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How to Market the Measles

Who would have ever thought profit driven brands and advertisers would seem more noble than our family doctors and the scientific community?

Well that’s just what’s happening as this vaccination debate unfolds.

In everyday consumer marketing, the veil of non-transparency has been lifted on everything from cleaning products to food. And it didn’t just happen because of the advent of social media. It has been happening around kitchen tables for generations in the form of curiosity of what we’re really “consuming.”

Kitchen table curiosity led to questions, which, when buried in the customer call center, ignored or responded to with a form letter, led to mistrust.

Enter Social Media: kitchen tables turned into global pulpits and a whole new world of marketing was born, led by a “noble purpose” and supported by full transparency. Consumer curiosity made our world a better place by holding our industries to a higher standard.

So, let’s take a journey back in time ….

Back in the day, consumers had to “consume” whatever marketers dished out. Because back then, Brands were the authority and the consumers didn’t have the data or the facts. TRUST was the alchemy that held the whole thing together.

As long as Brands controlled the media and the conversation, there was no room for mistrust. Any consumer dissent was clearly from a fringe fanatic. Consumers just shouldn’t worry their little heads about things like that. The product is from a well-known company of course!

Pro-vaccine or not, the issue isn’t science or data: the issue is product trust. What started as a noble purpose has evolved to vaccines and drugs being rolled out like Hallmark holidays, creating “needs” and then solving for them.

The early scares, real or not, opened questions; the worms of curiosity. Why are there so many now? What’s in this stuff anyway? Do our kids need three times the number of vaccines as we got? Are they ALL necessary? Should we be giving so many at once?

And, just like the 1950’s, out roll the big pedigrees and authorities to silence and shame anyone asking these questions. And for now, these consumers will retreat into their small circles, until one day, they’re not so small anymore and come out with a vengeance, forcing the industry to open the kimono.

This debate isn’t about Measles. It’s about trust. As brands, we had to face our consumers head on. And we were forced to do better. Big pharma: you can run and hide. But in time, you will be hunted down.

Nicole Ertas is the founder of Free-Range Brands, a revolutionary branding model for breakthrough brand engagement in the post-digital world.

Follow on Nicole on Twitter @freerangebrands.

#measles, #vaccines, #bigpharma, #vaccinations

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Hijacking IKEA and the Benefits of Brand-Jacking

Today’s brands are being challenged to interact with consumers in ways that can range anywhere from uncomfortable to illegal. And while most of our brands were built off the Soup Nazi model of marketing (we make – you buy!), today’s consumer expects a seat at the table.

This past year, it was IKEA’s turn to decide how to handle an increasingly “intrusive” community proudly calling themselves IKEA Hackers. IKEA Hackers share a passion for using the simplicity and modular nature of IKEA products to create unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture. The global community congregates onikeahackers.net to showcase and demonstrate how to recreate each unique design. In turn, more IKEA hacking businesses have emerged, hawking hacking accessories to further customize and reinvent standard IKEA furniture. (Check out Bemz,  Panyl,  Superfront  and Prettypegs)

At face value, a community like this can be seen as threatening to any brand: brand images are distorted, brand positionings are undermined and brand personalities become inconsistent.

You’ve been Brand-Jacked. Now what?

IKEA’s initial response was to issue a cease and desist order, demanding that the IKEA logo, the blue and yellow color scheme or anything trademarked by the company, including the ikeahackers.net domain name be taken down.

But what actually may seem threatening, reveals a group of IKEA fanatics, so beholden to the brand, they feel they own it. Jules Yapp, the owner of the site said, “I felt slapped by the person I loved and thought I was doing my best for. I wish IKEA could have looked at it from my side of the fence—that the site has generated tons of publicity and goodwill for their brand, which they did not pay a cent for.” In fact, “Jules” even hacked her name from the Jules Chair from IKEA. Her real name is Mei Mei.

In response to IKEA’s actions, the hacking community became outraged and vocal, attracting a second look from inside IKEA. In an unexpected about-turn, IKEA determined that the company’s initial reaction was not in the spirit of the brand, which is to “make life better for everyone.” For now, IKEA has backed off its hackers. BRAVURA!

So, for the rest of the brands out there: be prepared. Today’s consumer will increasingly try to access more than you may be comfortable sharing. It’s time to think about what you’re willing to let go.

For a great in-depth podcast on IKEA hacking, check out 99% Invisible’s Hacking IKEA.

Follow Nicole Ertas on LinkedIn to receive the upcoming series: Exploring the 10 Road Rules of Free-Range Branding.

The Truth Behind a Bad-Ass Brand

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Today’s brands are in the throes of a mid-life crisis.  Let’s face it – traditional brands were simply not engineered to have purpose or passion – they were created in the problem/solution era of brand development.

So, how does a corporate brand, often void of backstory, purpose and dimension, create a narrative that rivals the young brands that are dripping with that oh-so-desirable sauce of authenticity, passion and relevancy?

Let’s start by not getting too hung up on what our brands really are or aren’t.

We tend to trap ourselves within the confines of whatever established equities we can excavate to reverse-engineer a contrived “purpose.” The result often comes off like a bad comb-over.

The reality is that it simply doesn’t matter what our brands presently stand for, if anything. Nor does it matter if we have baggage, despite our fears. We have more options to build a compelling narrative than we think we do. And Walter White is our mentor.

Don’t unearth it. Command it.

Walter White didn’t let his meek persona or dusty backstory stop him from commanding an entirely new persona, one in which he had no equity or “permission” to become. He simply claimed it as his own and never looked back.

Chipotle follows White’s strategy. Chipotle didn’t feel trapped by its McDonalds heritage, corporate scale, inability to truly source locally, all organic or antibiotic free to shy away from claiming itself as a leader in the voice of natural, local, anti-industrial, ethical consumption. Chipotle simply chose its path and never looked back.

While a case can certainly be made that Chiptole’s positioning is inauthentic to its heritage, sourcing or product offerings, the corporate burrito slinger has truly succeeded in becoming the voice against gluttonous, corporate cow-killers with its Scarecrow campaign and the bold release of its own Hulu series, Farmed & Dangerous.

And the brand isn’t trying to deceive – it is very honest and open about its inability to fully achieve what it preaches due to its size and scale. Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die’s Scarecrow parody perfectly illustrates the irony of Chipotle’s positioning, yet it never really caught fire. At a time when other brands can make one mis-step and find themselves in the slaughterhouse, why is Chipotle immune? “We’ve never professed to being perfect,” says Chris Arnold, Chipotle Spokesman. “Rather, the commitment we have made is to constant improvement.”

Authenticity, it seems, is more of a practice than a goal. A brand choice, rather than a necessary truth. The teeth of transparency may be less vicious when our intentions are pure, even if the result falls short. We root for the committed – even if they can’t win … over the winners who don’t inspire us.

Chipotle carries the torch for all big brands who fear they can’t possibly find a story to tell or a purpose they can truly deliver on. As the leaders, we don’t have to cower in the shadows of a lackluster brand narrative – we simply have to create one and never look back.

So, what did Mr. White teach us?

1. Authenticity does not have to be linked your history to become part of your DNA.

2. It doesn’t have to be inherited or even inherently owned.

3. Your story is simply waiting to be claimed and committed to.

It is a choice. Just be it.

© 2014 Free-Range Brands LLC All Rights Reserved

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