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Clearing the Bar: Holding Brands to Higher Standards

August 26, 2020


Clearing the Bar: Holding Brands to Higher Standards

Most of us Marketers know about increasing “value shopping” among our customers. Millennials and Gen Z have been driving this trend. They’re (seemingly) more socially conscious, and they want us to be too.

Even though we’ve already noted this trend, though, the pandemic has kicked it into high gear. Here’s what we’ll need to focus on to clear the bar with our most loyal customers in the next normal.

Brand Values have become table-stakes to compete!

The pandemic has put a spotlight on how brands interact with the people around them. Our customers are paying more attention to how we react. Are we working to keep our employees safe? Are we helping them financially? What are we delivering to our communities?

That community focus is a big one. People have become hyper-aware of the local in the last few months. There’s been a huge push to shop local or buy local or even to support local restaurants.

People are looking to our brands and saying, “What are you doing?” And are looking to have that question answered.

Like human behavior, words without action are meaningless!

More than that, our customers are also skeptical of us. There are plenty of brands who talk big talk, but they don’t back it up. The pandemic has put renewed focus on not just what we say we’re doing but our actions too.

In other words, if we say we support our local communities, then we’d better back it up. The last thing we want to do is say we’ll do something, then never follow through.

As brands then, we have to follow the cardinal rule of show, don’t tell. That’s usually given out as writing advice. Don’t tell the audience how a character feels—show them instead.

Why? It makes people believe what the character is going through. And the same is true when it comes to taking real world action. Our brands can say we’ll donate to a climate change effort or we’ll put social distancing in place in the office. But if we don’t actually follow through, we’re going to find ourselves on trial in the court of public opinion.

One brand’s failure becomes the new bar for all to be measured by!

One of the reasons our customers demand that we show them our values is that they’re skeptical. Gen Z is maybe the most skeptical generation yet.

How many times have you heard about a brand talking about one thing, and then doing the complete opposite? The recent controversy around talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is case in point.

Ellen’s brand is fun and welcoming. Yet recent reports from employees on her show suggest the show is more of a nightmare to work on, creating a “toxic” workplace. It’s unclear if Ellen herself is aware of or encourages this, although some who have worked with her say she’s very different from her on-camera persona.

Another recent brand example is cosmetics giant LUSH. The company is well-known for its dedication to social change. It supports everything from racial diversity to LGBTQ+ people in its workforce to limiting climate change and more through its packaging efforts and charity pots.

Earlier this year, though, critics pointed out the hypocrisy of LUSH saying they supported the BLM movement. It came to light the company had gifted products to police forcesacross the UK. Some workers then came forward with stories of discrimination. This wasn’t the first time, either.

Don’t ignore what is happening! Have the courage to step forward!

This heightened scrutiny seems scary, but there are ways we can navigate it.

The first—and maybe most important point—is to know our brand’s purpose inside out. When we have a clear vision of our purpose, then our values are easier to see. When we know our values, it’s easier to act in line with them!

Authenticity and Transparency

With a clear purpose and clear values, we can stack any action up against what we think we stand for. And when we can hold a mirror up like this, it's easier to see where we're out of sync—with ourselves and our customers.

That brings us to the importance of authenticity. We want to avoid saying one thing and doing another. When we know our purpose, it's easier to spot inauthentic actions—we can feel them. We can see we’re out of step.

Transparency is another pillar of managing in this environment. When we show customers what’s going on behind the scenes, when we lift the veil, it’s easier for them to know if we’re being authentic. And that makes them much less skeptical.


It also makes it easier for them to hold us accountable for our actions. LUSH has a huge fanbase and when the public uproar started, the company took a step back. They issued a strategy to re-evaluate how they could better support their workers moving forward. By publicly announcing what they’re doing, their fans can evaluate their progress and hold them accountable.

What happened on the Ellen show will only come out with time. There are employees and guests on both sides of the discussion. Ellen came to her own defense issuing an apology. Is that enough? Time will tell.

It is important to ensure that you are always delivering on that promise! And that promise is your culture as much as it is the output of a brand with a benefit consumers are seeking to buy from you. When a consumer buys – they are buying the values of the organization inside the benefit.

That’s accountability. It’s not admitting fault or weakness—it’s letting our customers know we are authentic and dedicated and ready to make something right when we do falter. They’re committed to us, so we should do our best to commit to them.

Once we know our purpose, this becomes so much clearer. So start with the why, and you’ll be better prepared for the next normal—whatever it brings!


Meet Margo…brand visioning & marketing

Margo Jay is a Master Brand Strategist with a career leading globally recognized brands; developing and launching a proven model that maximizes competitive sales potential and consumer appeal. She has built the model to help companies of all sizes. Her Client roster includes entrepreneurs through to Fortune 100 brands: NHL teams, Global QSR brands, CPG brands, Broadcast brands, Agencies, Non Profit brands, Hard goods…this model and process provides competitive advantage in any category.

Complete clarity. Ownable distinct selling proposition. Shared values. Brand Clarity. Brand Focus. Brand Inspiration. Brand Obsession. Unlocking brand potential is what she does.

And it all starts with why!

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