Based in the Netherlands, Michelle Coops is a rebelicious word wizard, international speaker, and founder of Be a Brand Rebel. She has helped hundreds of national and international brands, countless entrepreneurs and rebelicious professionals, by uncovering their true story and helping them to authentically position themselves as the experts in their field. Impacting businesses on a global scale, Michelle travels the world, speaking on the international stage, igniting her audiences to connect with their inner Brand Rebel, whilst inspiring you to unapologetically share your story in a way that does justice to your brand and mission.
In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- Why words are so powerful in the process of shaping your life and building any type of brand, organization, or business.
- The way that words influence the trajectory of our lives.
- How Michelle left a cult, moved out on her own at age 17, and began to think for herself.
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Connect with Michelle:
- What You’r P.O.I.N.T., Dude? (free e-book)
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- Instagram (Be A Brand Rebel)
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Michelle, thanks so much for taking some time to join us today.
I’m very happy to be here. Thank you, David.
You are a wordsmith. You are a lover of words. First let me ask you, have you always loved words? Were you a spelling bee champion? Do they have that in the Netherlands?
I’m sure they do. I just never really participated in that. For me, it’s not necessarily about the technical elements of words but much more about the magic that they can do. I’ve always been a story teller and of course, there are a number of ways in which you can tell stories, but I just fell in love with words for some reason. Of course, I don’t remember it myself, but my mom told me that when I was two and whenever I couldn’t sleep, I would be telling stories to all my stuffed animals. So, it was something that naturally came to me.
As you know, we live in a culture where images and video are just so prominent these days. Why do you believe that words are so important when we’re building a brand?
There are a number of reasons, actually. First of all, I believe that all of these elements in telling your story work well together once you balance them out. So, you need images and you need colors, you need all of that, but you need the words as well. The other day I was at my gym, I have a new membership and I was looking at this image that they have on the wall. I know that they were trying to send a very empowering message of a woman working out and the trainer, who was male, was helping her. For me, I was like, “Okay, that doesn’t resonate with me.” And that’s the problem with images only. We all have a different way of interpreting them. We create our own stories when we look at images.
When you’re building your brand, you want people to know the story you want to tell. You want to make sure that people grasp the real meaning of your message and so, you need to explain with your words what it is that you’re trying to tell people. So, that’s one of the reasons. It will help you to unambiguously tell your story.
The second reason is that I believe there’s so much emphasis when it comes to branding and it starts with the intangible elements of your brand. It’s all about your vision for this world and the mission that you have, the values, etcetera. So, those are very intangible because you can’t really see it. Then there is the expressive part of your brand and a lot of entrepreneurs think it’s only about the logo; for example, the coloring and the website. These are very, very important, because that’s how you show your personality and as a brand you have a personality as well. But the thing is, as soon as the words don’t match and if you’re using language in a way that doesn’t match the personality that you want to show, there’s a mismatch. And once that happens, it feels a little bit awkward. It becomes incongruent.
What I see a lot of entrepreneurs do, is they tend to want to stick to certain rules when it comes to communication and choosing words because that’s supposed to be professional. I’m trying to inspire people to find their own way of communicating by using their own language. You have colors and you have a logo and you have a personality in photography and in coloring but you have that in language as well. It’s a way to show your personality. So, those are the different levels of using words and language.
It’s funny you talk about the language at your gym because I belong to a gym here in the United States, it’s called Planet Fitness. It’s a lower cost gym and it’s seen as like a no-criticism environment and a no judgement zone. They’ve got these purple and yellow colors and once a month they advertise a Monday night pizza night. What the heck? It makes no sense. And they have Tootsie Rolls out on the counter as you check in. Talk about not using the right language. That’s just straight up not matching what your mission is. But maybe it’s actually genius because they’re making you fatter. It’s going to cause you to want to keep coming back. Maybe it’s actually a genius idea and I’m the one that’s slow on the uptake there.
