Become a Free Range Brand
For many years, the big brands dominated powerfully over all. Little-known brands struggled to be noticed, hoping for shelf space or a PR miracle that would catapult them to the top.
That’s all changed now says Nicole Ertas, who argues that it’s easier for a challenger brand to gain a following even without the massive marketing budget of the biggest players.
Good news for the smaller players and for personal branding, too.
With little money and recognition, how do the challengers gain traction?
And what must the big names do to respond?
Nicole Ertas is the founder and president of The Ertas Group and author of Free Range Brands. She has helped build some of the world’s most influential brands. I recently asked her to share her branding insights.
“Authenticity can’t be claimed on the surface, it needs to be practiced.” -Nicole Ertas
Design for the Unpredictable
What is a Free Range Brand?
The big legacy brands we’ve known forever were built in an era of one-way, controlled communication. TV, print, radio, retail distribution were all very controlled and well planned by big brands with big money, locking challenger brands out.
But today, not only have the barriers lowered for the challenger brands, these brands are able to engage communities in ways the big brands don’t know how. The big brands aren’t set up for this and are quickly losing relevancy.
The brands that are thriving in this new world have made the shift from the old-world model of planning for control to the new world model of planning for unpredictability. In fact, they are designed for unpredictability. They are set up to let go. I call these the Free Range Brands.
“A brand must be timeless and trendy at the same time.” -Nicole Ertas
Transform Your Brand
How can a brand set itself up to navigate unpredictability and become more relevant?
Today’s consumers demand brands that embrace an unwavering authentic core, but in a hyper-relevant way. This essentially means that a brand has to be timeless and trendy at the same time. Unchanging yet reimagined constantly. This is what the old-school marketing models don’t account for.
The shift to going Free Range is simple, but strategically profound. It requires transforming your Brand Equity to Brand Currency. Free Range Brands trade in Brand Currency. This is the new mode of engagement, and one that is true to what a brand stands for.
Brand Currency is the dynamic offspring of Brand Equity. It allows your brand to reinvent itself to become relevant without losing its authenticity. By transforming Brand Equity into Brand Currency, brands become agile in an unpredictable marketing environment where leaders need to make decisions quickly without jeopardizing brand value.
“Brand currency is the dynamic offspring of brand equity.” -Nicole Ertas
4 Consumer Personas to Understand
You reveal 4 consumer personas who each interact with brands in a different way. Tell us about them
The key is in shifting your mindset from making the brand the hero to creating entry points for a consumer to become the hero. From brand purpose to consumer purpose, this is how you build community.
There are 4 powerful ways a consumer interacts with a brand – and they can be understood through distinct personas. They are: LORDS, LOVERS, HACKERS, and HAWKS
LORDS: Are the modern-day influencer. In the past, influencers used to be celebrities. Today, everyone has some form of a following. These are the Lords. They seek to be recognized and seen by their followers.
LOVERS: All brands are headed towards commoditization. This raises the bar for marketers to build a brand over a product. Lovers connect on values. What does your brand stand for that your audience values beyond functional benefits?
HACKERS: Modern day consumers think if brands are for them, then they should have every opportunity to interact and co-create. Brands that don’t let consumers “in” are missing a profound opportunity to connect.
HAWKS: Transparency has unleashed generations of distrust of companies. Now the Hawks are in power, and they know it. You need to think about everything from sourcing to hiring to ingredients, or the Hawks will unleash with little warning.
How can marketers use these archetypes to build their brand plans?
LORDS value discovery. They want to elevate their own status with insights or information that isn’t available to everyone. How can you as a brand do that for them and bring them into your inner circle?
LOVERS value chemistry. They like brands that help them express what they value. This underscores the importance of brand purpose.
HACKERS value interactivity. They want to be a part of the brand community. How can you let them participate in building the brand as a shared asset?
HAWKS value validity. You must practice what you preach.
“Self absorption is anti-seductive; it is a sign of insecurity.” -Robert Greene
Make Your Brand Come Alive
So, how does this all come to life?
We’ve been talking for a long time about creating brand narratives, but in my experience, these narratives tend to settle onto an internal document, a back-of-package message or perhaps the “About Us” tab on a website. They are flat, 2D, static, and one-way communication. New school thinking executed in old school fashion.
A brand narrative is meant to be the experience your consumers have when they engage with your brand. By looking through the lens of these archetypes, brand leaders can open endless entry points to their narrative, which invites consumers in versus talks at them—a very different approach than the old-school broadcast era we grew up in.
In fact, a true Free Range Brand is one where the community creates the brand narrative, and the brand owner facilitates the conversations. Activating the 4 archetypes brings a brand narrative into the experience of the consumer.
- Lords share the story;
- Hackers illustrate the story;
- Hawks validate the story;
- And Lovers see themselves in the story.
Building a marketing plan to deliver on these 4 archetypes and their needs will quickly reveal the right channels, tactics, and platforms that should be used and how to use them. And that’s how you turn Brand Equity into Brand Currency. That’s how you set your brand up to let go.
“Corporate responsibility is now cost of entry.” -Nicole Ertas
Would you share an example of one company you think who is doing it all right?
I think Heineken is way ahead of the curve.
Heineken’s marketing has been on a long run of cultivating Lovers with its Open your World platform. And in 2016, they took it to a level few organizations have yet to go: They elevated the Free Range Heineken brand to create a Free Range Organization.
“Go Places” is Heineken’s recruiting campaign that entices Lovers to “follow their heart” to a culture (not a company) that will open their world to new discoveries. It’s not a predefined destination. The brand and the organization don’t solve problems with finite solutions but let the audience imagine a world with themselves in it.
Employers can learn from consumer marketers on building brands to make the leap from being an old school employer to a Free Range organization. It requires a re-imagination of communications from functional benefits such as job descriptions, career paths, and pay grades to experiential platforms that engage emotionally.
By creating a culture and communication system that prioritizes organizational integrity, openness to re-imagination, and opportunities for impact and individual expression, employers can create Free Range Organizations, which then cultivate Free Range Brands.
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