The Brand Advantage of FreeThinkers

One of my favorite free thinking entrepreneurs is Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. I was reminded again how much of a free thinker he is after hearing him interviewed on NPR’s “How I Built That” podcast. Give it a listen here.


Two particular statements he made really jumped out at me:


“When I have an idea, I immediately take steps forward. If it feels right, I keep going.”


“We don’t set revenue goals. We let our customers decide how much money we’re going to make.”


The first statement is about taking risks, trusting your intuition, being bold – all traits of a freethinker. The second statement is a full acceptance that your value is determined by your customers, not you. It struck me how these two principles have driven Patagonia to unprecedented heights to become one of the world’s most respected brands.


This got me thinking about how being a freethinker provides a number of intrinsic – and often unexpected – brand advantages.


    • You are an original thinker. You are not following someone else’s formula – nor are you just blindly paving your own way. This means that you will always be producing and offering original ideas, products, services. You will learn from failures – yours and others. Differentiation will be a natural extension of being an original thinker. It will make you much less susceptible to comparison, copying and co-opting.

    • You attract other freethinkers.  Being a freethinker gives you a natural, organic audience to attract – customers, employees, influencers. You will attract – without spending money on advertising – like-minded people who have an affinity for the unique, the original, the unorthodox. Being a freethinker also repels people that are not interested in these things – or might be down right offended by your brand.


  • You see humans. In the 21st century, there really is no more B2B or B2C – there’s just human-to-human (H2H). The H2H mindset is an inherent trait of freethinkers. They don’t see themselves and others as objects. They see the human behind the customer, the employee, the influencer. This keeps their language simple and conversational. It eliminates the temptation of using manipulation and persuasion in sales and marketing. It produces an aroma of authenticity that can never be purchased or manufactured.

  • You will organize around your mission. So many businesses are organized around their business model. This makes the organization much more inflexible to adapting and improvising. It puts the organization at the mercy of market shifts, cheaper or louder competitors. Freethinkers organize their businesses around the mission. Not the dusty, dated mission statement crafted in a conference room by a committee – but the eternal flame of purpose that drives decisions, behaviors, culture, products. This mission can never be copied or re-positioned by the competition. This mission will endure any economic changes.

  • Your brand becomes the must-have in your industry. Because most companies are run by institutional thinkers (my definition for the opposite of a freethinker), most companies are not doing things that are all that original or unique. So they have to purchase attention – with advertising, discounts, image management. Because of their unconventional and non-conforming ways, freethinkers create not just the best products – they create the must-have products. This triggers word-of-mouth, organic reputation and a natural following – none of which can be bought.


Final thought …


Even freethinkers can fall into drift mode and complacency with their brands. Here are a few areas to keep an eye on: 1) stale, date visuals, 2) use of cliches in messaging 3) sameness in any areas of sales or marketing.


If you adopt the five advantages described above and keep an eye on the drift mode areas above, your brand and your business will thrive.

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