The TWIST: A Branding Exercise To Bring Your Ideas To Market

Branding is a constantly evolving and dynamic exercise, and crucial to the success of any business. Smaller companies can benefit greatly from unique branding as a way to stand out from competition – especially since 50% fail in the first year and 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs don’t make it past 18 months.

One exercise, I’ve found to be quite helpful is training your brain how to TWIST.

What do I mean by ‘twist?’ There are two primary definitions:

1) a verb; to weave together two separate entities to form a stronger single strand;
2) a noun; an unexpected change in a process or a departure from a usual pattern.

Brand ‘twisting’ applies these definitions to the business world. You need to look out of your category at successful brands for inspiration and then apply those best practices by twisting them with your brand and business, to create concrete ideas and approaches that help you stand out. It involves creating a unique brand story, identifying the tangible and intangible differences that you bring to your business, knowing what sets you apart from other companies that offer the same basic products and services, and how your personal experience and personality bring your brand and business to life.

Frequently I meet small business owners and entrepreneurs who are not sure they even need a brand, let alone one with a twist. I often get asked, “Most of my business is word-of-mouth, do I really need a brand?” “My business is just myself. No employees. People aren’t brands, right?” and “I’m a business-to-business company, does branding even matter?”

My reply is always the same: branding matters for small businesses, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and personalities such as artists, actors, and authors – perhaps even more than large corporations. Why? Because any business in a competitive marketplace, where stakes are high and budgets are low, needs to get its brand and accompanying story across to potential customers quickly and with great impact. Your brand is a story of what makes your products and services unique. Getting that story right is one of the most important things you can do for the financial health of your business. And to craft the best story possible, you need to twist.

When twisting with another brand to innovate for your business, there are a few important guidelines. Feel free to use national or local brands, as long as they inspire you and cause you to think or experience something meaningful.

  1. First, choose a brand that you know and like
    You need to have positive experiences and a reasonable knowledge of that brand to draw on.
  2. Make sure that brand is NOT in a category related to yours
    If you make gourmet jam, don’t pick Whole Foods – in fact, the further away from your category the better.
  3. Choose a brand that has addressed a challenge you are also facing in your business
    For example, you might choose Virgin because it has been able to shake up a tired market, or Netflix because it reinvented the movie viewing experience, or Disney because you love the magical, emotional connection it has with its consumers.
  4. Delve into all the magic moments, big and small, that make that brand special
    Get as specific as possible. For example, if you are twisting with Apple, make a list of all the distinctive elements from the blue-shirted employees, the hand-held checkout, the Genius Bar in the stores, the unique intuitive touch screens, and the anticipated and orchestrated product releases.
  5. Pretend this inspirational brand took over your business
    What would they add, transform and change? It’s useful to be as specific as possible. Don’t just say: “Starbucks would make my dry-cleaning business more customized.” Go further and think through the idea. Maybe you would have a large services menu displayed at the front of the store displaying daily specials or different “sizes” of starch.
  6. Draw and describe in detail one or two of your favorite ideas, then write down three steps to move this idea forward
    For your ideas to become a reality, you need to go deeper into how they would work and have a clear action plan for next steps. Drawing your idea and explaining it in a paragraph helps to make sure it is fully formed. The next steps should be small and actionable and include specific dates for completing tasks. In the dry-cleaning “menu” idea above, they might include: 1) list out services that could be included in the menu; 2) two hours of online research into chalkboard displays for purchase; 3) create a production plan and budget by a fixed target date.

Brand building is not easy. Many people have great ideas, but what will make you a successful entrepreneur is your ability to bring your idea to life. Identifying your brand ‘twist’ can help you say yes to the right opportunities, stay focused, and bring your idea to market.