LPTrends: Staking Out What Matters. Reading the current issues of Fast Company, Wired, and Inc. magazines right now. My goal? To sharpen up the old short list of top innovating technology to leverage my new media company …why you ask?
Because I need to know the difference between what sucks and doesn’t and what users really love or hate, but most importantly because I can’t afford to waste time or money wading through what Ben & Jerry’s founder Ben Cohen calls “…milquetoast, namby-pamby middle-of-the-road” values about anything. I can’t afford, and neither can you, to let anybody tell me what I think is important or right. (1). We all need to be able to stand up for what matters.
The Burden and Opportunity Costs of Values
Part of the burden and opportunity every entrepreneur has to face is deciding what they truly care about and what they really stand for, and then doing that, through and through. Socially conscious companies with brand values that are their DNA stand up for the cause or intention they were launched to serve; if they’re through-and-through they do not deviate because it’s in their genetic make up. They can make mistakes, but they clean up fast and hard, and they never make the same mistake twice.
Brand values are made trickier when you serve human kind and desire to be a solvent, successful business that can attract investors. ROI is sometimes diametrically opposed to human kind’s best interest. Okay a lot of the time.
The entire concept of brand values is at the crossroads of international debate going on about economies, profit structured capitalism, inflation, and the re-evaluation of everything we thought was good and was working. Everything isn’t good and most everything we know is broken. We even disagree on the extremes to what is good or bad or broken or working, yet everyone has this long list of frustrations and violations of things that they just won’t tolerate any longer.
Evolving Past Our Noses, Stomachs, and Pocket Books
It is an evolution of values. I think. Ours as a human race are changing, and from what to what is anyone’s guess. But I argue it isn’t that we’re headed to somewhere else in the values department as much as it is we’re finally headed somewhere.
I’m talking about discernible, clear, powerful values seemingly being drawn more deeply and often in the sands of human consumption and behavior. Fence-siting or flip-flopping when it comes to you or your company and your spinal commandments, which is an extension of both your personal and corporate values at work, is not something any of us can afford to do, especially if we want to rise above our competition and stay the long course of that rapid and ever-changing landscape we call life.
Freak Flags, Mickey D’s, & Ralph Lauren
I used to tell my English students that to write well, you have to write about what you give a crap about and never waste time on words that don’t do anything for the reader or the world. But to do that, you actually need to know what you think about the topics and whether or not you love it or hate it, and be clear about why, then passionately argue for it.
Rambling about stuff you could care less about is a waste of human engineering.
Building or managing a company, or a family for that matter, without first committing to bold and precise values (what you stand for)—that you then embed in your company or environmental DNA—is never proven when sales are good or times are easier and everyone is getting along. Values are proven when competition is tough and your competitors fold like a cheap lawn chair when their so-called values are called on their carpet.
An example here is how the International Olympic Committee bent to McDonald’s pressure to ban all other restaurants from selling chips in London unless served with fish because it would compete with fries. There are many things wrong with this, but most glaringly in the values department is that the Olympics are the quintessential athletic event. No athlete competing will be chowing down on a Big Mac, large fry, and super-sized Coke in their training diets.
First and foremost McDonald’s is a poor choice to highlight as a primary official, American food sponsor of the most elite athletic event in the world. And to cave to pressure in London, where chips are sacrosanct (and equally diabetic-inducing if gorged upon repeatedly as a lifestyle choice), for money, makes the whole values boondoggle taste even worse. I’m sorry, but did Subway under bid, or do they not have enough corner storefronts in London? (2)
One need only look deeply at global advertising to see the best brands, the iconically revered brands who stand the test of time and dominate, rarely if ever make the mistake of saying they stand for one thing and then do another. When a brand breaks their word, they lose customers.
Disney Breached The Trust, Too
In 1972, Disneyland was a place of family value, as in you could take a family there for vacation, and all the rides would work, the experience would be something you could count on, and you wouldn’t bust the bank. Over time, Disney’s values for what they sell has changed: you have to have a few thousand in the bank to even think of taking a family of four there, you have to like standing in line, and big has overshadowed everything else, even the kind and operational quality of their attractions has changed from a few E ticket rides to all E ticket rides, where half are broken or under maintenance. I love Disneyland, but they violated my value expectations. The break feels personal, like they care less about me now.
