Quit Your Job and Make Your Old Company Your First New Client

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Brian F. Martin, host of  Brand Connections Brand Fast-Trackers.

We talked about what makes a successful brand and many of the core tenets I learned from my 22+ years in branding, particularly my time working as VP of Brand for Virgin.

A few highlights that I expand on in the podcast:

  • A clear core promise is essential
  • Your brand is the product/experience you’re offering and must deliver on its promise
  • You need to embrace and learn from failure
  • Know your brand framework and stay true to who you are

We also talked about what it takes to leave your job and make the big leap from being an employee to being an entrepreneur. You may be surprised by what I said. Most people think they need to hide their aspirations of starting their own company from their boss until they are ready to hand in their resignation. My experience at Virgin was the exact opposite. I made my intentions clear months before I left Virgin and was able to walk out the door with my boss’ blessing and Virgin as one of my first clients for my new company BrandTwist.

You can read Kat Krieger’s summary of the interview and listen to or download the podcast at the Brand Connections website HERE.

Show, Don’t Tell

This post is part of our series, “Thirteen Tips For Stronger Branding.” See the rest of the series HERE.

For today’s post, we’re taking a trip back to grade school. You know, when you had those class projects you brought in to show your fellow students (and hopefully, engaged listeners) about your product, thing or idea? Let’s start there. Read on for another tip to help you brand your business even more successfully.


Brands must have clear brand promises in order to be successful. But the strongest  brands also back up their words with actionable results. Marketers, strategists and social media experts, that means that you need to ensure your experience actually delivers what you say it will. Virgin America has done so well in a relatively short time span because the brand doesn’t just tell you it’s ‘A Breath of Fresh Airline’. It shows you, through unique mood lighting that’s present on each aircraft, a touch-screen RED entertainment system built into the headboard of the airline seats, and the complete ability to control when you order and eat during the flight. Add to that fleet-wide WiFi and a rockin’ elevate points system and you might actually start to feel that seeing is believing. Great brands “walk the talk”. Is your brand blowing hot air, or does it deliver what it promises? Delivery and execution for brands isn’t always an easy task, but brands that show their consumers what they offer, rather than telling it, are the ones that make it to the head of the class.

Check out tip #8 in the series, Find Moments That Matter.


Brand School is the premier program that shows you step-by-step how to build your brand and grow your business. Brand School takes best practices of beloved brands such as Virgin, Apple, and Zappo’s and teaches you how to apply these lessons right away to your brand. It’s not about the theory of branding. It’s about rolling up your sleeves, learning by doing, and seeing the impact of a stronger brand right away. Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on special offers and learn more about the next semester of Brand School HERE

“Brand School helped me get clear on my messaging and my brand. Now my clients know exactly what it is I bring to my classes.” – Josh Pais, Actor and Founder of Committed Impulse, creativity workshop

Focus On Usefulness, Not Innovation

This post is part of our series, “Thirteen Tips For Better Branding.” See the rest of the series HERE.

Here we go, folks, with another post in our “13 Branding Tips for Better Branding” series. Read on for another strategy for making your brand better starting now, and let me know what you think in the comments section below.


Brands need to curate innovative experiences in order to retain their current consumers and attract new ones. But brands also consistently fall into the trap of creating new bells and whistles that are more about stroking their own egos than really providing value. A great way to avoid this is to focus on your brand’s ability to be useful. Stop thinking about innovation, at least momentarily. By shifting your mindset from a somewhat internal notion of innovation to a more external one of usefulness, you’ll be able to more effectively serve your consumer.

Usefulness automatically puts the customer at the heart of your development process. Let’s take one example. Zappos was originally founded by Tony Hsieh as an online shoe company, and was purchased by Amazon in 2009 for $900 million. As a brand, Zappos’ policy is to help customers find the exact shoes they want, even if it means finding them on a competitor’s website. This commitment to usefulness has created dedicated and passionate Zappos fans and brand ambassadors to boot.

Check out tip #3 in the series, Build Your Verbal Identity.


Psst: For more actionable strategies, consider BrandSchool. BrandSchool is the premier program that teaches you how to grow your business by building a stronger brand. From bull’s eye targeting to strategic social media and more, Brand School shares current best practices from Virgin and other world-leaders in branding and shows you how to apply these lessons to your business for greater impact from day one. Learn more about Brand School’s next semester and esclusive offers for BrandTwist social media friends when you join the BrandTwist newsletter HERE. 

“I’ve taken quite a few courses on branding and marketing overall. However, what attracted me to Brand School was Julie’s experience with branding from a corporate level.” – Malla Haridat, Coaching for Small Business and Entrepreneurs


5 Ways a Strong Brand Can Ignite your Small Business

Over the 5 years I worked for Virgin in the U.S. development office, I met some amazing entrepreneurs and small business owners.

These folks, I’m convinced, have a different genetic code than the average business person. They have an amazing ability not just to identify gaps in the marketplace, and new ideas…but to act on them.

Being a successful entrepreneur is not easy. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And most of all it takes a kind of blind faith, to believe in yourself and your product or service and to get up every morning and keep it moving forward despite (many) obstacles and better resourced market incumbents.

But here’s one thing that I think a lot of start up ventures are missing…a smarter approach to branding.

For many new companies, “brand development” consists of thinking up a name and a logo and focusing on getting a website up and running.

While these are important elements, they miss the more fundamental role and purpose  of branding: to help connect with your consumers on a deeper level, build preference and loyalty and set you apart from your competition. If done right, a well-developed brand should influence every single business decision you make.

If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur and are interested in learning more practical ways to build your brand, you should consider attending the annual NYXPO at the Jacob Javits in NYC. I have spoken there before, and it’s a fantastic opportunity to network and receive great insight.  Click here to Register

In the meantime, Here are 5 thoughts on how a strong Brand can ignite your business:.

