When asked to name a sustainable or ethical clothing brand, Patagonia is easily top of mind for many consumers. Why? Because everything about their business from their marketing to their manufacturing signals to the consumer that they care about the environment and want you to as well.
I think one of the hardest concepts any marketer can teach an organization is the role of brand. What is often reduced to a tag line ("Just do it") or an iconic mark (e.g. the Nike swoosh) is so much more than that.
There are two critical concepts that are often misunderstood or poorly implemented:
- A brand is a series of promises and experiences that compound overtime and establish trust between you and your customer. In order to build trust, you have to be consistent over time.
- It's marketing's job to assemble and package your brand's foundation (building blocks comprised of things like your brand values, attributes, and guidelines), but it's every single person's job regardless of function to fulfill your brand promise.
This sounds straightforward enough, but it's so hard in practice. I think where most marketers and organizations fail is a combination of the following:
- Evolving an established brand is like moving the Titanic or watching a glacier melt. The larger the organization and the older the brand, the harder it is to change its values and operating principles.
- When an organization wants to lean on brand to signal change, it only considers the external components that marketing is often tasked with producing (visual assets like ads, logos, a website, etc.). Truth be told, it's what's on the inside that counts. As important as the visual elements are to a brand, the inner workings of an organization matter just as much, if not more. Amazon would not be where it is today if its warehouses and delivery operations weren't reliable and cost-effective. T-Mobile wouldn't have success competing against Verizon and AT&T if it didn't position its business and its brand as unconventional. Everything from their "un-carrier" plan to their all-out magenta assets to their CEO's Twitter presence signals they want to be different and better.
My advice to marketing leaders who are tasked with building or evolving an organization's brand:
- Get endorsement from your CEO. Does s/he have your back? Do they understand the important work that needs to be done and will they give you the resources and vote of confidence to pursue that work and do it well? You'll set yourself up for eventual failure without this in place.
- Find your voice, build your confidence, and lean on your patience. Not everyone in your company is going to understand the work you're doing. Take the time to make sure they value the work and what's in it for them. Involve stakeholders at all levels; make them feel part of the process. When brand works for a business, all boats rise together.
- Help your product teams hardcode brand thinking into their product development process. For marketers in tech, this is probably one of the biggest challenges. How can you influence and inspire product leaders to partner with marketing and design to create something that makes your brand sing? I think AirBnB does this best and a huge part of that comes from their founders who all have design backgrounds. Great brands have equally great products and this often happens because leadership mandates it top down, but all teams live it bottom up.
I geek out big time when it comes to brand marketing because it's the closest thing to psychoanalyzing a company's DNA. Who are you? What do you stand for? What's your why? How'd your get here and where do you want to go?
Great brands are consistent, enduring, and inspire employees and entire industries to be better. They compete with integrity and they stand up for their principles fiercely, even when challenged by national governments.
An iconic brand changes the world and inspires action at scale. It requires courage and leadership, but often it's for a story worth telling.
If you made it all the way down here, consider supporting Patagonia in their fight to preserve Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Take action here.