It’s the brains using the tools. Not the tools themselves.

Maybe that’s obvious. But I think it’s worth repeating. Watch the video, at the very least it will give you a new way to impress your friends this weekend.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What tricks do you have up your sleeve?

Do No Harm?


Someone said to me recently (only half jokingly) that the definition of “great service” is when nothing goes wrong.

I chuckled along at the time but then I though…wait a minute…

Have we really reached a point of such low expectations that the absence of a negative experience actually counts as a positive one?

I hope not.

Sure “do no harm” might be OK in certain situations, like surgery, where a good outcome is no complications.

But when it comes to brands I think we need to set the bar a little higher.

It made me think of an experience I had not that long ago with Enterprise
Rent-A-Car – where my very low expectations were unexpectedly and stunningly surpassed.

I was returning my car in Florida near the airport. To save money, I had chosen the cheapest option where you return the car with a full tank.

But I was running late and couldn’t find a gas station en route to the car return. I was worried about missing my plane, so I decided to suck it up and return the car half full and pay the exorbitant car rental gas prices.

During my return processing I complained to the Enterprise employee that all the gas stations seemed to be on the wrong side of a particularly hard to navigate divided highway.

I didn’t really expect him to doing anything. I was just blowing off steam.

After all the contract option I had agreed to was “return full”. It was all there in black and white and I was clearly at fault.

To my surprise he offered to waive the extra gas charge.

Then, without me asking, he gave me an extra discount waiving some other fee and decreasing my bill even further then I expected.

He then made sure I had all my belongings and got me on to the shuttle bus and off to meet my plane on time.

I didn’t know what to say.

I stood there with my jaw dropped and continued with this puzzled expression all the way to the boarding gate.

Not only did he not give me a hard time about the gas, he actually went on to delight me with an added benefit of unanticipated savings.

That definitely wasn’t the absence of a negative, it was a plus side experience. One I remember vividly and repeat often.

When you are evaluating your own customer experiences, take a moment to make sure you are not falling in the mediocrity trap.

Are you counting “nothing going wrong” as successful service?

Or are you actually challenging yourself and your team to go to a plus side model, where the standard is surprise and delight?

Take a moment to brainstorm service elements that would catch your customers off guard…in a positive way.

Perhaps even the opposite of what a customer is expecting walking in to a situation.

You might just find that the extra step is worth miles in terms of good will and creating fans, not just customers, for your brand.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What brands do you think go the extra mile to surprise and delight?

The Best Defense


Defending and championing ideas is healthy right? You might say it’s part of our jobs as Brand Passionistas.

But when does defending go too far?

Perhaps when you are so bent on selling your idea that you fail to hear the constructive criticism that could actually help make it better.

It’s the fine line between commitment and falling in love with the sound of your own voice.

Sound familiar? If not, maybe you are one of the rare few who can keep their objectivity and who welcomes dissenting opinions.

Or maybe you just aren’t being truthful.

A friend of mine once gave a really impassioned speech in defense of a project in a budget approval meeting. Not surprisingly, since funding was involved, our senior management began asking some questions to make sure all angles had been considered.

Instead of taking the comments to heart and really thinking them through, he turned up his passion a few notches and ended up steam-rolling the meeting with an Oscar-worthy performance that was so full of faith and brimstone that it (temporarily) allayed the manager’s concerns.

Walking out of the meeting with him I commented on how sure he had seemed and asked him if he really believed everything he just said. He pointed to the newly empty conference room and said, “Well, to tell you the truth I am not 100% sure. But I did believe it in there.”

Eventually the concerns were raised again and he had a lot more due diligence to do before moving forward. While he initially got kudos for his passion, over time he got a reputation for being a bit of a drama queen. As a result there was often a higher level of skepticism around his ideas- whether he deserved it or not.

As part of the World Innovation Forum in NYC last week, I got the chance to meet with some people in the Soho Apple store. They talked a lot about how the store is designed to be constantly changed and improved. To accommodate new products, but also to change things around when something is not working.

One example they gave of this is the ipod bar. Sounded like a good idea when it first came up, lots of smart people at Apple were excited about it. But it turned out the customers didn’t feel a need for a separate ipod bar. So the folks at Apple changed course.