A Strong Brand Idea can help you:

1. Attract the Right Kind of Investor

2. Make Sure You Have a Well Defined Target Audience

3. Develop Products and Services Faster and with More Discipline

4. Create Brand Expressions that Cut Through (with less spending)

5. Stay On Course as the Company Grows
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1. A strong Brand can help you attract the right kind of partners and investors. “Dumb money” can be fairly easy to find. But “Smart Money” is harder. But it’s better. Because it means you’ve found  backers who are on the same page and share the same philosophy. They are more likely to give you on-going advice and be supportive of your need to build a strong business and brand.  A well thought out and presented Brand can help you attract the right people on the right terms. It can also help cut through the 1,000’s of pitches that VC’s and another investor see on a regular basis. It can make your venture more memorable and interesting.

2. Developing a strong Brand forces you to make some tough calls about your target audience and to really make sure there is a well-defined and substantial market for your venture.  Too often we fall so in love with our own ideas that we don’t stop to question if there are other people (besides our mom and college roommate) who would also be a receptive , paying audience for our product or service. Brands don’t exist if there is no one out there willing to buy them. If they are not answering an unmet need or addressing a current need in a better way. Brand Idevelopment makes you go through the process of identifying your target audience, understanding what motivates them, and making sure your idea answers their needs in a way that is relevant and different from current options. You’d be surprised at home many people short change this step…with pretty disastrous results. “If we build it, they will come” may work for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but it can be an arrogant and costly mistake for many entrepreneurs. 

3. A Strong Brand can help you develop your product and services faster and with more discipline.  One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is to stay on track. It’s hard, to know which opportunities to pursue, and which ones to pass on. Particularly when you don’t have the structure and decision making processes of a large company. A well defined Brand should be used as a continual, actionable filter to review everything: products, partnerships, people for fit to your core values. If they don’t fit, even if they have merit, then pass.

4. Well defined Brand Ideas are the cornerstone of great brand expressions that cut through. So many entrepreneurs that I have met and/or worked with spend hours of wasted (precious) time going in circles about the name, logo and marketing materials of the company. But often the reason they can’t decide or seem to get what they are looking for isn’t that they are using the wrong creative resources. It’s that they haven’t defined the Idea behind the creative. They think they will know something good when they see it. But 10 years of running Naming and Consumer Branding at Interbrand has driven home how subjective the creative process can be. Having a strong Brand promise translates into tighter, better creative briefs which translates into better creative- with fewer (time, money and energy sapping) rounds of iteration and evaluation. And once you have this strong Brand expressions developed, chances are they will cut through in the marketplace and amplify the always too limited spending of entrepreneurial brands.

5. A Strong Brand will help you navigate the growing pains as your entrepreneurial venture expands from a two to twenty to two hundred employees.  Having a tacit understanding of what the Brand stands for and where it should and shouldn’t go is often ok when you can fit all of your brand stakeholders around your kitchen table. But what happens as you grow? How do you efficiently and effectively on-board more people quickly and make sure that they have the same understanding as the original 5 members? How do you make sure you expanding workforce of brand ambassadors is putting out a consistent message to the marketplace? We encountered this same issue at Virgin as the brand began to grow particularly in the United States. We finally decided it was time to take some of the “gut” knowledge and put it down in writing. With an articulated Brand Idea,  Brand Pillars and some training tools such as identity, tone of voice and launch documents. This didn’t mean we were turning “corporate”. It just meant we were getting smarter about sharing our Brand knowledge and DNA with new members of the family.

Fundamental Brand building, particularly paying attention to defining your target audience and your Brand Idea (not just what products you offer, but the emotional benefit of engaging with your brand) can be a powerful tool for any small business. And the difference between a Google, Starbucks, Virgin and all those other failed ventures that never quite made it.

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

How do you see branding as a challenge or advantage for small businesses?

Our Brand School program will give you actionable steps and strategies that you can use to grow a strong brand.  Receive more information about the next semester and receive free brand-building tools and tips when you join our mailing list.

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“Through Julie’s feedback I learned critical information about my demographic audience, what I was trying to say with my story, and what I stood for.” – Lynn Stull, Owner Arts2Thrive


Bathroom Branding


Lately, I’ve been noticing some pretty creative use of a space that’s been traditionally taboo.

The potty, loo, john etc.

Yes, the Bathroom seems to have become the new frontier in brand messaging.

This is a picture of the Virgin Management HQ in London.

It’s a bit hard to read…but the sign over the toilet paper roll says “this is the only unauthorized Virgin rip-off, now go wash your hands”.

I think this is brilliant…

It uses a frequently visited space to reinforce Virgin’s commitment to being the consumer champion.

Recently I was in the NY offices of ?Whatif! the innovation company well-known for it’s incredibly strong company culture.

They are also using the bathrooms…to post “10 Interesting Facts” about new employees. And true to ?Whatif! fashion the fact sheets are cleverly written and insightful.

What’s most important is that they underline the company’s commitment to celebrating the strength and diversity of it’s people.

What I haven’t seen is any brands using Bathroom Branding as an touch point to external audiences.

It seems odd to me that brands like Ikea and Starbucks who are so good at using their physical environments to communicate their brand message are ignoring this touchpoint.

Maybe they can’t get over the taboo of the toilet…but I think they should try.

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

Have you seen any interesting examples of Bathroom Branding? If you can, send us a picture.

Our online Brand School course will give you the tools you need to keep your brand creative and innovative. Receive more information about the next semester and free tools and tips when you join our mailing list.

Please also check us out on Twitter and Facebook for more insight and discussion on branding.

I learned a lot from Brand School.  It inspired me to think outside the box. I have a much deeper understanding of how to effectively build a brand. – Mike S.