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Brand as belief system
Using conviction, commitment and sacrifice to build strong brands
First time here? I’m Amanda, and this is Creative Growth Memo, a newsletter that pulls back the curtain on how startups can use creative to drive growth through real-world case studies, playbooks, interviews, and reviews. If you like what you read here, you can: book a 1:1 call with me, find me on Twitter, or follow me on LinkedIn
How belief systems lay the foundation for strong brands
3 brands with epic belief systems
A checklist to stress test your brands’ belief system
Let’s dig in!
Brand soapbox 🧼 What we believe shapes what we do
Our beliefs shape our world.
As a brand builder, beliefs build the logic for your organization. That logic informs the actions you take. Those actions? They become the stories you tell. The more aligned, the stronger your brand.
Conviction leads to bolder action.
Brands that win connect their conviction with what’s happening in their customer’s world in compelling ways. And right now - the cultural mood is crying out for change, conviction, and action.1
Brand belief in action: Tampon Taxback
Case in point: Last week August, Cora, DIVA, here We Flo, The Honey Pot, LOLA, Salt, and Rael banded together to pay back customers tampon tax.
What I love about this campaign:
Period care companies are uniquely placed to take a stand on this ✅
There’s a clear belief: tampons shouldn’t be taxed ✅
Companies putting their money where their mouth is: refunding the cost of the tampon tax to customers ✅
Long term commitment: The coalition has partnered with Period Law, an advocacy group to lobby for legislative change ✅
Many brands aren’t brave enough to take a stand on much. In my own experience, even the bravest founders waver when faced with the risk of losing customers, key partnerships or potential investors. I get it.
The strongest brands? They’ve baked their beliefs right into the organization.
The strongest brands have belief systems at their core.
Here are some examples:
“Build the best product, causing no unnecessary harm,” Patagonia. This 14 page essay, The Whole Natural Art of Protection, published in the 1972 climbing catalog called for ‘clean’ climbing and advocated for swapping pitons for chocks.👇
Nike’s principles. The raw memo has evolved into 5 maxims that Nike still use today. 👇
Brands’ belief systems inform action:
🛠️ Aesop hire architects to design each retail store - no two are the same and each reflects the local environment.
👕 Patagonia have done extensive work to make less environmentally damaging products, swapping out manufacturing pitons to chocks (less damaging to climbing routes), transforming trash to fleece with recycled polyester from plastic soda bottles, and using traceable down in their products.
⛹️ Nike invests in a ‘future is female’ platform: athlete think tanks, education for female athletes on how to sync their training with their menstrual cycle, and holistic wellness programs for women. (Disclaimer: Nike’s not a saint when it comes to how it treats its athletes)
Taking a stance for your beliefs makes for stories that spread.
Hard truth: most companies want strong brands, but few are willing to make sacrifices to stand for anything controversial. Building strong brands requires sacrifice.
This is the hard part.
Your turn 📝 Three questions to ask yourself:
So you want to build a strong brand? This question will really narrow the scope of issues you take a stand on.
Are you committed to this stance for the next 10 years?
If not - that’s ok. Businesses don’t need to take action on every issue in culture. Taking up the cause-of-the-month puts you at risk of watering down your position. At best, you’re a flip-flopper. At worst, you stumble into a PR disaster.
People can sniff out flash in the pan brand activism a mile away. Don’t 👏 be👏 that 👏brand👏.
“I’m a little concerned that right now brand activism is a fad and that people will use it until it feels overworked and then they’ll go on to something else. If Coca Cola wants to adopt an African country for 13 weeks during the television season, that’s one thing, but if they’re still doing it 20 years from now I’ll pay attention.” - Vincent Stanley, Patagonia
Do you have the buy in to make sacrifices to prioritize what your brand stands for?
If you’re a founder, you probably do have the buy in - use it! As companies get bigger, it becomes more difficult to get buy in on controversial or polarizing brand moves.
Strong brands are polarizing. They should polarize. If you’re telling people who you’re for, by default, you’ll be identifying people that you’re NOT for. That’s a good thing. But boy oh boy does it makes people nervous! Particularly those who stand to make a lot of money from the success of your company. To those folks? You can share this: financial analysts rank ‘strength of brand / marketing’ as the most important factor in their analysis - even over leadership or tech innovation. 💥
What are you willing to sacrifice?
Strategy is the art of sacrifice. It’s what you’re willing to sacrifice in service of your brand. What you’re willing to say no to. And the easiest way to figure out what you’re willing to sacrifice is to start with what you believe.
No one talks about what sacrifice actually looks like. It might be:
Losing a day (or more) of sales
Turning down a client
Taking flack in the media
Losing or missing out on talent
It’s sweaty brain work to articulate what you believe as an organization. But that’s the beautiful thing about authenticity. It’s very hard to copy. And that’s exactly what you want in a brand. Brands that win are crystal clear on what they believe.
Must be this tall to ride: A checklist for taking a stance on a brand belief:
💰Put your money where your mouth is. Know that your business is willing to sacrifice, before you take a stand: sales, customers, an existing way of doing things. We’re not talking oodles of cash, but you’re willing to risk it for the biscuit, as the Brits say.
💍 Commit to the bit. Make sure you’re in it for the long haul and you’re willing to publicly talk about this stance for the next 3, 5, 10 years. I once worked with a founder who said they chose the problem they were solving because they were willing to work on it for the next 10 years. That lays a much better foundation for strong communication than a brand seeking a quick exit, afraid of upsetting investors.
🚗 Check your lane. Is your business is uniquely placed to take a stance on this?
Thanks so much for reading. Do please hit me up with questions, brands, and tools you’d like to see covered.
Next time: we’re looking at the ways brands can create compelling work on a budget. There’s so many ways to communicate well without big budgets. Make sure you’re signed up so you don’t miss it.
Until next week,