I do notice that you personally, you’re just a little crazy. I mean I’m looking at your website, your hair is going everywhere; your hair is beautiful but it’s just kind of crazy. You’ve got this big smile. You’ve got tattoos. It’s rebelicious. The language you use, you’re dropping F-bombs. That’s part of your brand.
I think what’s interesting of what you’re saying is that a lot of us want to play it safe and to say, “Okay, I don’t want to offend anybody. I want to stay in my lane.” But yet, you’re telling people, “No, you’ve got to find your own personality.” That doesn’t mean you’ve got to be crazy but it’s got to match whatever it is that you’re trying to do.
I’m assuming that’s the case not just for entrepreneurs but we have a lot of moms who listen and maybe they’re organizing moms’ clubs, book clubs, PTA and all of these activities. Language is important in rallying people for all of those things too, right?
Yes, absolutely. Whether it’s in work or in your private life, it doesn’t really matter. One of the things that makes life interesting is people and the people that you hang out with. So, instead of trying to adjust your personality to fit in, I always say, “Just be yourself.” Now I don’t mean “just” be yourself, be yourself and then some. Make sure that you express yourself in a way that will attract the people that are a match with who you are.
So again, if there are women or mothers, it doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur or not, you want to attract people that you feel you have a click with and that you feel comfortable with. Like you said, there are so many people playing safe and trying to adjust and fit in to society but you kind of end up ignoring a part of you that just wants to play and be free.
For me as an entrepreneur, I value connecting with people so much and I love hanging out with people. I want those people to match my personality because my business is a big part of my life and I think I should have a say in that. I’d rather work with the people that I have a connection with and that I can just be myself around. I also believe by doing it that way, you filter out the people that don’t really match to your language. I’m quite outspoken. I admit that. I deliberately do that because I know that will help people to get out of their comfort zone as well.
Right, so people self-choose, “Oh, yeah, I want to connect with her,” or, “I don’t want to connect with her”?
I have a marketing business myself and I find that sometimes I’ll go into a client’s office that’s more of a corporate client and I’ll find myself being kind of stiff because I’m trying to make sure that I’m playing the right role. Yet, my contact at that company is like, “Why are you so stiff every time you come in here? You’re not the person that you are on the phone. We’re playful and we’re having fun and then all of a sudden you come in here and you’re different.” I think it’s because I want to make sure I don’t say something inappropriate. Not that I’m going to say something wrong but I’m just in my head and trying to fit a certain role. I don’t enjoy it. That’s not fun for me to be in that stiff environment. I’m not being me. I love what you’re saying in that it’s got to match.
Talk to me about the ways that words are influencing us on a daily basis that we may not even realize.
Massively. To put it into one word; words are definitely influencing us massively. If you just think of the words that you use yourself, a lot of the times we use words to define ourselves and to create an identity around ourselves. Just listening to other people and the way they use language; it says a lot about how they see themselves. Those words influence and they impact the success that we can have in this life.
One of the key words I believe is the word, “are”; just “to be”. Simply the use of the verb. If I say, “I am a copywriter,” which is what I used to say when I was a copywriter. I would define myself that way. That was the label and the box that I put myself in. I limited myself to stick to that box.
As soon as people challenged me, like recently I became a member of the Professional Speakers Academy, I realized that it was not about the writing but it was about the words and how words inspire. It’s a little bit more abstract but I don’t just have to use the words in writing, I can use words on stage as well to inspire people. So, I broke free from the label “copywriter” and realized it was about so much more than that.
In daily life, to answer your question, we use words constantly to label ourselves. If you become aware of how you label yourself at this moment and instead of saying, “This is not who I am,” maybe you want to take another look at that phrase and question why that would not be who you are? Challenge yourself a little bit more. Just the word “is” – “This is not” or, “This is who I am,” what does it mean? Maybe there’s more possible right now. We use that word throughout the entire day.
What are some examples of ways that people are defining themselves with words that maybe are limiting them?
