Fire this consulting firm: It tells you to not be you, but instead to be something you’re not.
Let’s start with some context, this article from Fast Company: A Hamburger Chain That Asks Its Customers To Not Order Hamburgers, which details how a sustainability organization, The Natural Step, convinced Swedish hamburger chain Max Burgers that they should stop selling hamburgers and start selling a carbon footprint. Lest you think I’m making this up, click on the Max Burgers link above to see what is front and center on their website.
The Natural Step’s message to Max Burgers (and I suspect almost everyone they consult):
Don’t be who you are.
So now, Max Burgers has a decision to make: either we are a burger joint or we aren’t. We’re not a burger joint pretending not to be a burger joint, nor are we a carbon footprint advocate pretending to be a burger joint….. Wait. What?
You can’t be two things at the same time. It’s called brand confusion. If you don’t stand for something, then you can’t expect your customers to understand who you are and why they should purchase something from you.
“Don’t buy our burgers. They’re not healthy for you, they’re not sustainable.”
“Buy our burgers and we will plant a tree in Africa to offset our carbon footprint.”
Yea, that’s why I go to my fast-food burger joint.
How Does this Happen?
This is a very touchy feely story, especially for journalists who live in a touchy feely world and don’t ever have to deal with the real world; where you have to convince people to give you money. This is also touchy feely because it happens in Sweden, and all journalists know that things are more ideal in Sweden. But, let’s apply this to the less ideal United States, shall we? To McDonald’s:
McDonald’s: “How can we be a strong, thriving company into the future?”
Consultant: “You have to stop being who you are.”
McDonald’s: “Excuse me?”
Consultant: “The Quarter Pounder? It has to go. Those French fries too.”
McDonald’s: “But fries are our best-selling menu item. You realize we are the largest buyer of potatoes in the United States? What do we sell instead?”
Consultant: “Trees in Africa.”
McDonald’s: “But we’re a restaurant that sells hamburgers!”
Consultant: “You were a restaurant that sells hamburgers. Now you’re a carbon footprint company.”
McDonald’s: “But how can we make a profit that way?”
Consultant: “Do you want to be profitable, or sustainable?”
McDonald’s: “Get out.”
What is a Brand About Anyway?
The most important thing about a sustainable brand is you have to believe in what you’re selling. You have to be passionate about your product, or what your product does for people. I call it “Selling Your Soul.”
The irony is that this consulting firm was actually being their brand by telling their client to not be their brand. The Natural Step is a non-profit organization. What if the The Natural Step hired a profitability consultant that said,
“Listen, this sustainability thing, it makes people feel gooey inside, but you need to make more money. We recommend that you stop trying to teach people how to be sustainable and start teaching them how to sell things.”
The Natural Step would fire the profitability consultant because it’s not who they are. They would not be able to sustain a brand that doesn’t stoke their passion. And you can’t either. Strong brands are not about just selling stuff, any stuff, strong brands are built on Selling Your Soul.