Embracing Discomfort

oreoSometimes, I wonder if brands need to become better adept at embracing a certain level of discomfort.

What do I mean by that?

In my view, brands that are bold and openly portray their core values tend to build a greater sense of affinity amongst customers. People gain an understanding of what the brand, and company, stand for – and as a result, to a certain extent at least, potentially view the brand in a more positive light.

At the same time, in making a brand’s values known, no doubt there will be people – including current customers – who don’t share the same values and become turned off as a result. They may, in fact, be so vehemently opposed to a brand’s values that they stop being a customer.

And that’s where embracing discomfort fits in.

As a brand steward, are you prepared to risk alienating some people from your brand by conveying what your brand truly stands for?

Or, a related question, are you prepared to take a stand in sharing your values, potentially drawing a stronger connection and sense of loyalty from those who can relate to your values?

Over the last couple of years, a number of brands have come out in support of lesbian and gay rights. Starbucks, Oreo, and Gap to name a few. While it is sad, very sad in my opinion, that open support for LGBT rights is such a polarizing topic – these brands both embraced and made their values very clear, amidst backlash and boycott threats from a (thankfully) very small minority of the population. To these brands, I say bravo.

From a different lens another great example is Patagonia, truly a values-led business. Over the last couple of years, Patagonia has executed holiday advertising campaigns encouraging people NOT to buy their products. Yes, you read that correctly.

Why? Each jacket Patagonia produced leaves behind two-thirds it’s weight in waste, which contradicts Patagonia’s brand promise of investing in the environment.

There is no doubt that Patagonia embraced discomfort in moving forward with these bold campaigns. However in doing so, they reinforced their values, likely building and strengthening trust amongst customers.

What does your brand stand for? Are you prepared to embrace discomfort?

Do the Brands You Love Match Your Inner Values?

I saw an interesting Tim Hortons commercial this evening. It was not a typical Tim Hortons commercial.  There no hockey rink, no parents driving their children to practice or a game, and it wasn’t set in an office with coworkers vying for the latest Tim Hortons muffin or doughnut.

Rather, the commercial communicated the efforts Tim Hortons has been undertaking to assist farmers in coffee growing communities – providing farmers and their families with technical skills, medical assistance and education.  The program is called The Tim Hortons Coffee Partnership. As someone who worked for five years in the coffee industry, and as a coffee lover, I was glad to  learn about this program.

Ultimately, I think it is a win-win for both the company and the farming communities. On one hand, communities receive additional funding and support, leading to an improved standard of living. On the other, their ability to produce better quality coffee is improved.

My question to you.  When making a purchasing decision, how important is it for a company to go beyond just providing a product or service, and be involved in community-based initiatives like this one?