Take also Ralph Lauren, who made a huge error by making the clothes they designed for the American Olympic team in China (this is so stupid that I can hardly believe they made this mistake as the great American clothing design brand). (3) And while they’ve been silent in response to the outrage many have expressed at a time when our economy is hurting so badly, I am betting Ralph, like Lucy, will have ‘some ‘splaining to do” when all is done and said to clean up their value-laden image of Americana design kingery, at least among those progressive manufacturing plant owners in Nebraska.
Oh, wait; are there any progressive manufacturing clothing makers in Nebraska?
The Beauty of Imperfect Commitment To Values
In the end, I admit, this is a terribly difficult challenge when we are all so beautifully imperfect and flawed. I am also not naïve to the objectives of business survival. Yet I like to think that if we valued the idea of being who we are—as people or companies—and working to resonate with others based on our mutual truth, over say the monopolization of the chip sales at a sporting event dressed like a community expression of friendship, we might not have to pretend to make our food seem healthy when it isn’t. We could just be honest about our food and profit motives, and brand from that place.
- Let your imperialistic freak flags fly, but fly honestly.
- Don’t pretend that you aren’t interested in profits over nationalistic interests or diabetic coma-inducing food products. People are not stupid, and more and more they require what they consume to be consistent with their values, too. There is no judgment here. Just be what and who you are.
- Be not namby-pamby when it comes to picking or sticking to your values. Be not perfect, just perfectly truthful.
We can be bullish that values have even shown up in mainstream media at all.
Personally I remain optimistic that people will resonate with integral values consistent with their own. There is a sea change, a tipping point in people sharpening up their values and being far less patient for milquetoast or charlatans. I am so optimistic I have hinged my entire future on that observation. Conviction in values at the core.
Perhaps the lesson becomes this: for those who win or persevere, be clear, be bold, and be real about your values, pander not to those who do not share yours by being that which you are not to please; and perhaps do learn how to do well and do good, consistently, thereby attracting a greater share of the value system.
The winds they are-a-changing, and I hope to Gaia I am right about that, because McDonald fries could be all that I can afford come this time next year when my bet on values and your ability to discern good ones from bad doesn’t pay off.
But then again, my values dictate I would rather fight for what I believe in than lay down my sword, and I would rather die from starvation than a diet of fast food. And I believe unequivocally in you.
Article by Tracy Saville
If you liked this piece, you might also like:
(1) Fast Company Magazine, Sachs, Jonah. How To Create A Brand With Values. Reprinted from Harvard Review in FCM with permission.) http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679967/how-to-create-a-brand-with-values
(2) The Daily News, UK. July 16, 2012. London Olympics 2012: McDonald’s force Olympics bosses to ban all restaurants from selling chips unless with FISH | Mail Online. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2172168/London-Olympics-2012-McDonalds-force-Olympics-bosses-ban-restaurants-selling-chips-unless-FISH.html
(3) Huffington Post, Cassata, Donna, July 12, 2012. U.S. Olympic Uniforms Made In China: Lawmakers Furious Over Ralph Lauren Gear Made Overseas. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/usa-olympics-uniforms-china-harry-reid-ralph-lauren_n_1669661.html?utm_hp_ref=sports
Fun Fact: Who is Jonah Sachs? Jonah wrote the Harvard piece about brand values, and he’s an internationally known storyteller, author, designer, and entrepreneur. Follow Jonah on Twitter: @jonahsachs. Fast Company ran this story (brand values) as part of their series on why those who tell and live the best stories will rule the future.
Note to readers about Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and McDonald’s: Most food is never evil if consumed in moderation. Ice cream or a burger, in and of themselves will not kill you. Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t ever pretend ice cream is the great American community/kid/family brand. They’re ice cream and they stand up for that. McDonald’s is squishy about who they are at best. In our humble opinion.