It’s time for brands to finally show their true colors!


It’s in times of need that powerful brands are defined.

As COVID-19 swept across the world, Zappos instructed all its employees: Spend “whatever time is required” to listen, care, and empathize with the thousands of people phoning their call centers. Calls that began talking about shoes have veered off into heartfelt discussions of everything under the sun. The longest call to Zappos is reported to have lasted nearly 11 hours. Zappos’ stated mission is “to live and deliver WOW,” and they seem to have aligned their mission statement with reality. Unfortunately, Zappos is a rarity.

Most companies’ reception areas are decorated with carefully word-smithed brand purposes, but few of them truly walk the walk.

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Until recently – meaning ten years ago – it was adequate for a company to issue a press release or donate some money to address a situation that called for polarizing action. In the same way, companies make a practice of donating to Republicans and Democrats simultaneously, ticking both boxes and thereby eliminating all conflicts. Job well done, right? Well, no – not anymore.

In 2020, those rules-of-play no longer apply.

No generation has ever been as cynical as the Millennials. Born and raised with a networked screen to the world, they’ve seen it all. Their reality filter is sharper, more demanding, and more judging than any other generation. And, if promises are delivered, more appreciative.

Today’s brands don’t seem to get it. Yes, I know what a complex, threatening environment they’re operating in. Behind the scenes, the Cokes and P&Gs of the world are navigating a complex maze of bureaucracy, risk of shareholder revolt, and corporate culture tensions. And of course, with COVID-19 and the economic crisis, one retailer, airline, and hotel chain after another is collapsing.

Global brands are dying, and the brand building concept I once preached, the concept we once knew, is simply no longer relevant. In the eyes of the next generation, worldwide companies are veneer-clad images of consumption. It’s time for brands to make up their minds what they stand for – and what they don’t represent.

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As the Black Lives Matter movement races through America (and increasingly through the rest of the world), brands are still making their obligatory donations and posting their supporting views. Twitter says, “To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter.” Amazon urges an end to “…the inequitable and brutal treatment of black people.” Starbucks says they “…will not be bystanders.”

But I’m sorry: Money and nicely crafted quotes aren’t enough. Action is required.

As my dear friend, Wendy Liebmann, said to the New York Times on Tuesday: There is no reason to make a public statement unless the company has a concrete plan to help resolve the issue of racism.

Concrete actions can’t be dreamed up in minutes. They require you to get your house in order.

Sadly, Black Lives Matter won’t be the last serious issue requiring brands to take a stand.

I urge you to revisit your core brand values, your brand purpose, and ask yourself if they provide you with a mandate so powerful, so profound, that there’ll be no need for long-winded internal debates when the next storm hits.

Don’t create a vanilla-like purpose, with no edge, no oomph, no view on the world. Those days are long gone.

Instead, craft a purpose that will make each and every one of your staff proud every morning when they wake up. Turn your customers into believers and the world into fans. Then, allocate funds to act – swiftly, boldly, and loud. As writer Greg Berlanti once said, “Sometimes bravery isn’t enough. Sometimes the world requires us to be bold.”

Well, folks, that time is now. It’s our time to be bold. 

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Martin Lindstrom is the founder and chairman of Lindstrom Company, the world’s leading brand & culture transformation group, operating across five continents and more than 30 countries. TIME Magazine has named Lindstrom one of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People.” Lindstrom is a high profile speaker and author of 7 New York Times best-selling books. His book Brand Sense was critically acclaimed by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the five best marketing books ever published,” Small Data was praised as “revolutionary” and TIME Magazine wrote this about Buyology: “a breakthrough in branding.”

Lindstrom’s new book: The Ministry of Common Sense will be available Jan 19th, 2021! Watch this space for exciting pre-order packages and more.

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About Author

Martin Lindstrom

Martin Lindstrom is the founder and chairman of Lindstrom Company, the world’s leading brand & culture transformation group, operating across five continents and more than 30 countries. TIME Magazine has named Lindstrom one of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People.” Lindstrom is a high profile speaker and author of 7 New York Times best-selling books.

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