Put Your Morals Where Your Mouth Is

05.30.17 / David Lemley

Contribution. There’s a big difference between a cause and a claim. You can make a claim, but you have to live a cause.

In part one of this article, I discussed the concepts of branded ritual as tools for marketers who are tasked with taking a brand stand they can uniquely own. Then, in part two, I demonstrated the value of understanding your archetype to build brand strategy. In part three we will explore the importance of contribution as a differentiating brand strategy and powerful tool in self-selection.

With declining trust in traditional institutions, people today are increasingly using brands and consumption to express their identity and signal their values. People come together under a shared set of values or emotions.

People use brands as badges, but more importantly, most people connect with brands in ways that they traditionally would have with their church, hometown, or alma mater. The brands people choose are important signals to their identities but are also components of their shared activities and social lives.

It seems rather simple (albeit heavy-handed religious zealotry) to elevate one’s value system to a manifesto. The benefits are often underestimated by traditional marketers:

  • Attract and converse with people that are moved by your bold declarations.
  • Repel those who disagree or are unmoved by your position.

By leading many brave organizations through the process (and then finally having the nerve to follow through for my own organization) I have learned that you will know you are on the right path when it looks like this.

Deep and painful soul-searching in the quest for more relevance. This leads to…

Doubt and fear that I may have taken the wormhole that is the equivalent to peeing my pants in a dark suit –feels warm for awhile but nobody notices.

Good news: Fear almost instantly gives way to the new opportunities and future I see by having a self-selecting clientele.

Clarity on new business opportunities, product, and services that I can and should add to support the way I am helping make a difference for people.

Effective marketing because I know who I am speaking to, who I have excommunicated (which is equally important) as well as those who have left the church because we are no longer ideologically compatible.

Why don’t more brand managers do this?

Based on personal witness validated from my peers, I think it comes down to lack.

Lack of authority. Not many marketers are allowed to redirect the soul of the organization to match their own values. It’s better and possible if what you believe aligns with the founder of your organization. That said, I have stood inside the walls of P&G and witnessed miracles based upon values (Million-ways-of-motherhood and Unicef).

Lack of originality. I’ve seen a lot of “me too” in brands who tell us they are satisfied with their postioning. This is usually due to having a cookie cutter mentality and in some cases peeking too frequently at our neighbor’s paper. The truth is that if your causes and beliefs are similar to others it still takes vision to have your translation show up as original. The key lies deeply rooted in the soul of your organization. Honesty and persistency will manifest themselves in unique and meaningful ways.

Lack of passion. Many organizations put so much short term performance pressure on marketers that they inadvertently suck the life out of their people. These folks start to believe they can no longer afford their own values. Over time this creates an unhealthy culture that can degrade even the strongest brands.

Making the case for contribution as brand strategy.

The spiritual case for contribution

People are hungry and looking for meaning in our increasingly detached world. Obvious examples, including our clients PCC, REI and KIND, operate this way instinctively. They never had to make the decision to market and brand build around a higher calling because their battle cry is inherent to their business model.

But even those of us who are working with live ammo and balancing the pressure of daily performance should take heart. Based on my work with many leaders at times of transition, I can tell you that when they consider their legacy (personally and that of their brand during their watch), not a single leader cites economic growth of the business as the top goal. In fact, every one of them talked to me about their contribution to other people‘s lives.

The cultural case for contribution

Two words. Employee engagement. People want to work somewhere where the employees are pumped about their mission. Contribution focused businesses by far have mission statements that go way beyond the typical check list of why a mission statement exists.

Leading mangement guru, David Maister put it like this: “It’s about the wow factor.” People are looking to belong to something and are looking for employment that contributes to their lives far more deeply than the paycheck ever could. I took this to heart as our own manifesto demonstrates.

The financial case for contribution

Today many companies are making efforts to put mindful and sustainable business practices into action. Yet despite daily stories of consumer activism, many still ask the important question: Does caring convert into action when it comes down to a buying decision? New data from Google and Nielsen find that the answer is yes for a growing number of consumers around the world.

Being a meaningful brand is not only good for your market and the community at large, it’s also good for your bottom line. In addition to outperforming their competitors in traditional brand measures such as esteem, differentiation and awareness, the top 20% of brands also dramatically outperform financial leaders across a spectrum of industries. In fact, according to Meaningful Brands those brands ranked as Meaningful enjoy financial results that exceed those of top hedge funds. These are financial advantages that are durable and sustainable.

So how does a brand leader get to meaning?

Read. A lot. Take time to reflect on what the world would be like if your brand didn’t exist. Keeping brainstorming until the answer arrives. If you need help, Tony Robbins is the Freud of our generation.

People wouldn’t care if 92% of brands disappeared.

A new study from Meaningful Brands, shows that in Europe and the U.S., people would not care if 92% of brands disappeared. Profit is not bad. In fact, for business, it is kind of like oxygen is for humans. But humans are the life force of business. And not many people in today’s workforce are inspired to come to work for a corporation that could give a rip about its people.

As you think about how to transform into one of the 8% of brands people would miss or care about, I share an example of how not to make it. I recently sat in a coffee chain that was just purchased by new owners and overheard the leadership saying something to the effect of not giving a fly-f about the baristas.

Let’s peek inside the café and see what is going on.

  • Everyone hates everyone.
  • There are only 5 customers. All old white guys getting refills of drip.
  • Nobody buys the fake Italian espresso or the hipster inspired window graphics.
  • The pastry case feels day old even though I witnessed today’s delivery.
  • The actual coffee knowledge of the folks working the counter is zilch.

Meanwhile down the block in all 5 directions, Starbucks (Mission: Nurture the world one cup at a time) and 2 indie coffee houses are jammed to the point that getting a table is almost aerobic.

Beyond obvious differences why is everyone else winning? They have taken the time and steps to understand why they exist outside of making money.

3 ways to fast-track the purpose conversation in your organization.

1. Stand for something that would be missed if/when it disappears.

Think Patagonia’s take on environmentalism and meaningful capitalism. Don’t buy this shirt.

2. Right a wrong.

Badge brand owners have to be able to stand up and fight—against wrong-headed ideas, fads and ideas that don’t align with your brand. The most meanigful of these take on human-centered problems.

3. Focus not on what you make, but on what you make happen.

Do something counter intuitive to business: give. Your brand must get in touch with our twenty-first century definition of value: “What I get must be greater than what I give.”

Chipotle thrives by taking this approach. They didn’t let their size, their corporate roots or their competition dictate who they want to be in the world or what they want to contribute. And as a result, they are seen as leading the quest for wholesome and sustainable food.

Good for people. Good for the world. Good for business.

People. Purpose. Profits. However you say it, meaning is the new black and the winning brands of the future have triple bottom lines. The degree to which a brand’s purpose influences purchases and loyalty is jaw dropping. Contribution is quickly becoming table stakes for long-term market leadership. But for those brands that have defined their higher purpose, who view customers as people and partners in change, the future is bright.

Tell me again, why does your brand exist?

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