So, definitely one is the example I just used, “This is not who I am.” Just to give another example, a friend of mine, she’s diagnosed with ADHD. Especially nowadays there are a lot of kids, they have autism, etcetera. They are put in a box. Because of that diagnosis, they get that label and that explains why they can or can’t do certain things. Or why they might not be good at structuring or they need the structure because otherwise, they’ll just go mental. Whatever it is, that is only a label. It doesn’t define who you are as a person.
So, labelling yourself according to a diagnosis, a certain profession, a certain job position, as a wife or a certain role that you have, that says nothing about who you really are as a person. Even though the labels help people understand how they need to see you, I get that. We need structures. We need certain labels because it helps us to create an understanding of the world but it also limits us if we tend to identify with those labels too much on a daily basis. I am not just someone’s wife or someone’s friend. I am me. I have certain beliefs and values. Even those values and those beliefs are not only mine, I have taken them in throughout the years and made them my own.
How would you describe yourself? What are the words that impact you on a daily basis? What are the words that are flowing through your mind and then what are the words that come out of your mouth?
You’re travelling right now. You’re meeting people and someone says, “Hello, what do you do? Who are you?” I think those are two different things. One is the words that are in our mind and two are the words that come out of our mouth. They’re linked, but they could be separate.
I will tell myself in front of the mirror that I am a freaking power bitch, because those are the words that empower me and get me into a playful mode. If I would meet someone now and introduce myself or when people ask me what I do, I would say I’m a word wizard and a brand rebel. Those are words that don’t necessarily categorize me because they will raise questions and that invites a new conversation. It basically inspires people to ask more questions. “So, what do you mean with that?” And that opens up a new territory for us to explore together and it gives me an opportunity to share what I believe in and what I help people with.
That’s what I usually advise people to do and it’s actually one of the steps in my e-book. Come up with some kind of label so that people understand, “Okay, so you’re a graphic designer,” or “You’re a coach”, but also come up with an analogy and something fun. Come up with something that is out of the box. Something else and something different so that it will actually increase people’s understanding of what you do and raise questions. You want people to think, “What do you mean with that?” Because it opens up the conversation.
And that’s true whether you own your own business or not, because for most of us, we’re excited about something in the world. Whether it’s our families or a business or a job or even if we’re passionate about a band or something. Just that little tweak is what you’re saying. I love that; word wizard or brand rebel. If I met you, I would be like, “Hmm, yeah. Tell me more. Tell me more, what does that mean?”
Tell me what do you mean by “brand rebel”. That’s obviously your business but when you say that, I just met you, what do you mean “brand rebel”?
Right, so there was a story behind it and I will get to that in a little bit. But what I mean by being a rebel is not about being stubborn or not about going against society and all its rules. It’s not about that. It’s about finding your own path. It’s finding your own way. It’s autonomy, basically. It’s all about finding that path that defines you and the path that fits with you and the way that you want to live your life. And of course, because I work with entrepreneurs, it is about the brand. But the process is the same because we could be talking about your personal brand. We’re all basically personal brands all the time, whether we are entrepreneurs or not, it doesn’t really matter. I would like to inspire people to follow their own path a little bit more and that’s why instead of just being rebellious, I call it “rebelicious” because it has a delicious twist.
It’s so funny because you do not come off like a rebel at all. I mean, a little bit but you’re just so playful and fun. I love that. Did you grow up not being a rebel? Were you in more of a strait-laced conservative background and this was a way for you to blossom? How did that play out for you?
It’s interesting that you mention that because that’s what actually came up. One of the reasons I chose this name is because of my early years. I grew up with my mother and my sister. My parents got divorced when I was nine and a couple years after, my mom who was in her early 30’s, she was looking for meaning, like we all are. That’s just part of being an adult, but she found meaning in what I’d like to refer to as a cult. Now, I have nothing against people believing but this was a quite dogmatic way of living life. I was eleven, so I joined. I joined my mom because everything that my mom did was the truth at that point, of course. I was a young girl.
