“Actions speak louder than words,” so the saying goes, and with apologies to all my writer friends, I’ll have to agree with that sentiment.
As I’ve explored in this blog over the last couple of weeks – words do matter. Quite a bit. The right words get things off and running. They pull us in. Capture our imaginations and attention.
But it all comes to a grinding halt if words are all there is.
We’ve all been there. The sexy offer. The big promise. The resonant value statement. All shown to be empty and meaningless when the offer isn’t followed through. The promise isn’t delivered. The value statement isn’t backed up. When the actions to support the words are missing.
Do your words have actions to back them up?
It’s a universal question that I’ve been exploring this week in three different forums. With a division of a corporate client kicking off a transformation project. With a startup working on a new product. And with a group of people working to build their personal brands.
Words are relatively cheap, and in these days of so-called “content marketing” (which I’d still like someone to explain to me why that’s different from marketing content) virtually disposable. Actions require more investment. They require me to put something tangible on the line. They are concrete.
Big sweeping actions all the way down to the little everyday things. They all combine together to tell the real story about what I care about. And it’s often the small stuff that trips us up.
Think about your own experience dealing with a business either as a customer or as an employee or owner. Chances are there will be at least some instances where you have occasion to think or comment, “Yep I know they said that, but then they go and do this, so it’s really just talk…”
To give a more concrete illustration consider one of my favorite alignment examples, Patagonia. As outdoor apparel makers, many of their jackets and vests use duck down as insulation. Duck down is pretty controversial because in some cases it is collected via what’s called live plucking – truly awful from an animal cruelty perspective and completely out of sync with their philosophy of “do as little harm as possible”, but it’s also the best insulation known to man.
To back their words up with actions they had to make a choice. You can read the full rationale here. They still use duck down but, “the down in all of our down products can be traced back to birds that were never force-fed and never live-plucked. The Traceable Down Standard provides the highest assurance of animal welfare in the apparel industry. We began working in 2007 to achieve this and are the only brand to have done so.”
Keep in mind they specifically talk about as little harm as possible and aren’t relying on just empty words. They audit suppliers, tracking every stage in bird production (even those not directly related to the point down is collected), all the way to making sure their down is kept segregated from other sources in the manufacturing process and employing a third party to oversee and verify each step.
And that’s exactly why we so often don’t take the actions that would give our words meaning. It’s piles and piles of work and if what’s driving the actions isn’t something you care about it’s too easy to just leave it at words and hope no one notices the gap. Again in Patagonia’s own words the actions needed to back up their words meant:
“…thousands of hours of work from our executives, designers, material planners, sourcing department, suppliers and corporate social responsibility team. It was neither cheap nor easy, and we had to change our strategy and business operations to accomplish this. But building a product that helps you stay warm in good conscience is a legacy we are proud of.”
Which brings me back to brand and why this matters so much. Brand is the result of the promises you keep. Keeping them is an action or combination of actions. If you want to be conscious and deliberate you’ve got to be prepared to put in those hours.
See you next week.
Don’t miss the opportunity to get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected].
Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan