Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory who famously once said that the opposite of a trivial truth is false; the opposite of a great truth is also true. This is a great way to think about your own business and even beyond what you stand for. I’ve long held the belief that a clear sign that a brand has reached a level of maturity and comfort in its own skin is to know what it stands against. For many brands, figuring out what they stand for is a big enough challenge.
Taking a stand against something, anything takes guts. It takes conviction. It means risk. Risk of alienating those whose beliefs don’t align. Risk of being questioned, doubted, ignored. But that’s okay; holding strong beliefs against an issue align you with those most aligned with your brand. Your decisions are lauded for their courage – you didn’t do it for the accolades of course – but your core brand fanatics fall deeper in love with you.
A mature, confident, brand will do whatever it takes to live up to their beliefs and if that means publicly standing against the thing that threatens to violate those beliefs then so be it.
Mikey’s Late Night Slice is a hallowed fixture of the nightlife in the Short North Arts District in Columbus, Ohio. Though pretty much flying below the radar for anyone outside of Columbus, Mikey’s made headlines nationally in 2013 when they refused service to homophobic customers waiting in line. On the surface that just seems like a good human decision. It is, but it’s more than that, it’s how Mikey Sorboro runs his business. A quick look at his mission statement hanging up over the ordering window at each of his restaurants demonstrates a belief that made it easy for the employee that night to say no to serving those customers, confident that he would have the full backing of his boss and his company. Can you say that your brand is strong enough internally for your employees to make decisions like that? Mikey’s clearly believes in something enough to stand against something else.
Many client brand books I’ve reviewed included sections on “What we are” and “What we’re not”. This is a great start as long as it’s truly informed by your core beliefs and values and that you allow staff to make decisions with these beliefs as a guide. These “we are/we’re not” statements should not be exhaustive but rather a strong guide as to acceptable values and position for your company. L Brands, owner of Victoria’s Secret has a phrase they use internally to decide on designs, aesthetic and marketing: “Sexy not slutty”.
Mini Cooper has being playing up it’s “not normal” position for a few years now, standing against run of the mill vehicles and larger car companies. It may not be an altruistic effort, but it does align with their core beliefs and values.
Begin with articulating, documenting and sharing your core beliefs. From here, start to think about what that means you stand against. You may discover this approach to outreach and marketing suits your brand better.
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