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.

 

Why Leaders Must Deliver on Promises

Setting Expectations

Recently, I purchased a gift basket for an employee who goes above and beyond, day after day. She never seeks praise, but quietly serves others in a way that is admirable. She consistently demonstrates the 9 Qualities of A Servant Leader. The basket we picked was pictured on the website and looked like this:

basket2

 

Yum, right? Full of fresh fruit and other goodies, we thought it would demonstrate some small measure of gratitude for all she has done for others. That picture set our expectations and it seemed a fitting thank you.

 

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” –Steve Martin

 

Unexpected Disappointments

When she received it, she was grateful. That’s who she is, part of what makes her successful. But then she took a picture of the basket, and I did a double-take. Because here is what it looked like:

basket1

Not exactly as advertised, huh?

We were shocked.

A brand isn’t a logo. A brand is a promise. It’s an experience.

 

“Building a brand is about a thousand little new touches.” -Eric Ryan

 

This particular business has destroyed its reputation with the experience.

We all know that this destruction can happen with corporate brands. It can also happen with personal brands:

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

10 Laws of Trust: Build the Bonds That Make A Business Great

Building the Bonds that Make a Business Great

Trust is vitally important to creating sustainable results.

If you’re a leader, you know how important it is to create and maintain a culture of trust. But knowing it and doing it are different. How do leaders at all levels of an organization make this a reality?

 

“Trust is the operating system for a life well-lived.” –Joel Peterson

 

JetBlue Chairman Joel Peterson’s career has provided him a window into the importance of trust. In addition to his role at JetBlue, Joel is a consulting professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and chairman of an investment firm. His new book,The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds that Make a Business Great, is an exceptionally great read.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Joel about all things “trust.”

 

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” –George MacDonald

 

Increase Your Trust

What’s the Joel Peterson definition of trust?

Empowering and turning over control to another person. It takes the same leap of faith as when we trust a pilot to fly a plane or a surgeon to operate on us. We give trust in increments, measure results, assess risks and grant more trust until we find we’ve extended our reach, expanded our horizons and found greater joy in our interactions with others.

 

“Accountability is the requisite companion to empowerment.” –Joel Peterson

 

You’ve seen the inside of many organizations and leadership teams from your vantage point as Chairman, as professor, as an investor, as a CFO, etc. When you first walk into an organization, what signs do you see that would lead you to say, “This is an organization with a high degree of trust?”

Surprisingly, high trust organizations are ones with conflict – with respectful disagreements that are ventilated, addressed and put to bed so they don’t fester underground. The best ideas win, not the most powerful or senior people. And they’re typically places where there’s humor, self-deprecation, stories, traditions and people who genuinely like each other.

 

“A man who trusts nobody is apt to be a man nobody trusts.” –Harold Macmillan

 

Cultivate a Culture of Trust

What’s a leader’s role in cultivating a culture of trust? How have you seen this go wrong?

The leader’s role is vital. An EVP at Cisco once told me that she found she couldn’t be happier than her unhappiest child. In like manner, an organization’s boundary of trust is set by its leader. It’ll never expand beyond the leader’s trustworthiness. If he or she has a big “say-do gap,” the contagion will spread. If leaders compartmentalize their lives and file violations of trust under the “private label,” they’ll be mistrusted. People are smart. They’ll figure it out, and it’s not long before their wariness infects everyone and everything. As fear takes over, people become less likely to innovate, to take risks, to trust. This can either explode in trust-destroying outcomes such as the recent VW scandal or end up in bureaucratic inaction, caution and failure to perform such as at the Veterans’ Administration.

 

“In difficult times, trust is a leader’s most potent currency.” –Joel Peterson

 

How is respect linked to trust? How do you show respect?      

Respect is the medium of exchange between parties that are building trust. A failure to show respect is a trust show-stopper – even if you’re not the person who is being treated disrespectfully. This extends from teammates to suppliers to lenders to shareholders to customer. Nothing shows greater respect for another than listening to them. It’s at the heart of customer service and team-building. I think of it as listening without agenda, listening to understand, not to respond, to agree or disagree, not until there’s a break so I can respond.

 

“In a trust-driven culture, respect is prized at every level.” –Joel Peterson