MPI Blog

Industry News

Establishing Your Twist for Brand Success at the SITE + MPI Global Forum

Julie Cottineau SITE + Global Forum 2018

Branding expert and SITE + MPI Global Forum closing keynote speaker Julie Cottineau shares insight on finding and activating your personal and professional differentiator, or twist. If you’re attending the Global Forum, sign up now for one of the nine FREE one-on-one branding consultations that Cottineau is offering at the event—these one-on-one consultations normally cost US$350, but, in reality, can be invaluable (you must register for one of these brand health checks in advance of the conference). Read on to learn more!

So, you’re speaking at the SITE + MPI Global Forum in Rome next month—what can attendees expect from your closing keynote?

My keynote is going to be about bringing the magic home. I’m going to wrap up with key learnings that I’ve observed from the conference, and that I think are important in really building strong brand experiences. I’m going to give [attendees] five actionable tips on how to avoid what I call the conference hangover—not in the alcohol sense, but in the inspiration sense, when you spend an amazing couple of days meeting new people, experiencing new things and then you get home and say, “Now what?” I’ve got a triple-A method of twisting: First, becoming aware of new experiences and new learnings; analyzing why those things are so relevant and thought provoking; and then applying them to their business.

So, you’ll be at the event all three days?

Yes, I’m going to be listening to the other speakers, speaking to the other speakers ahead of the conference, and then I’m going to bring my own point of view—which I developed from years of working both on the agency side and the client side, I was lucky enough to work for five years for Sir Richard Branson on the Virgin management team—on really how to stand out. The twist is the name of the book and the name of my company, but the twist is really about two things: 1) Projecting a twist—you have a twist in a plot or a twist in a movie, something that’s interesting and different—finding that and communicating that, and 2) the verb twist, for instance, “What did I really learn in Rome to twist my business and make my business stronger?”

I worked at Virgin, helping to build new Virgin companies, then I decided to go out on my own and I kept this philosophy of twisting. Part of why I’m really excited for January [at the SITE + MPI Global Forum] is that I think meeting and incentive planning is a category that’s ripe for a twist.

Have you spoken to large groups of meeting, event and incentive planners before?

I have, on a much smaller basis. That’s how MPI and SITE found me—I went to a small executive off-site and talked to them about twisting. I also have an online school and have had some meeting planners go through my school, so I’ve gotten to know them on a one-to-one basis and helped them really re-invent their brands, so I’ve heard from them how the meeting professionals themselves are trying to find their own twist—how do I make my RFPs stand out?; how do I get away from the commoditization and the price pressures that clients might be putting on me to show that I’m the right resource?. Then they have to help their clients create an experience for their customers that’s worth traveling to, that’s going to have a twist, that’s not going to be the same old convention with rubber chicken in a ho-hum destination. And that’s challenging because it’s a very fragmented market, so I think it’s really hard to stand out.

Many planners still don’t have a seat at the table when it comes to significant corporate decision making. Are there ways individuals can best influence a twist within the company?

As individuals within organizations, we’re also brands. I do a lot of teaching and lecturing—last year I taught a class with Tyra Banks at Stanford Graduate School all about building the brand of you, figuring out your personal twist. You have more credibility with an organization and more influence on morale and vision when you’re a go-to person. So how do you make yourself stand out? I think you need to think of yourself as a brand—have a personal brand plan. Figure out what you want to be known for and then have a plan to become known for that.

What are the greatest obstacles to establishing a twist for individuals and small businesses?

People tend to think that there’s this wall between who they are as a person and who they are as a professional. In my own experience, in my school, for example, I’ve encouraged my students to think about the things you’re passionate about outside of work and how they might be relevant to your profession—and to embrace them and to share them.

