Category — Transparency

Political Primaries Spotlight Principles of Strong Brands

Republican logoBrand experts everywhere are scratching their heads about how the candidates (“brands”) in the current primary system are challenging beliefs and apparently re-writing the rules. The candidates in both political parties are exhibiting unpredictable, and in some cases abhorrent, behavior. We have looked beyond the immediate to remind ourselves that there are very true and proven principles about short and long-term brand development. Lest we forget, great, powerful, sustainable brands do share important characteristics. They are:Democratic logo

Clear and focused. Powerful brands know what they stand for and stay focused on their core positioning. Rather than bounce around with multiple promises, they understand the need to be almost singular in purpose. At this stage of the run up to the primaries, some of the candidates have demonstrated clarity and focus, and they are being rewarded for this.

Authentic and true. Great brands are authentic. Authentic brands understand what they are and do what they say. Their behavior is consistent with their promises. That means that the organization making the brand promise must be congruent. So “brand” goes way beyond communications or image. It is a mandate for behaviors. Love a candidate or not, those that rise to the top are true to what they are and do not get distracted.

Truthful and honest. Brands that win, over the long haul, are ones that are true and honest. They don’t duck and weave between claims they make, but say things that they can back up. The gap between truth and fabrication will be a key determinate over the longer run.

 Transparent. Strong brands develop a level of transparency so their key audiences understand that they are telling the truth, and not hiding or shielding key information. They understand that this transparency is the basis of the bond they have with their advocates. It would be fair to say that all the candidates, in both parties, are not transparent enough. Some believe that shouting louder masks the need to be transparent. In the long term, this strategy rarely works.

 Consistent. Brands that last understand the need to be consistent over time. Brands that fail flip-flop from one position to another to satisfy immediate needs usually fail. That is because, in the long term, consumers and voters scratch their heads being unable to attach clarity and purpose to a constantly shifting target.

Delivery focused. Many brands can induce trial by making compelling claims and promises but only brands that actually deliver on promises will endure and develop loyalty. Consumers don’t tolerate bait and switch, and what may push a short-term victory could actually develop long-term detractors.

Shouting the loudest is not an enduring platform for a brand. It certainly gets media coverage and awareness. But in the end, it is the guiding principles above that will shape the outcome and the future.

Voting Booth

We believe that the degree to which a candidate embraces these principles will determine their long-term viability. Not just in their electability, but also in terms of their effectiveness. So while the American electorate is attempting to select one “brand” over another, those that survive over the long-term will have met the test better than others.

March 10, 2016   No Comments

Why Authenticity Matters

One universal characteristic of market leaders and powerful brands is that they are authentic. Business leaders should challenge if they have embraced what authenticity means.


Authentic brands do what they say. Their behavior is consistent with their promises. That means that the organization making the brand promise must be congruent: its business processes have to be designed and aligned to ensure behavior that supports and delivers the brand promise. So ‘brand’ goes way beyond communications or image. It is an organizational mandate.

There have been three recent examples of brands that have broken this trust. Volkswagen completely diluted its brand by not only installing software in cars to cheat on emissions standards, but also hiding and denying this behavior for years. They impeded and obstructed regulators and provided misleading information, and thus violated not only customer trust, but also employee affection for the company. It will take years for VW to recapture its market position.

Takata, a leading supplier of air-bags, tried to duck responsibility for airbags that can explode when deployed by implying that it was a data manipulation issue. The truth did come out, and after years of denial, Takata is now paying the price for misleading customers. Their brand has suffered immeasurably. To quote the lead plaintiff, “The only thing they did not know was the names of the individuals who were going to be injured or killed, and the date it was going to happen.” Ouch.

UnknownChipotle did not appear to react fast enough when it learned about a Norovirus outbreak. Apparently, the procedure for “washing down” produce didn’t seem to be effective. They have subsequently apologized, closed some restaurants and put in place new procedures. The question is whether consumers will believe that they will continue to act in a truthful manner. We give them praise for not denying the problem, but time will tell whether consumers believe Chipotle acted fast enough in the best interest of their consumers. For a brand based on credibility, they are dancing very close to the edge.

One of the benefits of being authentic is word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat purchases. In other words… loyalty. Whether B2B or B2C, understanding what authentic means and living it every day is a mandate in today’s complex markets.

February 19, 2016   No Comments

Chipotle does the right thing…as the mainstream tide turns

Wherever you look these days, mainstream brands are engaging in initiatives or taking a stand on issues that were once considered “social or environmental causes of fringe groups”. Social media has given activists a voice and platform to reach the masses like never before. And whether or not there is enough hard data or scientific evidence to categorically support their causes, there are most certainly enough unanswered questions around issues such as the safety of GMO’s, artificial ingredients such as aspartame, red dye 40, and the prolific use of pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate, to name a few. Consumers are no longer in the dark and are asking questions, reluctant to blindly believe the safety claims of corporations. As such, many iconic brands like McDonalds and Pepsi find themselves directly impacted by this growing sentiment. And more than ever before, it is a case of “adapt or die”. There are many examples of brands that have been proactive, or at the very least, quick to respond. Yesterday Chipotle announced that 100% of their ingredients are now non-GMO. On the same day, Pepsi announced that they will no longer use aspartame in Diet Pepsi. And in January 2014, General Mills announced that Cheerios will be GMO free.


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April 28, 2015   No Comments

Using Sustainability to Build Brands

17lbs. That’s the weight of the 2014 Restoration Hardware shrink-wrapped collection of catalogs – 12 catalogs to be exact – that arrived at my house, unsolicited, via UPS. My first reaction was disgust. Utter disgust at the waste of paper and ink and use of fossil fuels required to ship it to my house. As a diehard proponent of sustainability I am horrified, but as a branding consultant, I started to think about why so many brands are reluctant to challenge the way they have always conducted business in order to become more sustainable.

RH Catalog

Does Restoration Hardware really have to send out 17lbs of catalogs to sustain their business? Isn’t there a better, alternative way to market their products? Why is it so difficult for them to think outside the box and challenge the status quo? We live in a virtual world, a digital age where so much business is now conducted online and on mobile devices – you’d think that they would embrace online catalogs, finding new creative and innovative ways to showcase their products in a virtual world. Perhaps it’s inertia? Or fear of losing business. Or maybe they just have their heads in the sand?

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May 21, 2014   6 Comments

Sustainability and Authenticity Present Huge Opportunities for Brands

Riddle me this: how do you boost sales by almost one third while telling your customers to buy less from you?

Sustainability and authenticity are the twin brand values that can power this exemplary business growth, and Patagonia is the current exemplar.


For some time now, Patagonia has been urging customers to repair and keep their $700 Patagonia parkas rather than buy new ones. The result? Sales increased almost one-third to $543 million last year, which included about nine months of the “Buy Less” marketing campaign.

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October 4, 2013   No Comments

Generation Y Should I Trust You? The Challenge for Brands

Generation Y Should I Trust You? The Challenge for Brands

Brands are symbols of trust – we use them as navigation beacons in a landscape of uncertain options. But the next generation of consumers is re-defining what it takes to be trusted.  At the core of this re-definition are two attributes: sustainability and authenticity. Brands that lack those qualities will struggle increasingly to attract either consumers or recruits.

According to research by The Intelligence Group, this next generation of consumers, described as Generation Y or ‘Millenials’, want to make the world a better place, and they’re demonstrating this intent in the brands and products they choose, ‘… products that follow ethical practices and are aligned with social causes’. (adweek: responsible youth)

For these digital natives, sharing is a normal part of life. Everyday they share photos, ideas, technology and information about themselves.  Defined by The Cloud, a key facilitator of this ‘open source‘ lifestyle is mutual trust and the brands that can demonstrate the qualities that drive trust, like honesty and authenticity, will benefit from Generation Y’s loyalty.

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August 2, 2013   No Comments

Is Consumerism Sustainable: What Do Brands Have to Say?

What can the difference between a straight line and a circle teach us about building a sustainable economic system that fuels growth without destroying our planet? And what do brands have to do with it?

The answers are “lots” and “lots”, respectively.

This is the first in a series of posts in which we will explore the relationship between brands and sustainability. So we thought we should start by questioning whether consumerism itself is sustainable. Is it reaching the end of its useful life? And if it is, what can replace it as an engine for economic growth?

The law of unintended consequences has meant that the existing model of consumption makes many of us sick, unhappy, stressed, and time-starved; it fails to produce affordable food that sustains healthy life; it fails to offer work that gives us a healthy sense of meaning and purpose; it gradually renders the planet itself unviable; and it makes only 1% of us wealthier.

For most of us, this is not a good deal. For our children, it’s disastrous.


In his book ‘Cradle to Cradle’, William McDonough recognized that in nature’s cyclical design, resources are infinite.  Yet human industry is driven by a traditional linear economic model: Take (resources) – Make (stuff) – Dispose (dump when the new version comes out).

So which is the better (more sustainable) option? That’s where the circle comes in.

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July 15, 2013   No Comments

Doing the Right Thing is Good for Business

The past decade or more has seen a rise in environmental and social consciousness and with it, a desire by big business to ‘give back’.

Much of this is driven by necessity.  Motivated by a wider understanding of the human impact on the environment, there is growing expectation in the market for brands to make it easier for their customers to make better choices.  A market that has become increasingly brand literate and now, empowered by the open forums of social media, has a platform. Putting profit before people and the planet, is no longer good for business.

But it’s also driven by savvy marketing and good business sense.  A brand that finds a purpose beyond their product, inspires loyalty in their customers who feel proud of their association with the cause.  This connection with the brand goes beyond any need for the product and builds a far more sustainable relationship.

However, intention must be met with action.  If the brand wishes to be taken seriously, change cannot only be made on the outside – on billboards, or in PR releases – change must be seen to be happening on the inside too.


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April 9, 2013   No Comments

Do Brands “Sweat” When They are Stressed?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article by Sumanthi Reddy on new theories about why people sweat when under stress… it made me think that there is a strong parallel with brands and how they react to difficult business situations. Scientists now believe that stress-triggered sweat plays a role in sending warning signals to people around us that something is wrong. This body odor conveys a lot of information from one individual to another.

Brands under stress can “sweat” too.


They can give off signals, much like odors, and we can sense that something is amiss. Take American Airlines as an example. They have been under stress in bankruptcy for quite a while. Not only have creditors been worried, but also travelers. So what did they do… they rebranded themselves with a new modern look. In some ways, we all smelled a rat. No, they haven’t really gotten much better… their service is as sparse as other carriers, and their equipment is not significantly better than others. So they put on some new lipstick. Now we know that it was part of a complete, quiet financial re-packaging ending up with a recent merger with US Airways. So their “stress sweat” was apparent. To some extent, this scent should be a signal for investors and creditors alike. [Read more →]

February 19, 2013   No Comments

Is Your Brand Ready for the “Inside Out” Movement?

Professional services brands may want to take inspiration from the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which the architecture community is touting as the next truly great building of this age. Why? Because big screens on the outside show who is practicing and performing on the inside. It shares itself with the world. It adapted technologically to our human desire to “be in the know” about everything all the time. Brands in the next generation will have to be the same way. They will be expected to show what’s on the inside (their values), not just talk about their services. Brands must reflect the DNA of the company within.


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January 24, 2013   2 Comments