Don’t Just Say Your Brand Is Good – Prove It!

It’s an exciting time to be a marketer. We have more tools to reach customers than ever before, but so often, it’s easy to confuse tactics with strategy. It’s important to take a step back, assess the way the tides are shifting, and determine how we can best keep up with consumers’ expectations.

We are in the midst of an era of rapidly changing consumer values that’s forcing companies to make big changes. Companies that are more prescient and nimble are coming out with big competitive advantages, while the more timid or stubborn are losing their edge. According to Edelman, 87% of global consumers believe that businesses need to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as they do on their business’ interests. However, less than a third believe business is performing well in addressing those societal issues (Edelman 2012).

This indicates a huge performance gap between consumer expectations and what companies are actually doing. It’s led consumers to have a feeling of mistrust for big business, aided largely by corporations who overstate or outright lie about how great they are for the world, a practice that has earned the term “greenwashing.” As a result, marketers often find consumers in a state of mistrust. Fortunately, there’s a silver lining and it paves the way for companies who genuinely want to make a difference and forge new bonds of trust with customers.

The only way to rebuild trust is with genuine values and transparency. You have to prove you’re authentically committed to aligning your brand with consumer values.  Don’t just say your brand is good. Prove it!

Patagonia’s Worn Wear campaign is an excellent example of how to forge trust by aligning with cultural values. The campaign, unveiled on black Friday of 2013, is a passionate plea for anti-consumerism. It celebrates stories of beat up old Patagonia products that have been used (and loved) for years.

  • Brand enthusiasts are encouraged to share the stories of their most beloved, beat up products on the company blog.
  • A partnership with the website, Ifixit produces video tutorials that teach customers how to repair their old Patagonia products.
  • A partnership with Yerdle, a reusable economy app, provides customers with an opportunity to buy second-hand Patagonia products.
  • And if that isn’t enough, the “Worn Wear Repair truck,” can drive by to fix up your old puffy jacket.

Patagonia tapped into a cultural value that is shared among its customers: consumption for its own sake is not gratifying, is overly impactful on the environment and burdensome to future generations.

Wait, what?! Patagonia is paying money to encourage you to buy less stuff? How could this possibly be a winning strategy? Perhaps this strategy will cause Patagonia to miss out on a few short-term sales, but they touched the heart of their loyal customers by appealing to their socially responsible commitment to re-use, which in return is far more profitable.

Patagonia is a dramatic example of how business is changing. Moving forward, success will not come from short-term sales. In our increasingly transparent world where customers share their stories with millions instantly, success will be determined by trust. And trust only comes through a long-term vision of authentic values that align with those of your customers.  Build trust and sales will follow.

How Can Your Brand Do This Successfully?

There is of course no magic formula. We can’t all be like Patagonia and sell more product simply by telling customers to re-use their old stuff. But every company is capable of aligning with a subset of their customers’ values in a way that is authentic and meaningful. Here are four key elements of a values-driven strategy:

1.  Identify The “Sweet Spot”

The “sweet spot” is the intersection between what your customers care about and the higher values your brand can meaningfully stand. For AT&T, it’s eliminating teenage fatalities that occur when texting while driving. For Ben & Jerry’s it’s sustainable agriculture (leading to delicious ingredients). For Patagonia, it’s conserving the very natural world their products help people enjoy. Whatever your brand stands for, you have a unique opportunity to meaningfully intersect it with what your valued customers genuinely care about.

2.  Be Unique! Don’t Go For The Lowest Common Denominator

Just as you wouldn’t want to put an identical product into a crowded market, you don’t want to offer the same values as everyone else. Think of the last time you heard “eco-friendly.” Did you even care? Did it mean anything to you? Did it tug on your heartstrings? To be impactful, your values have to be authentic and unique enough for you to dominate that space.

3.  Take An Authentic Stand

If the values the brand stands for get watered down, then you’re just cluttering your brand’s messaging. Think of how impactful Patagonia’s message was. With their campaign, they said, “we care about conserving the planet’s resources so much that we would rather you don’t buy from us.” That kind of authenticity is awfully convincing. Would it be as effective if they said, “we care about conserving the planet’s resources so much that we’ll donate 1% of the purchase price to replant trees?” The first message is authentic. The second is just trying to capitalize on customer’s values. Customers are smart. They can tell the difference.

4.  Be Transparent

By now, many companies have proven that customers don’t expect you to be 100% perfect. But, they do need you to be honest with them. Think about a friend. Would you trust them more if they painted the rosiest picture possible, or if they were forthright with you? Set ambitious goals, but be honest about where you’ve fallen short on your promises and what you’re going to change so that, next time, you do it better.

So, my challenge to you is – practice these four key elements. It will help you to align your brand with your customer’s values in a real and authentic way. Your brand will become far more relevant in today’s world if you genuinely embrace this new shift.