I had one designer who, in her free time, was a really passionate amateur trapeze artist. She would take classes all the time and that’s where she would spend every spare moment. She never really talked about it—I kind of found out about it by accident. Then I asked her why she wasn’t promoting that and she said, “I don’t think it’s relevant.” But when you think about it, a trapeze artist means you’re flexible, dedicated and you have discipline and you really understand partnerships—there’s no better metaphor for partnerships than letting go. She saw the light when we talked about it and now she’s rebranded as Herculiz and she talks about big-top design and fearlessness and partnering, and has really clever motifs on her website. Nobody is confused that she does branding for circuses, but it’s something she can talk about and people remember her.

One of the biggest mistakes I see is not taking what you’re personally passionate about and letting people know about it and finding ways [to create professional parallels].

Why do you think the meeting and event world is really ripe for twisting?

When I look at markets that are really fragmented and have a huge pressure from commoditization, those to me are really strong signals that you have to work harder—not just meeting planners, but the destinations themselves. The great thing about the internet is now the world is smaller, it’s easy to get information everywhere. The flipside of that is now our competitors are not the 10 other destinations that are now in [your region], they’re everywhere. And it’s also so much easier now to launch a business. The competition has gotten harder because there are more people in the business, the commoditization has gotten harder because the more people that come into an industry, the more pressure there is on cost. And I think the third thing is that there’s this buzz word “experience”—the demands of people have gotten higher. You have the pressure on price and you’ve got a customer who needs to be wowed because they see Anthony Bourdain on TV going to all of these exotic places or instead of just going out for a burger, they went out to a restaurant in Manhattan that’s presenting a “burger experience.” The pressure to create a unique experience is really high—and I think that way that you do that is to stop looking at what all the competitors are doing and start to look outside of the category. For instance, why is your experience at Starbucks so addictive? What would Starbucks do if they took over your event or company? People live in a world of brand experiences these days, so their expectations walking in are so much higher. And the experience doesn’t just begin and end at the event—it needs to start before and live on after.

That’s increasingly difficult for time-crunched planners, though—as soon as they finish one event, they often, out of necessity, have to move right into planning the next event.

It’s definitely hard, it makes our jobs more challenging, but it pays off because you don’t know when somebody’s going to ask [your client], “Who did you use?” and you want to be top of mind.

What’s new in your twisting world?

I’ve taken twisting to a whole new level. Over the past year, I’ve been doing these BrandTwist Safaris, where rather than telling clients to look at great brands and what they’re doing, I take them on curated outings to look at brands in other categories and experience it firsthand then come back and do the new product brainstorming or the ideation sessions after spending a morning absorbing other real-life brands. For instance, we’ll go to Tesla and see how they’re creating in their showrooms a brand experience—if you have to walk into a Tesla showroom and ask how much [a vehicle is], you’ve sort of missed the point because they’ve created a cult of people that really believe in the product.

By taking people on those BrandTwist Safaris, that’s another way that you are getting more involved in the meeting and event industry.

Yes, it is and it’s been a huge eye-opener for me! It’s a lot easier to do it in a conference room when I bring in the brands, but I’ve really been pushing myself because there’s nothing like being in the stores. I’ve found the stores, the destinations, to be really welcoming—the good ones—they want to talk about their brands.

It sounds like your time at the SITE + MPI Global Forum is going to be incredible.

I’m allowing a limited amount of people to sign up for brand health checks. These are 45-minute strategy sessions with me, where I will read the materials of a company—you must sign up before the conference—and I will give them specific advice and feedback about their twist and how to build their twist. I’m providing these complimentary because I’m really excited to meet with professionals and dive even deeper into this industry. Part of my twist is that I personally believe branding is a business tool and I don’t believe in consultants or speakers that come in and stay at a very theoretical level, I’m really passionate about making it practical and useful, so I work very hard at doing that.

The SITE + MPI Global Forum happens in Rome, Jan. 12-14. Learn more about the event and register now so you don’t miss Julie Cottineau’s closing keynote—and sign up for a free brand health check with Cottineau, while spaces last!

About the Author

Michael Pinchera

Michael Pinchera is an award-winning writer and editor for The Meeting Professional as well as a speaker, technologist and contributor to business, academic and pop culture publications since 1997. Read more of his work at