“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.“
Of the many quotes (and misquotes) that circulate around this holiday each year, these words by Dr. King always resonate with me, but particularly in 2018. As our world is in a state of undeniable challenge and controversy, all individuals–including those who lead brands and businesses–will have to make a choice as to where they stand and what they will stand for.
For many, the path to staying on top goes hand-in-hand with not being too controversial, political, or divisive. But Dr. King teaches us that those thoughts, opinions, and reactions that we have in challenging times are a perfect time to show the world (and our customers) who we really are.
While watching an episode of “The Profit” yesterday, I was stunned when Marcus Lemonis told an entrepreneur he would not work with him because he had an unforgivable side job: spewing hate on the radio as a “character”. I was floored as the episode changed to Lemonis visiting another one of his businesses. I expected that surely for the drama alone, he was going to continue to work with him, and that (for the length of the episode at least) he would make a dramatic transformation, and we would forgive him and weep. I was so impressed with Lemonis and CNBC that I kept digging. A quick Google search led me to his brave comments after the abhorrent response to Charlottesville by President Trump, for which he later apologized. Still, after being moved by his response to racism and sexism, Marcus Lemonis had found a fan-vangelist in me.
It’s not just how we respond to controversy surrounding us, sometimes it is the challenges that we bring upon ourselves. From Shea Moisture to Dove to the latest with H&M, the past six months alone have shown without a doubt that brands and the individuals that speak for them are expected to answer for the missteps they make, particularly when it comes to race. Thank you, Dr. King, for this and so much more. Thanks to King’s legacy, as brand marketers and leaders (with the exception of the POTUS – see: sh*thole countries), we know that our position is not in the shadows when things become uncomfortable. We must stand up whether it is our own hidden bias that rears its ugly head and causes hurtful moments, or the cruelty of others that we witness in our society. And though there is no recipe for humble pie (though we could ask Mario Batali for one), we must work toward healing – whether or not we stand to momentarily lose finances or followers. What we have to gain in the long run is so much more valuable. All brands and brand leaders will soon have to decide what side of the hashtag movements they are on, and how they will engage with all of them in a meaningful way.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
And on a more positive, less controversial note, standing for something is good for you, and good for the future of business. “About 70 percent of millennials indicate a willingness to spend more with brands that support such causes or operate using business models that align and resonate with their own values”, according to RSM. So don’t be afraid to stand up, and stand for what is right, in life, and in business.
“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
A quick guide to evaluating whether to share your brand’s cred with others
When others sense that you’ve “made it”, there is no end to the products, services, and business pitches that will begin targeting you and wanting to partner with your brand. While networking and connecting is likely how you became so popular in the first place, your newly built brand capital has value, and thus should be protected as you would with anything valuable that you have worked to acquire. Additionally, there remains a clear distinction between connecting others and getting sucked into someone else’s business as it’s sole spokesperson in your network. Still, we see clients constantly abandoning their brand’s message to help others – pitching unrelated services on their websites, spending time and energy on fruitless partnerships, and worse. While it may be a difficult proposition to shut the doors completely, here are a few ways to evaluate if you are opening the floodgates to energy vampires.
Assessment #1: Will the brand deliver?
While it might be tempting to help your friend or neighbor with her startup, pitching her services alongside yours could potentially disappoint your key contacts. When you make a recommendation, your clients are expecting that the recommended business is going to be of similar stature to yours – they trust your brand to deliver a familiar level of service. If there is any doubt in your mind that the brand will deliver on your level – do not recommend them to your clients.
Assessment #2: Does the brand align with mine?
Murky or inconsistent messaging is one of the fastest ways to lose credibility for your brand. Pitching a bake shop on your website when you are known as a finance guru sends the customer instant red flags and dilutes your brand’s value. Additionally, folding in unrelated products or services to your brand in order to “diversify” your company only leads to brand confusion and a decrease in sales. If people don’t know immediately exactly what you do and what problem you solve, they won’t come to you when it needs solving – they will seek the professional who specializes in what they need.
Assessment #3: Do the ends justify the means?
While not every brand partnership has to be financially profitable, without question each alignment you make should show you a return on your investment. If you are spending money, time and effort on the relationship – do the outcomes justify the resources used? Consider factors such as visibility, new client acquisition, brand engagement in addition to profits when making this determination.
There are many others ways to assess what opportunities you align your business. What are some of the ways that you have done this?