Prepare Your Brand for Unpredictability

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?

unnamed-2The 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

Free Range BrandsYou 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 to Make Successful Connections in the New Global Era

How to Make a Successful Culture Crossing 

We live in an increasingly connected world. That much we all know. As a regular globetrotter, I know how easy it is to cross borders.

But it’s not always so easy to understand each other.

Often I see how a phrase in one language doesn’t translate to another. Try speaking on stage and using a gesture that is common in one country and see how it offends an audience in another. Technology and travel have moved faster than our understanding of cultural differences.

That’s why I loved reading strategic management consultant Michael Landers new book Culture Crossing: Discover the Key to Making Successful Connections in the new Global Era. It’s an extraordinary look into our differences. Michael provides insights into how we can create more effective interactions and thus achieve greater success in working with each other. I talked with him about his extensive work.

 

Leadership Tip: Be mindful of your own cultural programming when working with others.

 

Avoid a Culture Crash

What’s a culture crash?

Every time people from different cultures interact, a culture crossing occurs. When you get a culture connection, things go well, and the impact you have on each other matches your intentions. But there can also be a culture crash,  a phenomenon that occurs when someone from one culture unintentionally confuses, frustrates, or offends a person from another culture. Typically when these occur, people’s intentions are not in alignment with the impact they may be having on each other.

 

Would you share a high-profile example or two?  Some more recent culture crashes that come to mind include when Microsoft founder Bill Gates insulted the South Korean president by keeping one hand in his pocket while shaking her hand, a sign of disprespect in South Korea, or  when LeBron James inadvertently disrespected Princess Kate (and much of the U.K.) by slinging his arm around her for a photo op.

 

Recognize Your Own Cultural Programming

Can you share a few simple culture crash–minimizing techniques?

There is a three-step method that can apply in many situations that helps people to take some of the “cultural reflex” out of the equation and set themselves up for success.  It’s the same method I share with all my clients:

  1. Recognize your own cultural programming.
  2. Open your mind to other ways of perceiving or approaching a situation.
  3. Identify opportunities to adapt your response to optimize results.

The methodology is widely applicable, whether the goal is to increase sales, build strategic partnerships lead people/teams, or maximize the potential of a diverse customer base.   The more you search through your cultural baggage and recognize your own cultural programming (Step 1), the easier it will become to put the next two steps into action. Getting to the bottom of your bag won’t happen overnight. I’ve been at it for several decades, and I still regularly discover new aspects of my cultural programming.

 

Acknowledge You’re in the Dark

12 Ways Brands Get Off Track

12 Sins of Branding

Companies, like people, can go off track. A simple error compounds. The wrong attitude takes root. A poorly designed strategy is implemented. Perhaps the focus is just a bit off, sending everything off course. It happens.

What do you do if you are off track? How do you recognize the signs?

There are two branding experts that I turn to when it comes to branding and revitalizing brands: Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. They not only have the experience, but their advice is my favorite kind: practical and actionable. I’m not one for studying theories that I can’t immediately use.

I recently spoke with the authors about the troubling behaviors and attitudes that cause companies to mess up their brand. They have identified 12 ways that brands go awry. Their updated book on branding, Six Rules of Brand Revitalization, is a must-read on the subject.

 

“Arrogance leads to complacency which destroys innovation and leaves you out of date.”

 

The Arrogance of Success

How do you pull a culture out of arrogance, especially if they don’t realize it?

Often it takes a sense of urgency, a perception of an impending crisis. Change is difficult. An arrogant culture resists change until it seems that there is no option. Change or die. Dramatize the need for change. The most dangerous disease is complacency. Arrogance can lead to complacency. Complacency can keep your eyes closed to innovation and leave you out of date with your customers. The common expression, “Go back to basics,” is often used to defend resisting change. Going backwards will not guide marketers how to best go forward.

 

“Culture change is led from the top. The leader sets the tone.”

 

Culture change is led from the top. The leader sets the tone. Sometimes a leadership change is necessary. This is what happened at McDonald’s in 2002. The new leadership immediately dramatized the need for change. Jim Cantalupo, the new CEO, created a sense of urgency.

We recommend the four steps of Breaking the LOCK on Brand Troubles: Fix Leadership; then leadership can fix the Organization alignment. Cultural change is an imperative. Knowledge is a powerful force. Become a learning culture…

 

12 Branding Sins

1: The arrogance of success

2: The comfort of complacency

3: The building of organizational barriers and bureaucratic processes

4: The focus on analyst satisfaction rather than on customer satisfaction

5: The belief that what worked yesterday will work today

6: The failure to innovate

7: The lack of focus on the core customer

8: The backtracking to basics

9: The loss of relevance

10: The lack of a coherent Plan to Win

11: The lack of a balanced Brand-Business Scorecard

12: The disregard for the changing world

 

 

Is there one that is most often the culprit in brand failures?

As we say in the book, the Twelve Tendencies for Trouble are not independent of each other. These are all interconnected forces. A company that succumbs to one seems to succumb to more than one. There is no single culprit. Each of the Twelve Tendencies for Trouble must be avoided.

 

“Problem solution is the most effective way to stay relevant.”

