Branding What Brands Believe In

You’re browsing Facebook. Or the news. You see a dense, defensive paragraph that may or may not be apologetic, followed by a statement that runs something like “SmartyPantsCompany stands for diversity, inclusivity, friendship, everyone, bears, puppies, and world peace”. You think: now what? Some piece of tone-deaf advertising’s gone viral? CEO said something he shouldn’t? Is the statement going to help repair any PR damage already done? If it’s the first time such a statement’s been expressed, probably not. It’s too late to cover your ass when something’s set your pants on fire.

Nowadays brands are under increasing pressure to be transparent about what they stand for, particularly within their branding. At Starship, we believe that if brands genuinely stand for something, it’ll be easier for them to separate themselves from the crowd. Such concepts could and should be part of a brand’s overall strategy and branding, as carefully considered as its visual expression. And it should be a sentiment that’s consistently expressed with the brand language itself, or it won’t come off as genuine. It shouldn’t be something created just for the sake of ticking a box. It should stem from the reason why the company was made, or why it still operates. Teasing out and expressing this sentiment in words can and should take as much time as other aspects of a company’s branding. Like the other aspects of your brand, it should be carefully considered with expert help.

[Jan Zijderveld, president of Europe Unilever, said that] brands with “purpose” at the heart of their message were growing at twice the rate of other brands across Unilever’s portfolio.

Across Europe, he said, macroeconomic pressures and resulting price promotions had “eaten away at brand value” but that business could achieve double-digit growth by marketing around a sense of purpose and driving trust.

“Consumers want brands that stand for something,” he said. “Ben & Jerry’s and Dove are examples – what we find is when we do this with our brands they grow twice as fast as those who don’t have sustainability at the heart… That’s where the juice is, the pockets of growth… Consumers want brands to be more responsible.” –CampaignLive

When we tell clients their brands need to brand values, we’re not trying to sell marketing buzzwords or hokey ideas. It’s actual, actionable strategy.

Everything Is On Fire

Brands mess up all the time. In the digital age, if brands get dragged online and in social media, it can affect the stock price. There are some things that companies can’t (and shouldn’t) be able to bounce back from–*cough Weinstein cough*. Some companies have tried to readjust to survive the scandals anyway: Uber is one of the most obvious examples. Despite headlines predicting the end of Uber in early 2017 after a string of scandals including its ex-CEO Travis Kalanick’s behaviour, having a culture that fosters misogyny, stealing from Google, responding badly to a taxi boycott and more, in 2018, Uber still exists. Uber chose a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, who’d been at Expedia. Dara is a fan of the Zero Defects policy:

In the late 1950s, a weapons maker called the Martin Company received a contract to build the first Pershing missile. It was to be the most sophisticated mobile weapons system on earth: 5 tons of metal and precision technology designed to deliver a nuclear warhead from up to 460 miles away. Should it ever be used, there would be no margin for error. It had to be perfect. And the US Army wanted it delivered quickly.

The task of ensuring this timely perfection fell to Philip Crosby, a quality-control manager at Martin. To break with his industry’s wartime habit of tolerating small mistakes in feverish production, Crosby came up with a philosophy he would later call Zero Defects. The idea was, basically, to instill in workers the will to prevent problems during design and manufacture rather than go back and fix them later. Crosby’s philosophy went on to become a management buzzword, especially in the aerospace and auto industries, where a faulty gasket or a weak bearing could mean a fiery catastrophe. During the Apollo program, NASA even gave out little Zero Defects trophies—each one a cute pewter spaceman standing on the moon with the letters “ZD” emblazoned on his chest.

Genuine brand values expressed effectively through a business is part of how brands could instill a Zero Defects philosophy in their company. Training and a work ethic and culture that grows out of a brand’s values combined with a consistent public-facing strategy across communications would have a positive effect over a company.

Things will still happen. Take Starbucks, for example. Their mission statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Earlier this year, the cops were called on two black men who were waiting in a Starbucks store for their friend. They hadn’t caused a disturbance: they’d just refused to order, presumably because their friend hadn’t yet arrived. After the incident went viral, Starbucks issued the following statement:

The company achieved 100% pay equity in the United States and is working on achieving pay equity globally. Starbucks sources sustainable and ethical products, hires refugees, and runs various other social impact programs. As such, several customers responded favourably to Starbucks’ attempt to make amends. The CEO has apologised to the two men, and although Starbucks’ decision to close all its American stores for racial bias training was met with a mixed reaction, they have brought on groups like Black Lives Matter to design its curriculum. Time will tell whether the token afternoon of ‘training’ helps, but overall the issue hasn’t affected Starbucks’ stock price, and Starbucks has managed to regain some control over what was deservedly a brand PR disaster.

Standing Up for Something

There’s a difference between just standing for something and standing UP for something. A statement on paper (or twitter) doesn’t mean much if your brand doesn’t also have initiatives in the same spirit of its mission statement. Nowadays, with the rise of lifestyle brands, clients do like brands that also give something back. Grill’ds bottlecap system, for example, is very popular. And you’d often find brands sponsoring anything from zoo animals to cultural events. Standing for something will help your brand connect with its target audience on an emotional level, cutting through the noise. The more you act along these lines, the more you’d reinforce your brand’s presence–and convince customers that you’re worth supporting above your competitors. Naturally, customers who don’t agree with your brand values may also decide to turn away from your brand. Maybe that’s ok, maybe it isn’t. That’s why the way forward requires thought and care. Want to have a chat about it? Let us know.

Scroll to Top