5 Lessons on Taking a Stand You Can Learn From Patagonia
For clothing retailer Patagonia, taking firm stances on issues is in its DNA as a company. The company's decision to add a black landing page instead of the usual December retail madness of most retailers, with the simple message: "The President Stole Your Land," is perhaps unlike any move we have seen from a well-known brand.
Kenneth Cole's New York billboards about gun violence come to mind, but they smack of marketing. Can anyone remember what any of them even said? The "controversy" surrounding them seemed to "trump" (pun intended) any moves by the company around a particular social issue.
For Patagonia, this is not a branding or public relations campaign. This is serious business. This is the largest elimination of protected land in the history of the country, as its site professes. As further proof, it has also decided to sue the Trump administration, said CEO Rose Marcario.
But, what, if anything, can your business do to address issues that you care about? Issues like public education, open space and endangered species should be no-brainers, right? Wrong, it seems. They are still very partisan and it may feel like an unnecessary minefield to wade into.
What can we learn from Patagonia? Here's five things:
1. Stand up and be counted, especially if your entire industry is doing the same.
Companies that don't stand up for something, thinking that they can sit this and other issues out, run the risk of being out of touch with society. Companies that are vocal (and follow up with real action) around social issues will be rewarded, perhaps not today but down the road. Furthermore, more than 80 percent of millennial consumers expect the brands they support to take a stand on social issues, according to Horizon Media's Finger on the Pulse study. Take Starbucks: Its brand hasn't been scarred by its strong words supporting refugees and calls to hire them.
And of course, there is power in numbers. Companies working together to file legal briefs around the repeal of the North Carolina bathroom bill, HB2 and the travel ban certainly didn't hurt these companies. With these issues, it was the exception companies -- those that didn't sign on to the briefs -- that seem to be more noticed than the ones that did speak out on the issue. Is your brand seen as part of the emerging majority views sustainability and LGBT equality?
2. Listen on social media but not too much.
Of course, any move you take may be met with loud voices of opposition -- usually on Twitter. While detractors are quick to outrage, they are also quick to forget, as there are usually more critics (and supporters, for that matter) of social issues on the near horizon.
What is your core DNA? What are your ethics as a company? Once you decide that, doing the right thing can hurt at first, but again, be bold and you will be rewarded.
3. There are plenty of social issues to address as a company. Pick one.
Find the issue that you as a leader -- and your people -- care about. Have an all-hands meeting and listen to your employees. Get to be known for something as a company. Patagonia cared -- and did something about -- environmental conservation when it was a shoestring operation back in the 1970s. In the mid '80s, the company pledged to donate 10 percent of pre-tax profits to small nonprofits working on environmental preservation, and later rose its pledge to 1 percent of sales, which was an even higher number. It also took a strong stance for Yosemite Valley in 1988, ahead of anyone else in the industry. Many would credit much of this leadership and foresight to visionary founder Yvon Chouinard, who arguably wasn't motivated by a bottom line, or fame or glamour. Instead, he sometimes quietly and sometimes more boldly spoke up on issues and followed up with dollars and actions. What will you and your company be known for in 20, 30 or 40 years?
4. You will never be Patagonia, but that shouldn't prevent you from doing something.
I think many corporate leaders look at Patagonia as a consumer-facing brand known for being a B-corp and for championing progressive issues -- but they can't be so out there, running the risk of upsetting investors and some customers. That should no longer be the case. There is no reason why tech companies, startups, established manufacturers and other B2B brands cannot take a stand on this issue. And just as REI followed Patagonia's example, you have competitors too, and they may do the same. This is a good thing. You may just touch off a cascade effect in the SaaS space!
5. Lead with your actions, then think about doing the marketing.
Far too often, companies spend too much time buying advertisements and messaging around their positions on social issues before actually doing anything. Image marketing need not be part of the act of doing good work. But, with that said, marketing good work is important, too. Many companies have a huge megaphone that they can use to get consumers to take action around a particular issue. They can also elicit a response from their competitors and other industries.
Patagonia is a clear leader, but I think it's safe to say that Patagonia would love to have company. Learn from its ability to walk the walk. It has been active on social media, featuring photos of the national monuments and encouraging its customers to get involved. This has been going on for many months and is a campaign rooted in solid steps to tackle the issue.
In 2017, a leader company must be willing to stand up for something, regardless of your personal political views. After all, what is being a corporate citizen all about?