in all shapes and sizes.
And each of them becomes a hero in a different way.
Think Spiderman. He never intended to be a hero, he was bitten and it gave him great powers.
On the other hand there's Superman, born with special powers into a world that needed them.
Then there's Batman with no special powers at all, just a big bank account and an unwavering dedication to become a hero.
These journeys parallel the world of hero brands too.
Compliance, efficiencies, expectation, advantage or because they're born believing in something. There are many reasons brands become heroes, the important thing is to become one.
Like Spiderman, some brands are stung into action. Perhaps they lose a tender document that demands sustainability credentials. Or perhaps people power demands it of them.
One such example is the Green My Apple campaign from Greenpeace.
It created enough noise that it not only changed some of Apple's practices, it also saw Apple launch a campaign giving customers insight into its environmental program
According to the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, as of June 2012 Apple now ranks #1 for sustainable operations and gets a near perfect score for e-waste. Thanks to coal-fired data centres, they have a way to go to become perfect (although in 2012 they made promises to make all their data centres coal free*), but it's a big turnaround on five years ago and a reminder to companies that sometimes the alternative to choosing to become a hero is to risk being publicly identified as an anti-hero. Long may it continue, Apple!
Some brands are born heroes.
Before their founders open their doors, they create a set of values that the company will live by, determine what is wrong with their industry (and the world) and set out how they are going to make it right. They work to the principle that purpose leads to profit.
Then they go forth, with plenty to talk about, and set about making themselves famous.
The Body Shop is a great example of a Born Hero. Started in the belief that the cosmetic industry had a lot of dead animals to answer to, they launched with the catchcry and core value of Against Animal Testing.
They matched this with a belief that what you put on your skin should come from natural ingredients and went forth and multiplied.
They changed the values expected from the cosmetics industry and, in doing so, built an empire that, from its first launch in the UK in 1976, expanded at a rate of 50 percent annually, eventually selling to L'Oreal in 2006 for £652.3 million*.
Anita may have passed away but her values live on.
Anita Roddick fighting the good fight in 1985.
|* Wikipedia - The Body Shop|
A more recently born Hero Brand is Howies. Founded in Wales in the belief that 'lasting quality is better for the environment', Howies champions organic cotton, organic transport (cycling) and a bunch of other issues related to the rag trade.
Each year, their marketing focuses not only on their clothes, but on asking you to consider where your clothes come from and the impact they, and you, have on the world.
Their values differentiate them from other brands, give them something bigger than themselves to talk about in their marketing, add a level of humour and purpose to everything from their advertising to their storefronts and designs and, hopefully, it makes their customers consider what they can do to contribute to a better world.
In their own words,
"We live in times of limited resources but unlimited desire to consume them. The answer though is real simple: to consume less as a consumer; to make a better designed product as a manufacturer."
|Howies shows how to make truly sustainable clothing|
How does a brand
It all comes down to the founders forging their brand from their beliefs. In the words of Howies' founder, David Hiatt:
"I love quality. I love longevity. I love good design. I love ideas. I love this town. But most of all I love that I can wrap all these things up into a pair of jeans."
In many ways, how Howies does things is counter-intuitive to how
big brands do things. Work in the marketing department of a big
brand and, chances are, you'll be told that research is king and
innovation should give people what they tell us they want.
A brand like Howies breaks that mould. It creates what the founder wants, then finds people who feel the same way to buy the product.
The founders of born Hero Brands instill a set of values and sense of purpose in the company because, in their eyes, it's the right thing to do. And, if they do it right, they earn themselves a collection of dedicated followers for their troubles. What becomes fascinating is what happens to a brand like Howies when it sells to a larger company. Howies is now owned by Timberland, but has lost none of its sense of purpose and heritage. It is, literally stitched into the fabric of the brand. The founder can go on to retirement or bigger and better things, while the company and its values continue on.
So, what we perhaps see is a case of born a hero, always a hero.
After selling to Timberland, David Hiatt chose to retire to a small town in Wales with a history of denim, rekindling the industry and starting a new brand, Hiut Denim.
He has also created the impressive Do Lectures, proof that some people just don't know how to relax.
What better cause for a
Better World Books sells new and used books, just like Amazon. The difference is they support libraries and literacy programs in doing so. Libraries have a place to make money from old books when they make space for new ones, plus every time you buy a book from the site they donate a book to a place in the world where literacy is a problem.
This 'buy one give one' concept is not new (Toms built a shoe brand on it) but it's certainly a good one. As of January 2012 they had donated over 5.8 million books, raised $5.9 million for literacy programs, $5.2 million for US libraries and redistributed 79 million books, many of which may have gone to waste*.
All of which sounds like the work of an NGO. Better World Books is, however, an unashamedly for-profit organisation, growing five fold between 2006 and 2011.
As they say on their website, "We're not a company with an add-on "cause" component. We create social good and protect the environment through our regular business transactions.
|* Better World Books - Our Impact|
What if you're not a born hero? Your company or brand already exists. It was built in a different time, of different stuff.
news is, it can be a hero yet.
The following brands have transformed
themselves from ordinary to extraordinar.
Like Patagonia, Timberland is designed to help you hit the great outdoors, so helping save it is always going to fit well with its DNA.
For Timberland, being a hero is about planting trees. 5 million of them in five years. Their customers help, their employees help and their CEO even gets among it, all under the banner of Earthkeepers.
But, while planting trees is their hero mission, it's not all they do in sustainability.
Sustainable store design and sustainable sourcing of materials are both considered and reported on. Environmental film festivals, music and yoga gatherings are supported.
Timberland's products reflect their values and their designers can tell you how each boot was made to maximise the footsteps you take in it while minimising your footprint.
|* Timberland Community|
In 2010 Unilever launched their Sustainable
Split into three focus areas, they have made it their mission to
improve the health and wellbeing of 1 billion people, halve the
environmental impact of making and using their products, and source
100% of their agricultural goods sustainably
Are their motives benevolent? No, not entirely. They are based
on good business. Unilever knows there is a market for fair trade
goods, they know that selling health and wellbeing goods to 1
billion people will make money.
Are they helping? Yes.
By leading a new way of approaching their supply chain and by using sustainability to drive innovation, Unilever are proving that doing good for the world and doing good for your business can be one and the same.
|*Unilever Sustainable living|
According to the General Electric (GE) website, "Ecomagination is a business strategy designed to drive innovation and the growth of profitable environmental solutions while engaging stakeholders."*
Or, in simple terms, it's a giant investment fund dedicated to environmentally-focused research and development.
The program started in 2005. By 2010, it boasted revenue of $70 billion. And money's not all there is to it.
In 2011, Fortune ranked GE the 6th largest firm in the US, as well as the 14th most profitable. Other rankings for 2011-2012 include No. 7 company for leaders (Fortune), No. 5 best global brand
(Interbrand), No. 63 green company (Newsweek), No. 15 most
admired company (Fortune), and No. 19 most innovative company (Fast
Money, innovation, admiration. An excellent example of re-invention being alive and well in a company founded in 1890.