We slowly got sucked into that life in that cult. All my friends in school were worldly, they were not really to be considered my real friends. We could not have a television; everything was immoral on TV. There was a lot of restrictions when it came to just a pretty regular lifestyle. I realized at some point that they were very judgemental and I know that within Christian religion and faith, it’s not about judging at all, it’s all about love. But that is something that they didn’t practice or I didn’t experience it that way.
Once I grew up and I saw all those friends that were supposed to be, according to them, “immoral” or “worldly”, I thought that they were just awesome people. I was like, “How can we judge them for not being good people just because they don’t go to that church?” I realized that there was more out there and at sixteen, it wasn’t about being a rebel but I just decided at some point that I didn’t want to go to that church anymore. But as soon as someone had their own opinion that went against their church’s beliefs, you were considered a rebel. I decided I’d rather be a rebel living my life my way according to my values. Even though I was only sixteen, I knew those were not my values. So, there is a link with how they considered me a rebel at the time and me now, making it rebelicious.
How did that play out for you and your mom and your sister in your relationship?
It was pretty hectic to be honest. At the beginning it was really hard for my sister because she was a couple of years younger and she was in the middle of me and my mom not getting along at that point. My mom of course, she didn’t really know how to handle it either. She did the best that she could, I will give her that absolutely. But she was very influenced by the pastor in that church at that time and he managed to persuade her and manipulate the situation a little bit and that ended up with me being kicked out. I ended up living somewhere else. I found a room with someone else.
You were literally kicked out of your home at sixteen because of religious issues?
Yeah, I just turned seventeen. I was seventeen at the time.
Wow, so you’ve lived on your own since you were seventeen?
Yeah, I was still in my exam year for high school, so that didn’t play out right, because I had to make money to pay for rent. I did get some support from my parents, my father included. He lived two hours away, so I couldn’t move in with him. I got some support from my mom because we never fell out or anything. We were still in touch. We were making it work and you get into some kind of survival mode. You just do whatever you have to.
You’re saying it with a smile, but those experiences are just so painful. It’s just so painful to go through that type of rejection in our lives. It seems like my guess is, you have a soft heart for those who are a little bit rebellious and those who are outside of the system, so to speak.
Yeah, the status quo.
Have you felt that as you continued to grow and get older in life?
I’ve always felt that I’ve followed my own path. I’ve always had opinions about certain topics that were not very mainstream. I’ve never really felt like an outsider at all. I’m just me, just doing my thing. I did feel judged as soon as I left that cult. I mean, I was basically shunned because I was now the rebel and they were judging me. They told my mom that I’d probably end up knocked up after three months. And within three months, I was seventeen. I was actually quite a bit of a good girl. So, I was like, “How can you know that’s going to happen?” But it didn’t and you get into survival mode and I just kept following my own path and doing my thing.
It wasn’t until later on in my life, that I realized that I’d been playing safe after all of that and because of that experience. You get judged and rejected and you start to think it’s better to not speak up too much because if you speak up and you say what you want and you find your own way, there’s a chance of getting massively rejected. So, it did impact me.
I was 27 when my dad got sick and that changed a lot of things around for me because I realized that I was blocking myself. I was living a very average life and I decided to become an entrepreneur. That was when I kind of went through this evolution and I decided to make a massive change. I wanted a different business model and that’s when I started speaking on stage. That challenged me big time, because before that with the copywriting business, I was telling other people’s stories. Now all of a sudden, because I was going to be on stage, I was going to share my story. I had to deep dive into that story again and the impact that it had. I had to take a close look at myself and that brought up a lot of emotions. The processing happened then.
That is so amazing. It’s like you’re constantly refining how you see yourself, is that what I’m hearing is happening?
All the time, yeah. I think that’s a constant process and I think that making the best out of life and out of yourself, means reflecting on who you are. It not just defining yourself based on the past experiences, but also seeing how you can learn from that and choosing who you want to be. I think that that’s really important. I don’t think that we’re just a collection of experiences, we can also choose. That’s all about leadership, if you ask me.
