Interview | 17 Aug 2022

Freelance Spotlight with Sophia Ahrel, Brand Strategist

Posted in Marketing, Freelancer, Motivation & inspiration, Freelancer's stories, Interview,

This month we interviewed Brand Strategist Sophia Ahrel. Sophia has over 20 years working with some of the leading tech brands and shares her experience with developing Spotify’s go-to-market plan. She discusses the unique projects she’s worked on via The Work Crowd, her experience working across different markets and gives her advice for aspiring freelancers.

Tell us a bit about what you do?

For the past 20+ years, I have been a brand strategist with the privilege to work alongside tech investors, boards and entrepreneurial leadership teams on their exciting growth journeys.  

Whilst an economist and linguist by education, I’m a techie at heart, and love nothing more than sinking my teeth into innovation and ideation opportunities that has impact on the environment and the planet – I am lucky to have worked with smart teams and market creators whose desire is to come up with new solutions with purpose.

How long have you been a freelancer?

I have been freelancing since 2007. First as a portfolio CMO and now as a brand strategist and board advisor for past 3 years.

You’ve previously worked on growth strategies for some of the world’s leading tech brands such as Spotify and Skype, can you share any growth marketing advice for start-ups in this industry?

My approach is simple – always customer centric and data lead. When I help build and create new brands, I use the same methodology for all types big and small – starting with the persona mapping to understand what their needs /wants /pain points for all the stakeholders – not just the buyers. As I specialise in growth strategy  – which really profitable revenue and all about how to develop and extend existing brands to better engage with new audiences, find new customers, new markets or new products. The trick is to absolutely nail the value you create and how this is perceived by your users and customer or stake holders. Knowing and articulating your value propositions helps you work out your brand positioning, your story, and the culture of your brand – if you don’t know and you cannot articulate this, you struggle to differentiate yourself or even get your voice heard – people buy brands with a strong personality. When advising Spotify as a start up to go to market outside Sweden – Spotify team were clear on their value propositions and to whom they wanted to appeal: they had created a music platform that offers five primary value propositions: accessibility, pricing, customisation, performance, and brand/status. The company creates accessibility by providing music artists with a means to earn money through their music. The true value creation here is not for the users we discovered, it is for the music artists by cutting out a whole distribution network in the supply chain and thus give more margin back to music makers. Total disruption!

Why did you decide to go self-employed?

When my youngest daughter was born, I was working as CMO in a mobile gaming tech start up. I was flying around the world with 3 children under the age of 4, and I wanted to spend more time with my family but still work with exciting tech leaders and their ventures. I took my first maternity leave for 12 months and set out on my own.

How has The Work Crowd helped you as a freelancer? And what kind of clients/projects have you worked on through The Work Crowd?

It offers a greater reach for me and quick and easy access to new briefs and new opportunities. Especially helpful for me if I have time between long term assignments and I want to back fill with a shorter project. I currently have two Work Crowd client projects – both early stage tech – one a complete start up where we are building the brand, the value propositions and marketing tech stack from scratch – the other a more mature tech platform where I advise the leadership and marketing team on go to market strategy and how to build a marketing function that can scale. Both really smart and innovative founders and management teams with cool and unique platforms.

As a native speaker in both English and Swedish, you currently operate in both these countries – can you share your experience freelancing across different markets?

Post pandemic portfolio careers mean the opportunity to work from anywhere. I have clients in Stockholm, Madrid, London & Amsterdam – who in turn have virtual hybrid or remote marketing teams all over the world. The UK and Netherlands freelance markets are by far the biggest and fastest growing, however, in Sweden and across Scandinavia, where digitalisation is very mature, there appear to be a shortage of certain marketing skills, digital, ABM and content marketing (in English) especially. In Spain, where freelance marketers, are less common, or well established, the skill shortage in brand communications, English content creation and performance marketing drive the market to seek for experts further afield.

What advice would you give to aspiring marketing freelancers?

I’d say Jump in!

Find yourself a mentor – CIM and other organisations offer these programmes or ask your network on LinkedIn. Knowledge economy is here to stay, and you can tap into experts very easily. Now is a good time as many inhouse marketing teams are preparing for economic down turns, freelancing becomes an attractive option to heavy marketing head counts and retained agencies.


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