Reading about Guy Watson of Riverford in the Telegraph got me thinking about how the story of a company or its founder can help, hinder or dominate its brand.
Undoubtedly for Riverford it has been a strength with Guy’s regular ‘commie rants’ (his words not mine!) being looked forward to by their loyal customers. Riverford have crafted Guy’s personality and philosophy about life into their brand. While I’m not sure this would work for every company, it fits in with Riverford’s target market – people who are likely to be conscious of the environmental impact of their food choices and who to a certain extent may already be converts to his cause.
This is something that has been on my mind a lot since I started at Do Nation. The story of how Hermione set up Do Nation is intrinsic to our identity as an organisation. Our story inspires our purpose and our mission. We want to help people to make the small changes in behaviour that will add up to make a big impact on our overall environmental footprint, creating long lasting positive changes in habits.
This purpose is visible in the evolution of our story from Hermione’s cycle to Morocco – where she asked people to pledge to do simple, sustainable actions as sponsorship for her trip – into Donate by Doing, a platform for anyone to make a challenge and raise pledges of their own. The next chapter in our story has seen us develop Do Good For Business – helping organisations to encourage their employees to commit to simple pledges in and around the workplace, like cycling to work or turning off monitors, extending our reach even further. This evolution of story into mission is what drives us and our business forwards.
For me, the chance to help do good is what gets me out of bed each morning, it is an incredible privilege to be paid to do something I care passionately about. This feeling of shared purpose in the Do Nation team gives us an extra level of energy and excitement about what we do and I hope this translates across to our clients and their employees. We want people not just to use our platform, but to join our nation of do-ers on our journey towards making sustainable living mainstream.
Purposely putting your story front and centre of your brand can also really help a company to stand out from the crowd. There’s plenty of evidence floating around that customers (especially from my generation) are looking to make purchases from companies whose purpose they empathise with, even when it might cost a bit more. This can be seen in the success of companies like Riverford and Toms or the mainstreaming of Fairtrade in the UK. This is actually a key part of what we want to achieve as a company. We want to help create customers who are conscious of the impacts of the purchases they make. We drive this through some of our Do Actions, asking our users for example to do Clean Their Bills, Passion Fashion or Fix It!
There are however a couple of things to bear in mind when your company grows its brand and purpose from its story. You have to be willing to stick to your principles and make business decisions that don’t conflict with your brand or you’ll lose the customer base you’ve fought so hard to engage. Ben and Jerry’s are a great example of this for me. In 1989 they had the opportunity to save some cash by buying cheaper milk that had been produced by cows treated with Monsanto’s growth hormones, even if it had some serious negative health implications for cattle. There was never really a choice for Ben and Jerry’s, they stuck to their principles, spending the extra cash for better milk and staying on the right side of the argument. And the results speak for themselves: their brand is loved and the company has boomed.
Story and purpose can be a great driver to move your business forwards, engaging both employees and customers when it is authentic. But really for companies like Riverford or us at the Do Nation, started by people with passions for disrupting the status quo – could we have ended up any other way?