Does your brand have a moral compass?

Ever heard of a company that doesn’t want you to buy more of its products? When Patagonia’s competitors were busy promoting deep sales for Black Friday in 2014, Patagonia released their – “Don’t Buy Our Jackets” ad campaign.

The ad educated consumers on the environmental impact of making a jacket and how they shouldn’t buy clothes unless they need them. Patagonia makes fair trade certified products with organic cotton and responsibly sourced merino wool. They walk the walk and talk the talk.

Patagonia’s higher, moral purpose: making clothes in a sustainable way.

Most of us have a moral compass that we adhere to in our daily lives. This instinct is a core part of who we are as people and it’s the force that drives us. Our values also make us relatable to others. We find common ground with our peers after sharing our beliefs, whether it’s something as fundamental as being conservative or liberal, or deeper connections around an emotional cause.

Brand-centric organizations understand this. A company establishes corporate values as a way to guide its people, actions and marketing toward a centralized belief. To some extent, these values bring companies to life, humanizing them, making them more like us, their customers. As a marketer, belief-driven initiatives not only speak to willingness for your company to take risks, but show that you have heart, too.

Another stellar example is Starbucks. You can’t help but respect how often they’ve tossed their corporate hat into the ring to battle social issues. Whether it’s advocating for gun control or campaigning for gay marriage, Starbucks puts its corporate values front and center in its marketing.

Starbucks pushes the boundaries of marketing by injecting the company’s core values into how it engages with customers. Their programs have often sparked negative comments, but they’ve also gotten people talking about important issues and that, for them, is the ultimate goal.

Brands should stand for something, but to be successful they need to do it in a way that’s more than just generic ad-speak. If you really want to show the world what you believe in, consider telling us what you stand against. Many marketers may be reluctant to come out against anything because it can feel controversial or divisive. But the boldest marketers (like Patagonia or Starbucks) have embraced this counter intuitive approach successfully for quite a while.

Defining what your company is for or against also has longer-term benefits than a compelling ad campaign. Thanks to social media, more companies now understand that consumers want to participate in a real conversation with brands. To make this conversation (or any conversation) work, there must be an honest exchange of views.  And, if you want to expand that conversation so that it becomes a cultural movement built around your brand — which is something that marketers should be striving for today — then you need to give that movement a sense of purpose and action. Truth is it’s often easier to rally people against something than for something. That’s not to imply that a brand campaign should become a gripe-fest. The conversation you have with your public may start by pointing out something wrong, but ought to move beyond that to offer better alternatives, ideas, and actions you can help people take. If you can do that, it’s possible to transform negative energy into a positive force — both for your customers and for your brand.

The net result of taking sides and standing for something: corporate satisfaction, among your customers and your employees.  It’s imperative for a brand today to find a higher purpose that can provide an entire organization with its own moral compass and aspirational goal.

What does your brand stand for (or against)?

Rich Williams, SVP/Strategic Business Development