A brand’s purpose goes hand-in-hand with values. These are your principles, they’re what you believe in, and what you couldn’t live without. Values also attract people to more human brands, because they provide distinction between you and the rest.
The great adman Bill Bernbach once said…
“Your principles aren’t principles until they cost you money.”
Show how you’re different
So the magic of values is that they aren’t really about gaining a commercial advantage – in fact, quite the opposite. But in having them and living them, you demonstrate a point of difference. Patagonia is perhaps one of the most principled brands there is. Founded by a group of climbers in 1973, it’s built around a values-based mission:
“Build the best products while causing no unnecessary environmental harm”.
Obviously they acknowledge that what they do has an impact on the environment. As part of this, they developed an online tool called ‘The Footprint Chronicles’ where they assess how they are doing – they say they show ‘the good and bad of the supply chain’. This shows an acceptance of not being perfect, but trying to improve, which is a human quality that people admire, and aspire to. And because everything is out there, it projects a culture of honesty, of having nothing to hide.
The flipside of living your values is that in the modern world, there isn’t really any ‘back of house’. Your brand isn’t just what you say, it’s what you do, so you can’t talk one way but behave another. American Apparel is a brand that makes a lot of noise about being sweatshop free, and paying minimum wage at their factory in Los Angeles. They even allow staff to make free international calls during work time, and they say it keeps their workforce motivated.
All of which is admirable, but values should be compatible, to make sense as a whole – and that’s not really the story they are known for. American Apparel’s ad campaigns have regularly been attacked for the way they objectify women and employ young-looking models. There have also been several sleazy allegations about their CEO, Dov Charney, which really don’t fit with the idea of treating people decently. Even though he’s now been sacked, the company has lost hundreds of millions over the past couple of years.
So you can’t take the moral high-ground in one area but come across as amoral in another. You can’t really expect people to only hear the message you want them to. Next time we’ll find out why.