February 12th, 2021
In order for a brand to be responsible, it has to be authentic. Authenticity is something that is banded around by branding agencies. You find it in every ‘brand values document’ – in every boardroom. There isn’t a business in existence that wouldn’t describe itself as authentic, but when it comes down to it, genuine authenticity is a far rarer trait than you may be led to believe.
Responsible brands have a purpose – a reason for existing, but this purpose must be authentic and honest.
It goes two ways – brands must be authentic to be responsible, and they therefore have a responsibility to be authentic. Describing your brand as responsible, writing a sustainability report or acknowledging diversity issues within the workforce are all good ways of becoming a more responsible brand – however without an authentic commitment and desire to fulfil those goals, in every single aspect of the business, it is hot air.
A responsible brand is one that has a detailed understanding of every aspect of its operation, and one that works tirelessly to ensure that each aspect is run as sustainably as possible. That doesn’t mean forgoing profits – but it does mean taking the road less travelled, producing products that last, and taking the time to self-audit to ensure that things are as good as they could be. Responsibility and authenticity have to be at the core of the brands being, as frankly it is quite hard to be responsible in the long term – many businesses, and their leaders get tempted by profit margins and short-term thinking. Responsibility has to be a business’ purpose, not a ploy.
If the purpose of a business is authentic, every decision that business makes should be derived from it. For example, Patagonia’s purpose is “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”. They work towards this by questioning every decision based on those metrics. From designing a product, to recruiting a member of staff – or commissioning an ad, they refer back to their purpose. This means that over the long term, their products last, they don’t cause unnecessary harm, and they have set an example of how business can respond to the environment crisis. Their purpose is authentic, so they have the responsibility to do everything they can to achieve it.
Patagonia is a perfect example of a purpose-driven brand. In 1957, Yvon Chouinard started making climbing equipment; as a passionate climber, he knew what he could add to the then primitive tools that were on the market. Quickly his designs were regarded as the best in the world, they changed climbing forever – enabled athletes to scale new heights and go to new places. From a small forge making pitons and crampons, Chouinard built a business that was based on the very principle of making products that were the very best – that didn’t damage the walls that they were used on, and didn’t break to damage the climbers who were using them. On a climbing trip to Scotland, he bought some rugby shirts (they hadn’t made it over the pond at that time) and impressed with the durability of the fabric, he sold them to the climbing market. These shirts were the first products sold under the ‘Patagonia’ label, and they are a perfect example of the philosophy behind the brand. Excellent quality, sustainably sourced and made to last.
The commitment to delivering on purpose is weaved into every aspect of the brand. That is why it is meaningful – it gives the brand a narrative, and a set of metrics to measure itself by. This is reflected on its offering to their customers. Someone who is considering investing in a Patagonia jacket can be certain that they are buying something that will do what it is designed to do – that corners haven’t been cut in its production, and they are buying something that at every step along the way has been designed with them in mind. It harks back to Patagonia’s birth from a climbing equipment brand… In that business the stakes are high, and one badly made piton can have disastrous consequences.
A complete commitment to its purpose gives a brand a place in the world, but most importantly it gives the brand a mechanism for decision making that makes the brand better. But authenticity is the key. If the brand’s purpose isn’t authentic, then why exist at all?
Written by George Nixon, Freelance Creative.
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