From Liberia to Luxembourg, companies brand their products and services to build lasting relationships with consumers. Trying to make brands more relatable, managers formulate emotional visions and ascribe human character traits to their brands, illustrated through corporate values. These are often taken from a rather shallow pool of virtues that are believed to resonate with target audience. In a world where the majority follow the same recipe for success, sincerity is what separates those who lead from those who follow; those who practice what they preach; from those who repeat empty words because they sound like something consumers would want to hear.
While most companies claim to have a mission and a set of values, generation-defying brands, brands that sincerely believe in their philosophy, do more than simply stating it in corporate communications. The mission of a sincere brand determines its development path while the company's values permeate its physical stores, virtual presence and customer services - determining customer experience across all touchpoints.
At a time when trust has become the key trending expectation, empty claims have become unforgivable.
The brands that did exceptionally well in the latest BrandZ ranking have a strong air of sincerity. Google (leading the list with 40% annual growth), Facebook (grown 68%), IKEA (up 61%) and Uniqlo (up 58%) are just a few examples. These brands do not have to be the most desired or universally liked, neither did they grow due to sincerity alone; but at a time when trust has become the key trending expectation, empty claims have become unforgivable. We have looked at five industry leaders that have little in common apart from one thing: all five are associated with strong systems of beliefs that are fundamental to the respective business' success.
1. Google: stay true to your mission
Since its early days, Google's growth has been steered by what they call the "10 things". We may not agree with some of those or feel that the company doesn't excel in all 10, but a closer look at Google's actions shows that they are directly linked to company's principles. Google does focus on users and often writes off substantial investments, dropping unpopular products. The company continuously introduces new products, all of which are relevant and feed into its core mission - "organising the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful." It is this thought that guided the development of cloud services from Google Maps to Google+ as well as tangible products like Google Glass. The products themselves may not always be perfect, but each of them is true to the company's mission.
2. Apple: stay true to your beliefs
Steve Jobs didn't just claim purism and attention to detail; he fought tough battles on many fronts to bring his ideas to life.
Half a decade ago, Apple, whose market valuation recently topped $700 billion, was often accused of being a cult; its fans occasionally mocked as acolytes. But what Apple really did was to carve a clear identity, based on simplicity and perfection, its management honestly (and passionately) believed in. Retrospectively, we see the easy part - the cult of Steve Jobs following a number of successful product launches, often overseeing the difficult one - fighting an opposition that saw no market for tablets, spending scarce resources on making computer boards, invisible to most consumers, look neat, and investing an unorthodox amount of money into retail store design. Steve Jobs didn't just claim purism and attention to detail; he fought tough battles on many fronts to bring his ideas to life. This demonstration of confidence in a brand's philosophy has brought an unusual level of loyalty, almost transcending into spiritual reverence.
3. IKEA: stay true to your values
The brand has stayed relevant for over 70 years, because it wasn't following an empty slogan.
IKEA is the eldest and only private company on our list. Its founder ruled out floating as he didn't want to become dependent on financial institutions, jeopardizing the companies' vision for long-term development. The concept of saving money by sharing labour with customers is key to the IKEA experience; as are the values of a small Swedish province, enforced by thrifty villagers on an empire that stretches from North America to Oceania. Whatever the channel, the experience one gets from getting in touch with IKEA is predictably consistent whether one opens a German catalogue in 1990s, visits a British store in 2000s or launches an app in Auckland in 2010s; I am pretty sure the mind-controlled holograms of 2040s will still ooze Togetherness (IKEA is open to different people, opinions and ideas, provided they are respectful), Cost-Consciousness (how many of us have furnished their first apartments or dorm rooms at IKEA?), Respect (towards customers, employees, minorities) and Simplicity. The process of buying and assembling a wardrobe is so streamlined, a city dweller can do it in an hour with a single instrument that is also provided. The brand has stayed relevant to a steadily growing number of customers for over 70 years, because it wasn't following an empty slogan, but lived its life as a human being, rediscovering the meaning of its never-changing principles over its life span and communicating those through the ever growing number of touchpoints.
4. Facebook: find ways to better serve your purpose
The company chose not to wait for a more opportune moment, but looked at its purpose and radically adjusted the course.
Facebook lost half of its value after floating in 2012. The company chose not to wait for a more opportune moment or spread the risks, but looked at its purpose and radically adjusted the course. Following disappointing stock performance, Mark Zuckerberg's speech at Tech Crunch Disrupt in September 2012 boiled down to two points: "mobile is the future" and "[Facebook] culture is not about having fun; it's about our mission". "Facebook's mission is to give people the power to share and make the world open and connected". It is hard to believe that until then the network's revenue was driven by desktop ads. Following its principles, Facebook focused on solving the most important problem (shifting to mobile) and moved fast, trying different approaches. Taking risks paid off: two years later two thirds of the network's revenue was generated by mobile ads and the company's value has quadrupled.
5. Uniqlo: reach for the stars; invest in your pilots
Uniqlo's vision is both incredibly ambitious and very simple, immediately understood by employees at all levels.
Uniqlo's mission statement claims: "<...> Everything we do is rooted deeply in our Japanese origins, always aspiring to excellence in quality, design and technology." Each of those words loudly echoes in customer experience. Uniqlo build global presence with inspirational, contemporary stores while remaining unwaveringly Japanese. The company has introduced novel merchandising concepts, invests in modern technologies (e.g. magic mirrors), develops new fabrics (e.g. Heattech) and product categories (Ultra Light Down). The idea of having its global flagship store online is, in turn, a progressive take on the company's secondary environment. Uniqlo's vision is both incredibly ambitious and very simple, immediately understood by employees at all levels: to become the world's number one casual clothing brand. To conquer the world, one needs an army; the most capable and loyal. Uniqlo takes good care of its staff: not only are they better paid and looked after, the Zenin Keiei (Japanese for "everyone as a business leader") management principle, "encourages all employees to adopt the mindset of a manager and seek the best available global method in everything they do." The staff are trusted and continuously trained, creating a passionate corporate culture with a clear, ambitious goal and the tools to achieve it.
The critical first step should be the development of an ideology that is easy to understand, realistic and, above all, honest.
Brand managers today have increasingly diverse ways to deliver their promises. Cutting through the promotional smog consumers are exposed to on a daily basis is challenging; translating brand recognition into brand loyalty in times of economic instability and brand abundance - considerably more so. That's why the critical first step for every company should be the development of an ideology that is easy to understand, realistic and, above all, honest - not built around buzz words, industry jargon and populist platitudes. Sincerity pays off: authentic values are easier to translate into well-planned spaces, expedient digital platforms and impressive service.