I have an online course called Launch Your Life and in this last week I was teaching in a module all about the trajectory of our path in our life. I talk about the fact that so many of us are on the path of our parents and the path that they put us on. It’s not a bad thing, because like you said, you were eleven, you were just following your mom because you assume, she’s got your best interest in mind. And in reality, she was doing the best she could with the resources she had in that moment and she’s loving you and wanting to do the best for you. But as we continue to grow up, some of us are inadvertently at 20, 30, 40, 50 years old, still on the path of our parents or the path of our life partner. It’s like, they’ve chosen, “This is what you should do,” and it’s finally asking that question over and over and over again, “What do I want?” “What do I want?”
When I was a kid, I grew up in a very conservative home as well. I wouldn’t consider it a cult but it definitely was pretty limiting in terms of the thought process. My parents are very utilitarian and pragmatic. So, a sense of personal expression or style isn’t necessarily a high value in my family. I remember as a kid – and I’ve written about this before, my dad probably doesn’t even remember this but I remember we were going out and I said, “Hold on just a second,” and I went back to get a pair of sunglasses. This was the 80’s and they were red and had this crazy stripe on them and had this red chain that went behind your head. I’m probably in middle school and I remember him abruptly saying, “Are you getting them because you really need them?” The assumption was, “Or are you just trying to look cool?” And, that left a mark inside of me, even in middle school.
My kids are sixteen and nineteen, I’m sure I’m leaving marks all over them. But to say, “There’s no need to express yourself. There’s no need to have something just to enjoy it or just for personal expression.” That has been a lifetime journey for me, of saying to myself, “How do I express myself in ways that both have a freedom and a responsibility?” Because if I just have freedom, then I can oftentimes make choices that are not helpful to others around me. But if I’m only focusing on responsibility, then I don’t really have that freedom that comes with self-expression.
Yeah, it’s a constant balance, isn’t it?
Yeah, and I love your self-expression. It’s definitely loud and clear. It’s beautiful. It’s so fun. It’s rebelicious.
Okay, so if I’m going to start a new venture, no matter what kind of venture that is, whether it’s a business, group, club, cult -. If I’m starting a new cult -? No, I’m kidding.
How should I go about choosing the words that will describe what I want to do? What would that process be?
Right, so I always take people through quite a clear step by step process because it all starts with having a very clear vision. That’s the very first step. You need to know where you’re going. You need to know the direction you’re going, whether that’s for a book club or your personal life or for a business. It doesn’t matter, you need a vision. And again, I really believe in the power of words when it comes to that vision. I also do have to say that the process on how you go about that is different for your personal life vision or for your business. But by asking the right questions and then putting that into words, you can actually feel how the words are going to guide you there.
Think about it, when you put something into words and you see the words you’ve written down, you’re looking at it and you’re able to see, “Ah, it doesn’t feel right. That’s not my word.” So, you know that you need something else and I just use tools like Thesaurus.com to find different words that would have a better fit. For me, the words are a tool as well. They definitely give me more insight in thinking, “Oh, yeah. So, this is what I want and that is what I want,” because I can create pictures in my mind. People generally think in pictures, but through the wording, I can create the pictures in my mind of how I would like the world to look like or what I want for my personal life.
The more specific you are and the more specific you describe that and the clearer the vision you have, the clearer the vision becomes. In all honesty, for a personal vision I would write a story and really get specific about, “Okay, so where do you want to live? What should that look like? What kind of view do you want to have for example? And where do you want to go on a holiday?” For a business vision, if you really have an outcome for the business, you want to eventually tone it down to one sentence. You want that vision to be marked in your own brain, as well as in your staff’s brain and everybody should have that same idea and that same vision and should be able to voice it if necessary.
I was watching a video that you put out some time ago, where you talked about the power of adjectives and the power of describing. You used the example of a table. So, let’s just say you’re selling a table. I doubt many people who are listening are selling many tables, unless they’re selling an extra one on Craigslist or something. That’s a used website here in the United States. Do you guys have Craigslist there?
We actually have our own versions of it.