 

Encourage a Culture of Innovation

How to Avoid the Most Common Branding Mistakes

6 Rules of Brand Revitalization

 

How do you keep a brand relevant?

 

If you are looking to develop a strong global brand, you will find two names consistently mentioned as “go-to” experts: Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. They have just released a second edition of their book on branding, Six Rules of Brand Revitalization.

If you need to revitalize a brand, or if you are looking to avoid the pitfalls others have made, this book is a blueprint to follow for building a brand.

 

“Without trust, there can be no brand loyalty.” -Light / Kiddon

 

I recently spoke with the authors about their new book and the rules of branding.

 

6 Rules of Brand Revitalization

 

1. Refocus the organization.

Where do most corporate leaders get it wrong?

They tend to believe that “refocus” can happen through tools and templates and HR seminars. Refocus is more than filling in the blanks and talking the talk. When there is a conflict between strategy and culture, culture wins. A commitment to change requires refocusing of the cultural mindset that emanates from the top down. Merely embarking on a training program to encourage a focus on new tools, templates, and techniques can distract from the need to accomplish both the behavioral and attitudinal modifications that foster culture change.

 

“Refocusing an organization around common goals is the first step for brand revitalization.” -Light / Kiddon

 

6 Rules of Brand Revitalization

Rule 1: Refocus the organization

Rule 2: Restore brand relevance

Rule 3: Reinvent the brand experience

Rule 4: Reinforce a results culture

Rule 5: Rebuild brand trust

Rule 6: Realize global alignment

 

What tip would you provide to a leadership team in the midst of this refocus?

Leaders are different from commanders. Commanders manage by telling people what to do. They create acceptors. Leaders create believers. Acceptors go through the motions complying with the new processes and behaviors. Believers have true commitment that this refocus is a better path to a successful future. Acceptors are not the same as adherents. The leader must be the one to set the tone and drive the change for all to see and emulate. Leaders must demonstrate commitment if they expect people to become believers in the new world.

 

“The leader must set the tone and drive change.” -Light / Kiddon

 

  

2. Restore brand relevance.

What are the best ways to stay on top of changing customer expectations?

Stay up-to-date with all available information. Read a variety of sources, not just in your business’ field but also across many disciplines. Include regular market research reports. But also include what is happening in the world around us. Be observant. Be informed. Be open to new ideas.

In this world of access to “big data’” there is now a focus on data analytics. Analysis can tell us about what is happening today. Analysis is about the decomposition of data. But real insight does not come from analysis. It comes from creative synthesis. Analysis is about taking data apart. Synthesis is about putting together disparate sources of information in original ways. Synthesis is about detecting patterns that others fail to see. Keeping a brand relevant will involve both analysis and synthesis. Make sure that the organization is open and conducive to creative synthesis.

 

3. Reinvent the brand experience.

How do you define a brand experience?

The total brand experience includes consideration, shopping, purchase, use, service, online, offline, brand communications, handling of customer complaints, and so on. Every touch point with the customer is a part of the total brand experience. It includes every aspect of the brand promise: functional benefits, emotional and social rewards, solutions to problems, and so forth.

 

“Every touch point with the customer is a part of the total brand experience.” -Light / Kiddon

 

How fast can a brand innovate and reinvent?

Key Benefits of Internal Brand Building

This is a guest post by Simone Smith, a writer at Online Courses Australia. She believes that inspiring company culture and work-life balance are keys to success.

Internal Branding Matters

Internal branding refers to the process of providing employees with the training and education they need to support, understand, protect, and advocate for your brand’s mission. A critical part of expanding a successful business is internal branding.

In fact, internal branding should matter to companies of all sizes, from the solo professional to the Fortune 500 company. The reason for this is very basic: If you and your employees can’t fully get behind and believe in your brand, how can you expect complete strangers to become lifelong loyal customers?

 

“Strong brands are built on unshakable values and authenticity.” -Simone Smith


Here are some of the key benefits of internal branding for your company:

Develop a relationship between the brand and employees

With internal branding, you are essentially handing your employees the keys to unlocking the secret to the mystery of how they are integral to the overall company mission as well as the vision for the brand. Employees discover how the job they do affects how the brand is viewed by customers.

 

Develop better relations between coworkers

Shared goals between coworkers are a proven way to bring people together to create a cohesive team. The same can be said for sharing a powerful brand vision. When employees share a strong belief in what they are working toward, productivity and morale go way up. Employees also become more vocal advocates for the brand.

 

Improve hiring and retention

Believing in the brand’s promise and feeling passionate about being an important member of the team that helps bring that brand’s promise into reality for the customers helps employees remain loyal to the company. When a company gains a reputation for having happy, passionate employees, it is easier to keep people from leaving to explore other opportunities. Likewise, it is so much easier to attract great talent when prospective employees know they will be treated well and enjoy working in an encouraging, community-like atmosphere.

 

Internal branding builds character within an organization

Strong brands are built on unshakable values and authenticity. When a brand spreads its message and vision internally, employees are encouraged to adopt the same values the company has shown that they prize. This makes it less likely that employees will act in ways that are counter to the brand’s accepted culture and values. This promises a more consistent brand experience for every customer who buys from you.

 

“If you and your employees don’t believe in your brand, how can you expect strangers to become lifelong customers?” -Simone Smith