Building a brand? Stand behind what you stand for

The New York Times provided some excellent grist for this week’s mill with a story about the company I often feature as an exemplar of how you achieve a robust, resilient brand result – Patagonia.

The article is well worth reading in total, but the aspect I want to highlight is the way the company so resolutely stands behind what it stands for.

Here in Australia, we are mired in stories about financial institutions acting with flagrant disregard towards what they say they stand for, so I found it a refreshing reminder that there are still good intentions out there.

To learn more about why your purpose needs a story, click here.

Stories about a company standing up for something often come with a side of expediency. Caught out acting in a way at odds with what they say about themselves, they quickly jump to damage control, soon followed by donations, support for a relevant cause, the full-page mea culpa ad, etc., etc.

For those not familiar with this story and why it is different, Patagonia is suing the US president after he issued an executive order to reduce the size of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument (Park). While this is the first time their activism has targeted a sitting president, their activist roots and care for the environment run deep. Starting in 1972, when Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, supported efforts to halt development along the Ventura River, it continued through the years with grants to thousands of local causes and (more recently) a venture capital program investing in environment-related startups.

Fast-forward to now, and the company is one of the most vocal opponents of the environmental roll-backs enacted under the current president, sparking an effort by his supporters to #BoycottPatagonia. Chouinard wryly noted in a recent podcast interview that the campaign instead delivered a 60% jump in revenue that month.

While the whole article reveals the nuts and bolts of the recent campaign and legal action, it is also a study of what it means to stand behind what you stand for.

So, how do you stand behind what you stand for? How do you back it up, be its champion, go to bat for it? In big and small ways. Every day, not just when you get caught in the spotlight. When it’s inconvenient and when it’s of benefit.

I don’t know what you stand for. I hope you do stand for something (if you don’t, read this next). And I’m not suggesting that there’s any kind of inherent “good” in standing behind something. The business landscape is complicated and things are rarely all good. For example, Walmart stands behind what they stand for (low prices), yet they deliver entirely different results with time-pinched staff kept off benefits, suppliers cost-squeezed out of business.

Stories like Patagonia help us see how others do it well, but it takes time to develop the habits to support this way of thinking and doing. And a whole lot of deep work to truly understand how to embed what you stand for into them. To borrow a phrase from Steven Pressfield, “do the work”.

And if you’d like to deep dive a bit further, listen to the recent podcast with founder Yvon Chouinard I mentioned above. Just two guys who love to fish having a chat about business, life and nature (not necessarily in that order).

See you next week.

NOW READ: Lessons from these seven controversial stories that put companies in the spotlight

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan


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