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To be Patagonia or not be Patagonia...?


Brand Management isn’t just for the big peeps anymore

Cian Duffy
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In May, Axios and the Harris Poll published their annual Reputation Quotient Study, which polls over 40,000 Americans on which companies have the best and worst reputation.

Some of the results may seem obvious, like Patagonia and Goya, and others not so obvious, like Chewy and Uber. From this report, we know American consumers admire consistency in brand communication, even if those consumers don’t like the subject of the communication coming out.

It’s hard to discuss great brand reputation without working Patagonia into the conversation. Regardless of opinion on the role brands should or should not play in humanitarian affairs, executives have a consensus on what the best looks like and it’s Yvon Chouinard. However, there are two important takeaways they miss when trying to take that discussion into action:

1. Your brand cannot and should not be like Patagonia.
2. You cannot use that as an excuse to not improve brand reputation.

Chouinard never wanted to be a businessman, he wanted climbing gear and apparel that lasted for himself and his friends. He doesn’t have goals for Patagonia, he has goals for humankind and only uses Patagonia as a tool for meeting them. Even if your mission and values completely align with Patagonia, their journey is not a roadmap for your business.

However, just because you can’t be exactly like Patagonia doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your reputation. Showcasing authenticity isn’t a clever marketing strategy that’s already been tapped, you have your own journey to take if you’re willing to put in the time.

Patagonia isn’t top of mind in brand reputation solely because of the decisions they make but how they deliver the news. Every public-facing statement or action Patagonia makes adheres to their brand pillars and enforces their brand. That's the difference between saying something because you feel obligated (or because it’s trendy) and having what you say always embody your company’s values.

That’s what successful brand management gets them. Nothing is frivolous. Without brand management to strategically build messaging around the principles that fit them, we wouldn’t be paying attention to any of the brands noted in the Axiom-Harris Study. Great brand management fuels brand reputation and the visibility that comes from it.

Building brand reputation is also about awareness. A brand manager works to keep a finger on the pulse and read the room. However, it’s not about jumping on the bandwagon. Brand management needs to apply outside trends and important information to the brand, not the other way around.

Like Uber’s Vaccinate the Block initiative. Global citizenship is a part of Uber’s mission and helping the vaccination effort was important to them. They could have helped the initiative by using their social media to raise awareness on the benefits of getting vaccinated or donated money to support vaccination clinics, but instead, they saw a need they could directly mitigate. A large population of people doesn’t have access to vaccination clinics because of a lack of transportation.

But just like Patagonia, it was the initiative’s announcement that was the important element to its success. Uber didn’t just make a post that they were donating rides or send push notifications to app users, they created a whole campaign.

If Uber didn’t have appropriate brand management, consumers could’ve missed the message and responded negatively, saying things like “I don’t appreciate when businesses get political” or are virtue signaling. Because this initiative is right in line with their brand, no one questions it.

Instances like Uber, remind us that deliberation is essential. Always ask yourself why you want to do something or think you should do something. If you have a hard time coming to an answer, don’t give up but consider changing how you go about it to better reflect your intention.

Lastly, companies listed in the Axiom-Harris Study got there because of their conviction. Businesses don’t define a target audience to then try and please everyone. Commit to your values and commit to your audience.