Why the Will to Sacrifice is a Good Measure of a Strong Brand

Why the Will to Sacrifice is a Good Measure of a Strong Brand

The co-founder of eco-friendly haircare brand HiBAR explains the startup's decision to go offline for the Global Climate Strike.

An e-commerce website goes down. A company’s main source of income screeches to a halt. There is panic. Frantic enactments of backup plans. War rooms fill. And the morning after, the axe swings.

And yet, here I am, the owner of just such a company, just such a non-functioning online store, calmly writing these words. Stranger still, I pulled the plug myself. I took hellohibar.com offline at midnight last night. Sabotage? Crazy? Or…?

Today is the Global Climate Strike. And so HiBAR, the company I started with three friends to help fight single-use plastic, is adding its voice to the call for action. A one-day demonstration of belief.

It was not a tough decision. Whether it costs us money or not didn’t even enter in to the 30-second conversation that led to the agreement amongst the partners.

We just did it because it felt right, and because to NOT do it would feel wrong—discordant with the brand we are creating.

It makes me think about the nature of sacrifice, as it plays out in the world of branding that I have been a part of for most of my career. There’s an ideal that states brand position is all about sacrifice, about knowing what you’re going to walk away from, about not being all things to all people.

This in itself is extremely difficult for most brands. It’s just really, really hard to risk being unloved by a large percent of the population. To cede audiences to your competitors.

Marketers talk about focus and positioning, but when reality comes along, it’s less about owning a point on a map than it is hoping to be the entire atlas. As is well known now, brand is not a façade. It is not what appears in marketing communications. It is actually the very core of a business – what that company means, how and why it exists, how it wins customers, makes money, and feeds its employees. And so, building a strong brand means inevitable sacrifice as a business.

Here are some examples of sacrifices that we have made, that I hope you can extrapolate over into your own business:

1. Taking a stand, going on strike. A business like ours is small, so the gesture could be criticized as symbolic. But symbolism is important. And the dollars lost today could have come in handy as we try to bootstrap our business.

2. We delayed our availability on Amazon because we could not guarantee that deliveries wouldn’t end up on doorsteps wrapped in plastic. Though the delay has lost us revenue and share, we are now the only major plastic-free brand that ships from Amazon plastic-free.

3. Production standards. We could have come to market much earlier, with an inferior product, but we believe that in order to attract mainstream customers, our solid bar formulations need to be as effective and enjoyable as traditional quality liquid shampoos. Again, the time it took to get there cost us money, sales and share.

4. U.S. Manufacturing. We could have saved money by manufacturing off-shore, but that would have challenged our ability to promise ingredient integrity to our customers. Now, all those sacrifices may end up killing us. They might be the most supremely dumb business decisions ever made. But they do emanate from, and continue to create, a very sure footing. We know right where we stand, and hence, where we’re going. We believe that’s a competitive advantage for any business.

Dion Hughes

Dion Hughes is the co-founder of HiBAR, Minneapolis-based maker of salon-quality, plastic-free hair care. He’s also the founder of Persuasion Arts &  Sciences, a creative brand consultancy that uses creativity to solve business problems.