Julie Cottineau

Posts by Julie Cottineau

Take Your Kids To Work Day… Every Day

Today is official “Take our Kids to Work Day” an annual event where boys and girls get to go into work and get a glimpse of what their parents do when they’re not home being plain old mom and dad.

It’s a great program, but it got me to thinking, maybe once a year isn’t enough.

What would happen if we took our kids to work every day?

Now I don’t mean literally. I’m thinking more metaphorically. What would happen if we let our “inner child” rule our approach to work.

My eight year old son is at a great age. Full of imagination and not yet at that self-conscious teenage stage. He loves coming up with ideas for Virgin businesses. His Virgin school bus complete with swivel seats, soft drinks coolers and Nintendo DS is actually one worth considering. Oh and it flies over traffic if you’re stuck behind some cars….

What if we allowed our eight year old selves to take over at work?

Even the most creative and collaborative environments could probably learn a thing or two from making every day “take your kids to work day”.

Chances are that overall work would be more fun.

We’d spend less time setting up meetings and worrying about getting through all our emails – and actually spend more time creating value through imaginative play. This could lead to more ideas. Maybe some crazy ones, but some gems as well.

Documents and presentations would be simpler. We’d use fewer big words and more colorful pictures to express ourselves. We couldn’t hide behind marketing and business jargon, because we wouldn’t know what it meant, and our colleagues (other kids) would quickly call us out on it.

We’d also be more comfortable being silly. Making fools out of ourselves, and even being gross (think of the eight year old obsessions with spurting milk out of the nose and burping). But this could be a positive thing. If we felt more relaxed and comfortable with our friends (colleagues) perhaps there would be less time worrying about maintaining our images and a freer exchange or information and ideas.

We would definitely be more collaborative. Few kids like to play alone. Everyone gets a turn up at bat. And losing is tough, but kids know there will always be another chance to play. They have perspective on the stakes and don’t take things more seriously than they deserve.

Innovation and learning would be more tactile and hands on. Instead of describing new packaging structures we’d get out the Play Doh, Legos and pipe cleaners and build models so others would get what we were talking about and easily build on our ideas.

Sound pretty cool, right? So why wait for a once year event? Try channeling your “inner child” more often and you might be pleasantly surprised by the “grown up” success.

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

How do you bring your inner child to work?

Trading IN, Not Down

I was at the Argyle hospitality conference last week and there was a lot of talk of consumers trading down.

This behavior is an unfortunate result of the current economic climate, and one leaving a lot of brands wondering how to protect their market share.

The morning after the conference I was watching CNN on the treadmill in my hotel gym and an alternative expression caught my attention. During an interview on the show- Jim Skinner, McDonald’s CEO, attributed his brand’s unique market growth to “consumers trading IN” .

Regardless of how you feel about McDonald’s I think this is a really interesting concept – and one with potential applications for a wide range of brands.

Trading IN gives me a mental image of opening a door, spreading out the welcome mat and making someone feel valued and invited.

Trading IN cleverly shifts the conversation away from price (no doubt value meals are positvely impacting McDonald’s growth) towards the concept of choice.

Instead of implying compromise, trading IN implies options. A smarter way … a new discovery. It validates a consumer’s decision.

It’s an unprecedented time in consumer marketing. Old behaviors have gone out the window with a dizzying speed. But many consumers are adrift.

They know the old choices won’t work, but many haven’t yet settled on new options. This doesn’t just mean taking a high price or mid priced brand and trading down. It could mean finding a new choice.

For example, money spent on destination vacations could be re-invested in family sports equipment like bikes, roller-blades or even wii fit that allow them to spend quality time in a new way.

Trips to restaurants could be replaced by local cooking classes or a new BBQ grill that satisfies a quest for culinary adventure but with a different spin.

Think about these new orphaned consumers, maybe it’s time for your brand to invite them IN.

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

What are products or services are your trading in to?

BFF’s (Best Friends Forever)

“Friend” is the big buzzword right now. Many brands seem to be in a frenzy over the need to “friend” consumers on social networks like FaceBook and MySpace.

Before jumping on this bandwagon, it’s important for us to step back and ask the question:

“Does my brand have what it takes to be a good friend?”

If not, asking consumers to become your friend can actually back fire. Most of us already have more relationships than we feel we can handle. Don’t ask us to commit to another one unless you are sure you can deliver some added value.

Figuring this out whether your brand is “friend-worthy” is pretty similar to evaluating friendships in real life.

