I love working on branding and rebranding projects for clients. It's part creativity and part therapy; you have to be willing to think outside the box, but also take a long, hard look at your own values (as a person or a company). It takes self-reflection, stillness, and a whole lotta thoughtfulness in order to craft brand messaging with a solid foundation.
Although the process can be hard, the reason behind it is simple: humans want authentic connection.
This is especially true in today's social-political climate. People have so many choices and have the power to only open their wallet for companies that they feel aligned with on a moral and ethical level. During the early days of the pandemic, PepsiCo published the results of a survey about what consumers are looking for in brands right now. The results overwhelmingly pointed to a desire for empathy. A majority of respondents (86%) said that "it is critical for brands to show empathy now if they want to grow loyalty. Two in three consumers also noted that brands' actions during the pandemic will influence how they engage with those brands in the future."
If you're wondering who is leading the pack when it comes to empathy and authenticity, the brands who aren't afraid to do the hard work of standing for something, look no further than these three:
Ben and Jerry's
Although this ice cream brand is typically associated with the two hippie guys who launched an ice cream shop in an abandoned gas station in Vermont, they decided to get into politics before it was cool back in the 1980's. In 1985, they launched The Ben & Jerry's Foundation that dedicated 7.5% of the company's profits to funding community-oriented projects. And in 1989 they took a public stance against the use of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), because of the negative impact it was having on family-owned farms.
In the 1990's and early 2000's they had public campaigns to support Farm Aid, the Children's Defense Fund and SaveOurEnvironment.org, which helps combat global warming. In 2004, they partnered with Rock the Vote and hosted an event that helped register 11,000 people to vote in one day. They've advocated for Greenpeace, Fair Trade efforts, and went up against the FDA about using milk from cloned animals.
So when George Floyd's murder sparked a national crisis, it's no surprise that Ben & Jerry's was at the forefront of how to navigate a potentially sensitive issue for brands. Their core values, which include making the world a better place, made it easy for them to take a stand against white supremacy. They were able to use their platform to educate their audience about really complicated issues, like systemic racism and what it means to want to "defund the police."
Dress for Success
Dress for Success, which was founded in 1997 to help provide low income women with professional attire for job interviews, is a brand that had to pivot very quickly once the pandemic hit. In the 20+ years that Dress for Success has evolved to provide women with more than just clothes; they also provide them with career training, mentorships, and networking opportunities, all of which can be hard to without leaving your home because of a deadly virus.
“Our response to the pandemic was not simply to close our doors—the women who walk through those doors need us,” CEO Joi Gordon told Harper's Bazaar. “We decided to pivot our organization and make it work virtually. We’re working harder than ever because we realize that our clients need us more than ever.”
Although they are a nonprofit organization, Dress for Success is so committed to their mission that they didn't even have to deliberate on the decision to move online--the foundation of their brand values made the decision for them.
Within a month of making the decision, Dress for Success had successfully navigated the shift to being an online platform. According to the Harper's Bazaar article, "90 percent of its affiliates were offering tools and resources online, whereas previously only 5 percent had. Of the women who have taken advantage of the virtual programming, which includes things like workshops and career coaching, 30 percent are new to the organization." And their educational options go well beyond simply finding a job. They decided to add online workshops about how to network on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, as well as Covid-induced stress management tips.
“We’ve also done quite a bit of meditation and relaxation programming, because to say our women are multitasking is an understatement,” Gordon told the magazine. “Many are single moms, and for the ones at home, they’re having to teach their kids while still preparing three meals a day while trying to contact unemployment while trying to get food stamps while maintaining an upbeat and resilient attitude.”
Talk about a brand who really comes through for their audience.
Patagonia was founded in 1973 by an accomplished rock climber who had actually been making and selling his own rock climbing gear for years prior. Patagonia built a loyal following for their high-quality products and passion for a cause that relates directly back to their brand: environmental conservation. Basically, Patagonia is the O.G. of cause marketing (or corporate social responsibility).
Over the years, Patagonia's activism has become an integral part of the brand. They even dedicate prime website real estate in their main navigation to Activism, which is certainly unique for a retail site. In December of 2017, Patagonia sued the Trump administration for dramatically rolling back environmental protections on over two million acres of federal land. And in November 208, the company announced that they would be using the windfall from the new tax bill to support nonprofits that further improving the environment, pledging $10 million to organizations “committed to protecting air, land and water and finding solutions to the climate crisis.”
Most recently, however, Patagonia has been leading the way for other brands when it comes to dealing with the dilemma of Facebook. They have joined a movement called #StopHateforProfit, which aims to use the power of the purse by pausing their advertising spend in order to affect meaningful change in the way that Facebook operates. A statement released by Patagonia's Director of Marketing, Cory Bayers, reads in part: “For too long, Facebook has failed to take sufficient steps to stop the spread of hateful lies and dangerous propaganda on its platform. From secure elections to a global pandemic to racial justice, the stakes are too high to sit back and let the company continue to be complicit in spreading disinformation and fomenting fear and hatred.”
While it might seem brave to some to take such a strong stance against a platform that you depend on to increase your business, Patagonia has continued to proved that they are willing to stand up for what they believe in, even if it comes at their own risk. Although it's worth noting that the risk always seems to pay off for them.