Fearless Girl: The Pitfalls of Forgetting to Look at Your Brand First

Regardless of whether you follow the marketing industry, I’m guessing you’ve seen (at least pictures of) the bronze Fearless Girl statue.

For a quick refresher: The investment firm State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) installed it last year on International Women’s Day and placed it in front of the Charging Bull statue in New York’s financial district. SSGA used the rollout to bring up the issue of gender disparities in corporate America, accompanying the statute with a plaque that reads, “Know The Power of Women in Leadership/She Makes a Difference.” It was an immediate success, going viral on social media and resulting in $7.4 million in free marketing, according to the Guardian. Home run, right? For about a minute. Then the backlash hit.

Consumers asked about SSGA’s own hiring practices. That’s when the campaign went off the rails. Scrutiny showed that the company had a checkered history on gender-equitable hiring and had been the subject of a lawsuit brought by more than 300 female employees. SSGA eventually agreed to pay $5 million to settle the claims but it couldn’t settle the bad feeling left in the stomachs of consumers.

What a shame. But, perhaps most importantly, what a lesson.

Align Your Brand Purpose With Your Brand Action
It’s a wonderful thing to do something with a social aim. Anyone who knows me knows I’m all for it. But there are a few critical steps your brand must take to ensure you’re actually “Doing Well By Doing Good,” rather than just making a cash grab by disingenuously seizing on the current wave of consumers who are drawn to brands with a positive message.

Start by asking yourself some basic questions: What’s your “brand purpose”? What are the core attributes of your business? Or put another way, what would the world be lacking if your brand didn’t exist? Focusing on your day-to-day mission helps identify your brand purpose.

Then it’s time to move beyond brand purpose and take a real “brand action” that stems from your purpose and creates a real, meaningful impact. But as we learned in the case of SSGA, once you’ve taken action, you had better be prepared to hold yourself to the standards of your ideals.

For one, SSGA’s brand purpose didn’t connect organically with its brand action. Its mission statement reads: “State Street Global Advisors helps investors around the world ranging from governments and institutions to financial advisors find better ways to achieve their investment goals.” Gender parity isn’t there.

Contrast that with a wildly different company: Savers, the thrift store chain. To gather inventory, it purchases products from non-profit organizations, which receives the items as donations. What Savers doesn’t sell it recycles. In this way Savers (a for-profit) is able to give money to non-profit organizations and help the environment. This connects with the company’s slogan: “Shop: Reuse; Reimagine.” Everything there lines up. It encourages people to shop and reuse by doing so itself. Reusing isn’t just lip service.

Another company that has smartly wedded its brand purpose with its brand actions is Parachute, which manufacturers luxurious bed sheets. With every purchase of Parachute’s Venice sheet sets, the company buys a bed net to prevent the spread of malaria. It connects its purpose to provide bedding to consumers with an action to provide nettings for the needy, and ties the two together through sales. The program then becomes more than an add-on charitable statement; it becomes what Parachute does.

Walk Your Talk
This is where SSGA tripped over its own feet. Even if SSGA isn’t going to focus on gender parity in its mission statement, it should’ve audited itself before entering the conversation. What consumers crave is impactful and authentic action. This is something I discuss in my TEDx Talk. If you’re going to hold others accountable, you have to start with yourself. That’s the only way you’re going to convince people you’re credible. Before SSGA came anywhere close to unveiling that statue, it should have invested in a thorough examination of its own hiring practices. That’s Marketing 101.

If nothing else, remember what your parents taught you when you were a kid: don’t throw stones from glass houses. And certainly don’t throw them from glass corporate headquarters.

Amanda Brinkman

July 20, 2018

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