They folded the ipod bar into the general Genius bar and re-configured the liberated space to accommodate a new “Studio” where for a modest yearly fee you can spend one hour a week one on one with an Apple specialist. This has become a key draw in the stores. They didn’t defend their original idea to the death. They listened, learned and moved on to a new and better idea.

Take a step back and think about some ideas that you are championing right now. Has your passion for them gotten so deep that you are actually blind to different opinions? Even those that have some validity and with a proper analysis could actually make your idea stronger?

The ability to passionately champion your ideas can be a strength. But letting this over-ride the ability to hear and consider any criticism from others is a weakness. And this might just be the soft spot that over time gets you knocked out.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

Have you ever gone too far in defending an idea?

Best of Both Worlds


My son Sacha came home the other day all excited about “half and half” day at his school.

At lunch, instead of having to make the difficult choice between pizza and chicken nuggets – on this special “half and half” day he was able to have… BOTH!

Albeit slightly smaller portions of each.

I started thinking, wouldn’t life be better if we had more “half and half” days?

There’s so much choice in brands today, and while sometimes I appreciate this, often it just feels like too much.

Sometimes I don’t want to waste my time with these small but agonizing decisions. I want freedom from choice. I want to find a way to have both.

To be clear, I am not talking about products that combine two benefits in one like a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner. These are great and have their place. (I spent many years working on Pantene Pro-V 2-in-1, and I’m a fan of that brand).

I’m talking about products and services that say “can’t decide? OK, here have both”. In one simple purchase. Decision made. Go ahead consumer get on with the rest of your day…or in the case of my son, go join your friends at the lunch table and get on with your fun.

A great example I saw of this recently is Turkey Hill Dynamic Duos ice cream. It offers a 1.5 quart of ice cream split down the middle between two incredible flavors. This isn’t your plain old vanilla/chocolate swirl. They’ve got flavors like Movie Night which offers half Popcorn flavor (popcorn flavored ice cream with pralines) and half Vanilla Twist (Vanilla ice-cream twisted with caramel).

These are two tempting flavors in their own right, with different flavor profiles. Now you can get them in on package. Mixing them if you are so inclined into one bowl or just digging in to different sides of the carton on different nights.

Take a look at your products and services. Are there any areas where consumers are having trouble choosing? If so, think about experimenting with giving them both.

A “half and half” approach might lead you to a “whole” lot of excited customers.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What are your favorite “half and half” ideas?

Turn, Turn, Click!


My friend Jane is an amazing problem solver. She’s a Creative Director extraordinaire at an agency with a large and demanding cosmetics brand as her client.

She is constantly producing a high volume of work and wrestling with multiple projects. She needs to be able to quickly evaluate different options, find an inspired solution, and move on to the next challenge.

What’s so neat about Jane is that although she started her career as a copywriter, subsequent job opportunities allowed her to develop the parts of her brain that dwell in visual language.

So now when she has a problem to tackle, she actually visualizes it.

She recently described her process to me as similar to picturing an imaginary Rubik’s cube and turning it around and around, exploring all the facets of the challenge, until all the pieces click into place…and voila the colors are aligned!

It got me thinking that problem visualization could be an interesting technique to try.

Particularly for people like me who are much more comfortable with words. But sometimes reasoning things out on paper only gives the illusion of problem solving. But in our cut and paste culture, it can be just moving our thoughts around but not actually driving them towards any cohesive conclusion.

I like Jane’s approach because you can’t complete a puzzle (or a Rubik’s cube) until all the pieces fit together in an order that makes sense and ultimately represents a sum that’s bigger than the whole of the parts.

So here’s a trick to try. Next time you are struggling with a strategic or creative challenge, leave the memos and the power points aside. Instead, create some sort of visualization of the pieces you are working with.

Perhaps draw a symbol for each of the components (e.g. a stick figure for your consumer, a sledge hammer for that threatening competitor, etc). Then create a visualization that helps you work it out.

This could be a puzzle, a picture book, a board game, even a 3-d diorama.

The important thing is that you demonstrate the issue in a way that’s visual and where you can physically move the pieces around as you problem solve.

Invite others to play along with you and maybe a little creative visualization will be just the trick to help the solution click into place.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What’s your Rubik’s cube?