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With all the noise on Wall Street, Capitol Hill and the campaign trail this week about corporate greed, governmental accountability and executive responsibility, this piece on the more human side of business from the brand insights blog gives us a welcome break from the doom and gloom showered down on us from all directions.

Look at this as kind of two posts in one: 1. The importance of injecting a brand with genuine purpose and soul, and 2. The importance of being earnest. Enjoy the read:

I met Scott Bedbury the other day. In branding circles, he’s kind of famous… Worked at Nike during the “Just Do It” years. Helped Howard Shultz build the Starbucks brand. And now he consults with a few lucky businesses and does speaking engagements all over the world. Even Kazakstan. Nice!

Bedbury’s a very genuine guy. I’m glad, because that’s part of his branding mantra; the importance of being genuine.

These days, companies can’t get away with being disingenuous. Some blogger, somewhere, will call you on it faster than you can say, “Where the hell’s our PR firm?” As Bedbury said, “the days of the corporate comb-over are gone.”

The brand assessment work we do is designed to reveal the truth behind a brand, not a well-polished corporate version of it. But some companies don’t like looking in the mirror. They aren’t forthcoming with the comb-overs and other cosmetic improvements because the genuine attributes of their brand just aren’t pretty.

I’ve seen cases where a company’s internal perception of the brand doesn’t jive with the consumer’s reality. If that’s the case, your branding efforts will have to reach much deeper than just the marketing department. You’ll actually have to change the product, tweak the operation or hire a different team. Because “everything matters.”

It’s nice to hear that Bedbury’s donating his talent for good causes. As he says, great brands use their superhuman powers for good and place people and principles before profits. “Give a damn, and give back,” to be exact.

Patagonia is a company that gives a damn. There’s nothing fake about Yvone Chouinard’s dedication to environmental causes, and it shows in everything the company does. The Patagonia brand, the operation and the products are aligned perfectly around a single, unifying idea… Save the environment so we can all enjoy the outdoors.

Unfortunately, few companies are as focused or philanthropic as Patagonia. Several business plans came across my desk in the past week, and it reminds me why Bedbury’s branding message is so important. All too often, the startup is only about cashing out. Nothing else.

Jim Collins, author of Built To Last, has something to say about that: “ The entrepreneurial mind-set has degenerated from one of risk, contribution, and reward to one of wealth entitlement. I developed our business model on the idea of creating an enduring, great company — just as I was taught to do at Stanford — and the VCs looked at me as if I were crazy. They’re not interested in enduring, great companies, just an idea that you can do quickly and take public or get acquired within 12 to 18 months. “

Anyway, even if you don’t have a great company that donates a portion of your profits like Patagonia does, you should still have a cause that drives your operation — a purpose the employees can rally around. [Simply] making your quarterly stock projections is not it.

[…]

Storytelling is a big part of branding. Once you’ve figured out the real crux of your brand, you have to communicate it in a form that people can understand. And nothing is more effective than a good, old-fashioned story. Doesn’t matter if it’s delivered via the latest, greatest mobile technology, it’s still just a story. Tell it well. Tell it often. And keep it real.

One last piece of advice, inspired by Bedbury… Don’t be afraid to reinvent your brand from time to time. Every summer he “shuts it down,” and hangs out with his family in Central Oregon. He writes, plays a little golf and recharges the batteries. So his own, personal brand will be fresh and ready for the next, big brand adventure.

Read the entire piece here.

Having worked for companies on both sides of that fence – some had absolutely zero purpose or engagement beyond hitting a number, and some which probably engaged in more causes and movements than they really had time for – I can tell you without a doubt that some level of engagement in a good cause, even a somewhat self-serving one, is ALWAYS an asset. Whether your cause is to empower your customers, feed Ethiopian children, sponsor computer science programs in inner city schools, save the trees or help foster innovation in your industry, causes are good. They help define you. They help people relate to your brand. They help people engage with it and align themselves with what you stand for. Internally, worthy causes boost employee morale, promote team work, and inspire employees to become more involved.

If you’re a small business, maybe something as simple as putting together a team for an MS walk or a run to support Breast Cancer research is all you need. Set up a few of these events each year and maybe even invite your customers to join/support your movement, especially if they are local. Ask for their help. Get them involved. You don’t have to raise millions of dollars for charity to give your business a little extra human flair. So my advice: Inject some good karma into your brand DNA this month. Instead of worrying too much about the economy and shrinking back from your customer engagement efforts, look for ways that you and your employees can instead roll their sleeves up and join forces with your customers to give back, even in these uncertain times. Perhaps especially in these uncertain times. Lead by example. You never know: One of the side effects of being more noble may just be… increased employee engagement and customer loyalty. (Funny how that works.)

It wouldn’t be the first time good deeds and good business came together to help a brand reach the next milestone in its evolution. After all, products are there to fill a need, companies are there to make a profit, and brands are there to stand for something. Don’t get so caught up with the first two that you forget the latter. Too many companies today fall into that trap. Don’t be one of them.  😉

Have a great day, everyone.

image source: Christopher Wray-McCann