Why A Brand Should Take a Stand.......

1st Dec 2018



“It's kind of Zen. You do the right thing and good things happen.” Yvon Chouinard

According to a recent study by international marketing firm Edelman, the trend for consumers to buy from brands with values that match their own is growing rapidly.  They found, for example, that 57% of UK buyers currently make such choices (an increase of 21 points since last year). 

The 2018 Edelman ‘Earned Brand’ survey quizzed 8000 people across 8 markets and found that this rising ‘belief-driven’ buying may mean choosing brands that match your political, environmental or social beliefs just as it could mean avoiding other companies whose ethos clashes with your own. 

The study also revealed that many respondents felt brands were actually better equipped to solve national problems than governments and were well placed to promote societal change.  54% of respondents said that they felt it was easier to get brands to address social problems than get governments to act.

“This is the birth of Brand Democracy; as consumers are electing brands as their change agents,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “Brands are now being pushed to go beyond their classic business interests to become advocates.”

It is a fascinating trend that is reflected significantly in outdoor brands.  While many have openly publicised their ethical credentials since their very early days, surveys like this show that others may need to consider focussing more on this in their future marketing.  

This is especially relevant because the study also found that just about as many consumers will make buying choices based around a companies values based advert when compared to a product based advert.  

So, it is important for companies are clear on their ethos and values and extremely important that they communicate these effectively to clients and customers.  In some cases they are doing this well but in others they need to work harder at getting this message across.  Infact, 60% of respondents to the survey said that brands should make it easier to see what their values and positions on important issues.

The Edelman survey makes fascinating reading and brands will do well to pay attention, but of course its focus is on marketing and it would also have been really interesting to get some input on how a companies ethos affects customer loyalty and how much a brand’s pricing affects customer choice - what percentage of customers are willing to pay more for products from a brand that has a strong ethos or does more to support social or political causes?  

This also wasn’t a study specifically focussed on the outdoor sector and it would be very interesting to see a similar study that was.  Many outdoor brands, for example, were born from their creators love of the natural world and so often they seek to use their company to help protect that environment and take a clear stance on issues.    

This week I was privileged to be invited to talk to degree students at Sheffield University about the history, development and ethos of Peak Mountaineering.  The students listened courteously as I rabbited on about the company and its origins and then we moved to a question and answer session.  

It was really interesting (and rewarding) to note that the Adventure Tourism students in front of me were extremely aware of the need for brands to have a clear ethos and message and they asked several questions about my companies values.  These are young people who have been educated in this area but it is interesting to also compare this to the Edelman study where it was actually the younger end of the age spectrum that were most likely to choose according to a brand ethos.

I am proud of Peak Mountaineering’s ethos and credentials and, although we are always seeking ways to do more, it is great to know our little company can make at least a small difference and have some role in influencing the industry.  We have never tracked how many clients select us for this reason, but it is certainly an integral part of who we are both as individuals and as a business.  

The Edelman survey also rung true for me because I am extremely influenced by brand ethos.  This comes into all my consumer choices, but especially within the outdoor context.  I have also studied other brands to influence my business practices and certainly carefully consider a brand’s ethos and related credentials before making a purchase.  This may simply be whether the garment is made from sustainable materials but is also very likely to include consideration of the companies wider ethos.

I have written in detail about Patagonia in the past (a few examples are here, here and hereand consider them a shining light in both the outdoor industry and the wider business world.  If you chart their company history you will know that their focus has always been about sustainability and environmental activism.  At times they have made tough choices and they have always been willing to put themselves on the line for their beliefs. Their mission statement is clear that they want to make the best products they can, but their activities have certainly broadened from simple manufacture. 

A cynical view would be that they are marketing savvy enough to know that publicising their activism will increase sales, but company owner Yvon Chouinard has been in business a long time and has openly declared that the only reason he has stayed in business so long is because he wanted to use his business as an influencer and force for good. 

It has been interesting to chart how Patagonia have, in more recent times, moved into more of the role of political influencer.  They had a significant role in drawing the Outdoor Retailer event out of Salt Lake City when the state wouldn’t make a stand against the sale of public lands and they went on to start a legal action against the Trump Administration because they rescinded the protections of national monuments.  

In 2016 Patagonia gave the income from all their 10 million dollars of Black Friday sales to environmental causes and just this week they announced another stunning 10 million giveaway.   In a piece on the Patagonia website blog (you can read it here) they announced that Trump’s tax changes meant they would be paying 1o million less in tax in tax and so would be donating this amount to fund environmental initiatives.  While we aren’t sure this won’t be news well received in the oval office, it certainly shows a company willing to cross into the realms of politics to uphold their environmental beliefs.  

So, as the Edelman survey shows, we are a point where companies should have a transparent ethos that is clearly visible and it is also evident that consumers like companies that have values matching their own.  It is also interesting to see how some businesses, like Patagonia, are moving into more central roles as political influencers.  

We may not all have Patagonia’s financial clout but perhaps we can all learn something from their activities.  What an exciting time to be in business!

Posted by Paul