Here are my criteria for friendships (the human and the brand ones).

1. BE INTERESTING. Have something relevant and/or useful to say. If you don’t, leave me alone. No viral strategy is going to help you. It’s not going to make you seem cooler or hipper than you actually are. Consumer s are a pretty savvy lot and can see right through that. Just like a nerd is still a nerd, no matter how pimped out the sneakers. If you can’t pass this test, you need to step back and do some pretty basic brand work on your value proposition .

2. BE THERE IN GOOD TIMES AND IN BAD. Most of us have lots of people we can list as acquaintances, but can probably count on one hand the number of people we’d call at 4am in the morning during an emergency or a moment of existential anguish. Real friends are there in good times and in bad. And since we are often in the “bad times” camp lately- brands need to prove there in it for the long haul. It’s been talked about a lot – but the Hyundai layoff protection is a great example of this.

3. KNOW WHEN TO STEP UP AND WHEN TO BACK OFF. People who know me well, know not to talk to me in the morning until I’ve had at least two cups of coffee and have successfully finished NY Time’s Crossword puzzle. Once I’ve had time to properly wake up…I’m all yours. Similarly, my good friends know not to call me after 9pm. I always think it is bad news, and it disturbs the precious “tucking in” time I have with my family. Good friends seem to have a kind of ESP. They call just as you were thinking about them. Great brands also seem to contact me just at the right moment- when I’m thinking about taking a trip, re-ordering my contact lenses, or looking for a killer spring dress.

4. DON’T TRY TO BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE. There are friends I like to exercise with, others I like to go out drinking and dancing with, intellectual book buddies, friends I turn to for career advice, and others that just make me laugh. I don’t expect any one friend to satisfy all my needs.I appreciate them each for their individual gifts. What I do hope for is that they be authentic and consistent in what they can offer. The same is true with brands. I don’t want my shampoo to give me financial advice or to teach me ways to be more green. First and foremost, do what you’re supposed to do – really well.

5. DON’T SHARE ALL MY SECRETS. The quickest way to lose a friend is to betray their trust. Brands need to learn this. Consumers aren’t stupid. It’s no coincidence to me when I sign up for a newsletter on healthy living and all of a sudden I get an email or an offer in the post for a new weight loss pill or low fat cooking magazine. I know who has been sharing my information. Treat relationships with respect and the bond will be stronger.

So if you are having conversations about viral strategies, deepening relationships etc, etc, it might be a good idea to first to step back and make sure your brand really has what it takes to be a good friend.

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

What makes your favorite brands friend-worthy?

The Hills are Alive

Spring is finally here, time to lighten up.

I was walking to the train today, and I couldn’t help smile when I saw the bright and brave daffodils popping up everywhere.

Then I got into work and recieved this fabulous video of a “impromptu” dance set to a classic song from the Sound of Music in the Antwerp Train station. It’s definitely worth checking out and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

These two things completely lifted my spirits and reminded me how absolutely grumpy I’ve been feeling lately.

What’s this got to do with innovation?

Well, at the risk of being mind-numbingly obvious it’s hard to create when we’re feeling deflated. I know that some say great pain is the source of great artistry. But for me at least, when it comes to branding it’s the opposite. I need some good vibes to get the juices flowing.

So my advice if your feeling stuck is get out of the office go find a field of daffodils…or at least a traffic median filled with tulips, pick up your wide-brimmed straw hat and start running over those Austrian hills… or whatever grass or even parking lot you happen to have nearby.

Lighten up and let the ideas shine through!

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

What are you doing these days to lighten up?

Tiffin Up!

I learned a new word today. It’s Tiffin.

It’s a term from India which means “an in-between meal”. It’s a ritual that originated during British rule. Workers were able to take much anticipated breaks to enjoy their tiffins which were delivered on-site in distinctive multi-compartment pails.

It got me to thinking about “Tiffining Up” brands.

In these tough economic times, what other brands could see their market share stabilize, dare we dream… even grow, with expanded usage occasions?

How about Tiffining up toothpaste? We’re all brushing twice a day (at least I hope we are). What about a new and unique delivery system that helps us look forward to brushing a third time? Maybe after our 3pm snack before we’re reunited at home with our loved ones (or potential loved ones) at the local singles bar.

That’s just one example, there’s bound to be countless others.

Maybe one trick to innovating in these tough times is Tiffining Up. In other words, providing people with expanded usage occasions, much anticipated rituals and unique packaging to extend the enjoyment of our brands.

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

What brands do you think should Tiffin up?