Brand School is all about the TWIST.

Brand TWISTING is branding in action and is critical for small businesses and entrepreneurs. It is the concept of looking outside your category at successful brands for inspiration and then applying those best practices by TWISTING them with your own brand and business.

It is a skill you learn in Brand School and continue to cultivate for a lifetime.

Take off your Brand Blinders

As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you are more than likely walking around with “brand blinders” on. This is when you spend so much time following the branding and marketing rules of your category that you end up completely blending in. Look at the marketing of your nearest competitors. Is there anything that you really admire or really stands out? Chances are no. In fact, if you printed out the home pages of five brands in your competitive set and crossed out all of the logos, would you be able to tell who is who? If you looked at all these printouts would most of the imagery look the same? Is there a predominant color that everyone is using? Are the key messages identical? If so, then you need to step away and take off your brand blinders.

The Birth of the TWIST

My passion for twisting began a fateful day on an ordinary business trip during the winter of 2002. I was working as the executive director of consumer branding at Interbrand, a global branding agency. On a business trip to a client in Nebraska, I ran into the typical hiccups of flight travel from the New York metropolitan area: traffic, long lines at security, and countless departure gates leading to a maze of different airlines. Anticipating a less than fun-filled flight with mediocre airline food, a bland atmosphere, and the inevitable hurry up and wait pace of airline travel, I already felt defeated as I rushed toward my gate.

As I looked out the window to the tarmac, I was suddenly stopped by the image of a 747 airplane with McDonald’s golden arches on the tail fin. Finally, here was something new and different! I envisioned what this McDonald’s airline would be like. I imagined it would be good value with a flexible menu of ticket options and upgrades. It might allow me to “supersize” my experience to a seat with more legroom or special menu offerings. The interior of the plane would surely be brighter, more welcoming, and have attendants with a friendly service oriented attitude. This McDonald’s airline experience was dramatically more appealing to me than the plane I was about to board two gates down.

As it turns out, this airline was imaginary as it was the reflection of McDonald’s yellow neon arches at the food court perfectly positioned onto a plane parked behind the window. While this McDonald’s airline wasn’t real, it led me to the very real practice of TWISTING brands in different categories to come up with new ideas. This “a-ha” moment became the inspiration for all of the work I was to do from that point forward in my corporate positions as well as my teaching positions, and then when I founded my own branding consultancy and branding school for entrepreneurs and small businesses. It is the reason I named my company BrandTwist.

Find Your TWIST

The TWIST is the special sauce—it is looking outside of your category and finding inspiration in other successful brands. What does McDonald’s have to do with airlines? Nothing. That’s the point. If you spend all of your time thinking about what other similar companies are doing, you will end up with a “me-too” product experience.

For example, let’s say you have a dry-cleaning business and sales are flat. You need to create more excitement, more loyal customers and regular business. Take a cue from Starbucks, a brand that has created loyal fans all over the world. How do they keep up the momentum? They offer season specials (Pumpkin Spiced Latte anyone?) with bold menu boards and customizable offerings. Try creating a menu board with your own seasonal offerings. Summer time calls for brighter whites and an extra “shot” of bleach. Let clients customize their level of starch—just like Starbucks let’s you customize your drinks. Free Wi-Fi while you wait for your tailoring would be a nice touch—as would a loyalty or gift card options.

By looking out of your category at successful brands and TWISTING their best practices with your business—you will get fresh perspectives that will allow you to tell a brand story that breaks through and builds your business.

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