Julie Cottineau

Posts by Julie Cottineau

The Scarlet P

I was walking up Park Avenue from Soho the other night with a plastic bag of groceries. Suddenly I felt incredibly negatively conspicuous toting my plastic sack.

I was getting dirty looks from everyone I passed. (I’m pretty sure it was not my imagination). It was as if there was a huge scarlet “P” for “Plastic User” seared into my forehead.

In my defense, this blatant “plastic toting” is no longer my standard behavior. Thanks to pressure from my daughter, I now bring the canvas sacks to Stop & Shop on the weekends. I just happened to be doing some spontaneous lunchtime shopping near my office and didn’t have my canvas tote with me. (I swear your honor).

It got me thinking…when did scorning plastic bags go from a marginal “greenie” behavior to such a mainstream one?

The speed in which new consumer behaviors are taking root is dizzying. Some of these new behaviors are motivated by concern for the environment, others are a response to the recession. But what seems really clear (and a bit frightening) is the way that people behave is changing…and changing fast.

What other behaviors driven by the environment, the recession or both are rapidly taking hold?

One macro-trend that keeps coming up in the conferences I’ve been attending is “Fashionable Frugality”. The idea that saving money, and flaunting those savings is suddenly super chic.

Here are a few examples of this:

Buying at thrift stores…and telling everyone about it
Shopping our own closets and even hiring consultants to help us do this
Holding “swap” parties which address both the environment and the recession
“No gifts please” birthday parties, weddings, bat mitzvahs etc.

It makes me wonder what’s the next “new world” behavior (or “Scarlet P”) and how as marketers can we make sure we are prepared for these rapidly shifting trends?

Perhaps one way to be prepared is to do a “scarlet P” audit.

Take a look at our brands through the lens of wanton wastefulness- both in terms of literal environmental waste (e.g packaging, renewable materials, energy sources etc.) and perceived financial wastefulness (e.g. how does usage of this product or service appear to others in a more frugally chic world?).

This requires objectivity and also a bit of forward projection. You need to imagine that current trends will be exaggerated and that seemingly benign products and services may soon be under scrutiny.

Better to take inventory now and get ahead of the curve.

One result of this kind of audit is to re-engineer products and services.

Although I would be careful that your claims are genuine and don’t appear like a marketing gimmick. The recently launched Ziploc evolve sandwich bags struck a sour note with me. They’re made with less plastic, wind power, and come in bio-degradable packaging. But some how it feels off. (Maybe it’s the lower case “e” in the evolve name). Rather than launching a separate SKU, I think Ziploc’s efforts would feel more authentic if they just made this change automatically on all their products because it’s the right thing to do. Not because green is suddenly chic.

I know it’s a tough one to call. Sometimes you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Hmm…that makes me think of Hester Prynne and that other scarlet letter.

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

What’s the next “Scarlet P”?

Brand Passionistas Unite!

I was introducing myself the other day to potential investors for one of my projects at work. To keep things fresh, I was trying to avoid the same old description of who I am and what I do…blah, blah, blah…when this new word popped out of my mouth …”Passionista”.

“Brand Passionista”! Eureka! Fits like a glove. Or a Jimmy Choo shoe. I got so excited by this new expression that I almost ditched the meeting to run to my computer and begin blogging about this inspiration.

All this excitement about a word? If you can’t tell by now, I am somewhat of a “wordie” – the literary equivalent of a foodie.

I love words, their power, their nuance. Their ability to produce physical sensations. One of my favorite words is gelato. Just saying it evokes a smooth creamy sensation. I am immediately transported to a sultry summer day in Rome, watching the beautiful Italians stroll by, while enjoying a cooling spray from the Trevi fountain.

But I digress…back to Brand Passionista.

Branding is tough, especially these days when there is so much turmoil and uncertainty. But if you’re a real Brand Passionista you are not deterred. In fact, like me, you might be inspired.

There’s so many new things to get excited about: trends, behaviors, technologies etc.

And there’s never before been so much focus on brand. Even my kids can have a credible discussion about brand. For example they bring a level of commercial savvy and insight to discussions about Hannah Montana- that I never possessed at their age. They can speak passionately and credibly about her seamless crossover from TV, to music, to movies, to fashion and back again. They can talk about her as a brand. They are budding Brand Passionistas.

Of course, there is a fair amount of negative energy and cynicism out there around brand. This seems particularly rampant in the blogosphere.

Sure there’s also a lot going on with brands that can make your blood boil: green washing, twitter-mania, too many brands trying too hard to be my friend etc.

But I think it’s all good. Passion is the secret to great branding. You have to always be unsatisfied, wanting more..asking “what if” and “what else” and “what the ???”.

And branding is art, it is fashion. It’s hot and trendy and crave-worthy when you see something you must have or someone you envy.

So I think we should all embrace our inner Passionistas and revel in the obsessive, crazy world of brand that we’re lucky enough to be a part of.