There you go. So, if I’m talking about a table and let’s just go with this example to give the idea for a moment. If I’m selling a table, tell me about all the different types of tables that would be attractive to a different audience.
Okay, so I’m just trying to picture it, you know? And if I want to create a picture of that table, I need a number of variables that need to be defined. Think of size. Think of height. Think of the shape of it. Those are all elements that you could describe in words that will help me create an image in my mind. When it comes to something tangible like a table, obviously there will be a picture on the Craigslist. But if you don’t have a picture, you want the words to match. It’s not just that because like you said, the adjectives have a massive impact. Is it going to be a really robust table? Or is it going to be a refined table? Is it a very elegant side table perhaps? So, that’s another word, the category; what kind of category would it fit in?
In that video that you’re referring to, I was specifically talking about the adjectives to describe the style. And then there’s of course, the colors. Anything that relates to the visual description of that table, whether its color, shape, size, measurements, but the style as well. Anything that will define if people are going to buy it or not. And having worked in fashion and lifestyle for a long time and interior design as well, I would always pay attention to those details. And of course, there are some of the factual information; size and so on. But the adjectives give the little bit of magic to it.
It’s all painting a picture. I love how you said that. Basically, the words are painting a picture in our mind.
Yeah, and the way that you can also do that with something other than just an object, is to use all the five senses. So, the better you incorporate senses and sensory experiences in language, you can actually put people in an imaginative situation. You can take them somewhere. It’s like a dream that you put them in through words and it’s wonderful what words can do. And if you do that correctly, those words can actually take you to a different part of your brain, so that you start feeling it instead of just reading it.
I know you’ve got an e-book available to us. Tell us more about the name of that and where we can get that.
Right, it’s called What’s Your Point, Dude? And the point is an acronym actually. It’s all about how you get your point across. Be very clear on your message. You can find it on my website www.beabrandrebel.com. There is an English version. At the moment, I know that I shouldn’t be saying it, but they’re repairing it. There were some issues with my website, but if I’m not mistaken, you can still just click the button and get the copy in your mailbox and you will automatically get the copy as well as a few videos to help you write your own point, so that you can get your point across.
On your website on the upper right, you can click on a flag and that changes the language to English. I was watching one of your videos and it started out in English and then you switched to a different language and I started feeling like, “Wait, wait, wait. Am I having a stroke right now? What’s going on?” You speak in both languages. You just go back and forth. I love that.
Yeah. To be honest, ever since I was thirteen, I was one of the first in my country to do a bilingual education. It was a very new thing and right now it’s a little bit more mainstream but at that time it was just an experiment of allowing kids to get 50% of all their subjects in English. So, half of my school time was speaking English. I’m very happy I was one of the first to do that and get that opportunity. So, it’s a natural thing for me, basically.
If there is a brand or someone who is listening who owns a company or who works with a company in terms of their marketing department and they want to work with you; I’m assuming you’ll work with people no matter where they are in the globe. Is that true?
Yeah, it’s getting more and more true. I’ve been working with some people in Scotland and England and of course in the Netherlands. I’ve just been to Florida to speak on stage in front of a number people and I know that there’s going to be people I’ll be working with in the future as well.
Generally, a one to one with me and doing the brand strategy and so on, that would take up a lot of time. But I already have an international course that’s available in English, so that’s the way that I can scale up my time and allow people everywhere in the world to work with me. That’s done through my online academy. I don’t have to explain to you; you have that as well of course.
That’s great. What’s the name of that just so people have it in their mind?
The course that I have online right now is the How to Create Compelling Content for Your Brand. I’ve just launched it. We’re updating the sales page and it’s going to be online really soon at www.beabrandrebel.com. That’s basically where you can find anything and it’s available in English.
Great, we’ll link to that in the show notes and make sure that people have access to that and the e-book. Michelle, thank you so much for not only talking about words but also part of your story and how that’s impacted the way that you see yourself. I think there’s so much that we can learn from that. Thank you.
Thank you. I was very honored to be here, thank you. Thank you very much for having me.