By Jeff Fromm
What do socks have to do with brand sustainability and overcoming challenges?
Consider Bombas, a company that donates a pair of (well-designed, somewhat pricey) socks to homeless shelters with every pair sold. The company is fairly young (2013), but it encapsulates so well the long term results-driven power of Brand Culture. And so doing, it's become a $100 million brand.
"Brand culture is so important for sustainable, whole brands," says Jimmy Keown, VP and Growth Strategy Director at Barkley. "It is especially so during times of rapid change in the world which requires employees and leaders within an organization to adapt and contribute in meaningful ways while still remaining true to who they are as a brand. This is how Bombas has been able to 'Win Inside to Win OutsideTM,' even in 2020."
According to Keown, when an organization's brand culture is healthy and thriving, the brand wins itself a competitive advantage: employees become true believers and super advocates for the brand's purpose, with the potential to engage consumers and other external audiences in truly authentic ways. Internal true believers naturally yield external true believers, and that's how brands become emotionally connected with their stakeholder audiences. Relationships over transactions.
Keown further emphasizes that the success of Bombas' brand purpose and culture are founded not merely by the opinion of decision-makers in a boardroom, but rather that the brand's culture-wide approach of 'Hey, this is what we all believe as a collective community' is what really connects Bombas' internal True Believers with the fans who buy its socks. Bombas: the preferred socks of True Believers.
"Brand Culture allows organizations like Bombas to more easily align who they are with what they do," says Keown. "It allows the brand to get engaged (participate) and activate (in a unique "Bombas" way) to both create impact and stand out in their brand category. This not only results in a company that creates positive results for communities and the world, but also a company that consumers will be more likely to take notice of."
Bombas' Brand Culture Leads to Brand Love
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many a company scrambling to sustain customer engagement and sales. While other brands were trying to figure out how to address the pandemic and "move the needle," Bombas was showing it was able to remain true to its brand purpose, Brand Culture, and sustainability. Not bad for a brand whose founders (David Heath and Randy Goldberg) started out just wanting their driving purpose to be getting socks to the homeless population.
Heath, also the brand's CEO, recalls back to early March of this year, when the COVID scare was starting to really take hold of the public.
"Companies were trying to figure out what to do to boost business," says Heath. "But consumers were entirely focused on survival needs. They were thinking about canned goods, paper towels, toilet paper, sanitary items, etc. Yet in our inboxes, you'll remember we were all receiving marketing emails saying 'Here's our new spring collection,' or 'Get outside and stay active with our new X, Y, Z shoe.' Other brands just wanted to tout their organization's COVID response. It all felt so incredibly tone deaf."
During this time of heightened nationwide anxiety, homeless shelters across the country were also under increased strain, with increased health, safety, and social distancing demands. Heath feels that in an odd way, Bombas was "built for" just such a moment as the pandemic. Rather than having to "figure things out," who Bombas had become as a brand and culture led to a natural response.
For at least three weeks, Bombas did not send out a single product-driven email. They instead connected with their audience to let them know how Bombas was able to partner with groups that work with the homeless and with other companies to make a reaching, positive impact—all thanks to the support of their customers. The emails were well-received (boasting an enormous open rate of 60 to 80 percent), and strengthened a connection between the brand and its followers.
The enthusiasm bolstered Bombas sales as well, as much as 40 percent during some weeks during the pandemic.
"For the last seven years, we'd been building a network of over 3,500 'giving partners' here in the United States that specifically work with the homeless and those at risk," says Heath. "When it came time to take action, we were just able to do a lot more of what we've already been doing, which is not only get socks and t-shirts to those in need, but then to team up with our partners who were reaching out to us, like Cleancult. Partnering with Cleancult, for example, who had lots of soap and personal care items, but no idea how to get them to those who needed them the most, we were able to leverage our internal team, our network, our distribution partners, to be able to get soap and personal care items out to a fair number of our giving partners."
Bombas also partnered with a company known as Brooklinen to help meet a heightened demand for sheets among homeless shelters. Brooklinen donated thousands of twin bedsheets to accommodate the needs of the homeless community, which Bombas was able to distribute via its helper network, according to Heath.
"We were really set up to weirdly take advantage of everything that we've done to react to the pandemic," says Heath.
Again, Brand Culture goes beyond public perception. It should be a natural reflection of who you are as a brand.
Brand Culture Thinking
"2020 for Bombas was the year of what we call 'Brand Culture Thinking,'" says Keown. "The more a brand like Bombas can showcase behaviors that support Brand Culture Thinking, the more likely they are to achieve the successes of Brand Culture - it becomes a virtuous cycle of identifying needs, taking action and celebrating the results. While Brand Culture can be achieved by any number of organizations, at any stage of their history, Bombas' purpose-driven model and mission shows the power of Brand Culture in even the most challenging times."
How can you find and connect with your brand’s True Believers, even during volatile times? One hint. Lead with your purpose.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.com.
Dec 16, 2020
Brand Culture, Culture, Marketing, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Retail, Whole Brand
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