One thing is certainly true in business today. If your customers think you’re only, as Frank Zappa used to say, ‘in it for the money’ they’re going to have zero allegiance. And soon a competitor will come along with a positioning they like – or maybe even love – and they’ll be gone.
Think about Hewlett-Packard and the long run of troubles they’ve been having. Can anyone tell me what HP stands for? What the values of the brand are? It seems like they try to get into any tech product line where they think they’ll be successful.
On the other hand, think about some brands with clearly defined missions. Patagonia is out to do as much good for the planet as the can. Harley Davidson represents a certain kind of freedom that no one else has been able to touch. Microsoft is a bit fuzzier, but at until recently they were the no-nonsense, ‘business software’ company. Nike represents personal empowerment through exercise. Pepsi is the soft drink for the younger generation. Subaru is for pragmatists (and brand loyalists) who don’t care about being trendy.
As a more contentious example, there was a very interesting piece in Bloomberg Businessweek by Drake Bennett entitled ‘Deep Fried Civil War’ about Chick-fil-A. Dan Cathy, who runs the company, says that their mission is ‘To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.’ As we all know, Chick-fil-A got into hot water recently when Cathy said the company was ‘very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit.’ In other words, it’s a brand that’s openly against gay marriage.
At first blush, this of course seems like a public relations, marketing and just plain common sense disaster. There was a veritable torrent of negative press. But Bennett was smart enough to look at the bigger picture: the primary target audience for the restaurant agrees with Cathy. Indeed sales throughout the bible belt – where the brand is predominant – surged. Chick-fil-A evangelists turned out en masse to support the values that the brand stands for.
Bennett also rightly points out that ‘A-B doesn’t worry about offending refined sensibilities (especially those of women) when it markets Bud Light to young, male binge drinkers.’
There’s an important lesson here: It’s better for your brand to stand for something than have no guiding principles whatsoever. Even if that mission comes with some danger. It’s better to take the risk. If you want to create passion in your evangelists, you have to give them a reason to be passionate.
Today that means more than making a better widget. You need to show your target that you ‘think like they do’. Otherwise, they’ll find someone else that does.