OK, I am getting off my soap box now…stepping off very carefully in my fabulously impractical but drop-dead gorgeous high heel shoes.

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

Are you a Brand Passionista too?

Eat with your Left Hand

Last night I was taking a late train home from the city, reading the May issue of Women’s Health Magazine to unwind. I had just finished a really stimulating Expert Panel at ?WhatIf! on Skinny Innovation so my brain was still a bit in overdrive.

In between the articles on flatter abs and firmer buns, I came across an article about will power that really struck a chord.

The secret it seems to mastering the previously insurmountable task of controlling mind and body is ….drum roll please…eating with your left hand.

The article said if you are normally right-handed, but make an effort to break out of this pattern and eat with your left hand you will have more control over what you eat. After repeated forced use of your “less dominant” side, not only does will power improve but overall complex task mastery as well.

I found this really thought provoking with a potentially interesting twist for innovation.

I started to think about activities I take for granted and wondered if a little conscious detour could actually help me become more aware, more focused and perhaps more creative.

Here’s a few “left-handed” ideas:

Re-arrange the furniture in your office, cube, or just the layout of the stuff on your desk. (At ?WhatIf! they have open seating and everyone chooses a different location every day depending on their mood).

Take a different route to work. If you take the subway try the bus, if you walk try a different street, if you drive take a detour (or better yet…ride your bike!).

Switch from coffee to tea for the day.

Let someone else lead the meeting you usually chair.

Boxers to briefs?

You get the idea. Go out of your way to change a “second nature” behavior and see what develops.

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

What’s your “left-handed” trick?

“What Else?”

“What else?”. Two simple words that are a powerful weapon against mediocrity.

I learned them from a friend of mine who works in magazine marketing. She’s been in her job a while, so she confesses a need to constantly challenge herself to keep things fresh.

She asks “what else?” in every meeting, on every project and in every review with her staff.

These words help remind her that there is always a way to push things further.

Could it work for you?

Here’s a simple check list to apply the “what else” principle:

What else can we do with this idea that no one else could?
If you’re going to do it…own it!

What else can we do to activate this idea on more levels?
Make the most of every precious dollar.

What else do our consumers really want?
Make sure you’re meeting genuine target needs and not just talking to yourself.

What else can we do to surprise and delight them?
Go beyond satisfaction, offer some magic.

What else can we put in place to measure effectiveness? .
Quantify results to demonstrate success and support for more budget.

And the two that I think are the most important:

Ask your juniors…what else would you do?
Use every moment as a training opportunity.

What else are we scared to try but should consider?
Go on, be bolder!

So on this Monday morning, as you shake off the weekend cobwebs and get back into the work day swing, try asking yourself “what else” and see what develops.

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

What other “what else” principles do you use to keep things fresh?

Breaking Up (Shouldn’t Be) Hard to Do

A friend of mine is trying to get out of a relationship, and it’s proving quite difficult.

In this case the relationship is with her gym, World Gym in Queens.

Even though the gym is down the street from her house they won’t let her stop by and just cancel. They are requiring that she send in a certified letter. This means she has to take time out of her busy schedule, go out of her way to a post office, stand in line, and get the letter certified. To make matters worse when she pressed the gym on why it had to be this way the only response she got was a not very helpful “that’s our policy”.

If brands are relationships…isn’t part of being in a strong, rewarding relationship also being able to get out of it in a respectful way?

With a minimum of drama and with a possibility of friendship in the future.

Because here’s the thing, she’s going to leave any way. She’s made up her mind. The relationship isn’t working for her. She’d rather find a gym that has a location near her home and her office. But now she’s going to leave with a bad taste in her mouth. And chances are she will tell her story to other friends in her neighborhood, thus limiting the gym’s future relationship prospects (e.g. the ability to attract new members).

In contrast, a while ago I called TMobile to break up and it was a whole different experience. I had gotten a new Blackberry at work and with it came a new plan with a new provider. When I spoke to a service rep at TMobile they didn’t push back. They listened to my reasons. Thanked me for my loyal years of service, and were respectful of my decision.

They also mentioned another option. Having completed the requirements of my contract period, they suggested I take advantage or our rich history together and switch to a lower rate plan for another phone. And that’s what I did. I kept the relationship alive in a new context. A cheaper monthly plan, perfect for my tween daughter.

I decided to stay involved with them, albeit in a lower commitment way. But I got the feeling that if I had finally opted just to cut all ties, they would have been OK with that and wished me well. Not made me feel badly for having shifting needs. And that made me feel good about our relationship and willing to recommend them to others.

Parting can be sweet sorrow, but it shouldn’t be unnecessarily difficult. That should also be true for brands. Especially these days when many of us are having to make difficult relationship choices. We need our brands to understand and leave the door open for us to come back.

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

What brands have made it easy or hard for you to break up with them?