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A Brand Strategy of Likability

April 2, 2018

HandshakePeople like doing business with people they like. That’s why people join clubs or networking organizations. To some degree, that’s even why they join churches, civic organizations and the boards of nonprofits. The point is to meet people who share similar views and values. So, when an opportunity to do some business comes up, they know just who to call upon. They already know the lawyer, dentist, banker or tree surgeon they want to hire. People will even pay a little more if it means getting to collaborate with someone they like. Or they’ll go out of their way to support a friend’s struggling business. People also refer business to people they like. So, in joining these social groups, people try to make themselves as likable as possible. It’s all very civilized. As they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. We’re living, now, in the Information Age which means everybody knows everything about everybody. Everybody knows everything about businesses too and, more and more, they’ll only do business with businesses they like. So how does a company, or any organization for that matter, make itself likable? How does it demonstrate to its market, “Hey, yes! We’re just like you. We share your values.”?

Which brings us to Lacoste, a brand that has had its ups and downs over the years. It was founded in 1933 by René Lacoste, a French tennis champion who was known as “The Crocodile” because, once he sank his teeth into an opponent, he never let go. That’s why they have a crocodile for a logo. (And, by the way, Lacoste claims they’re the first apparel company ever Lacost logoto move the logo from the interior tag to the chest where it can proudly be displayed. Now it’s hard to find sportswear anywhere that doesn’t turn its wearer into a walking billboard.) Being an older brand, the company followed that old, tried-and-true strategy: buy low and sell high. Like many companies of its day, it didn’t pay much attention to the byproducts it created in its relentless pursuit of profit. Which meant it got into trouble when the market started caring about things like child labor and environmental practices.

Lacoste got into another controversy when they sponsored a group art show that included a controversial Palestinian artist. Before the show opened, they got cold feet and informed the artist her work was too political for them and she’d be bumped from the exhibition. This landed them square in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a business, you know you’ve really mishandled things when you find yourself in that particular cross-fire.

But these days, Lacoste seems to have learned that it really needs to be likable in order to have a strong brand relationship with its market. It’s cleaning up its act with regard to the workplace and the environment. Presumably, it’s behaving a little more diplomatically when curating art shows. And, when searching for a cause that it could share with its market, it found one right on its own chest.


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Lacoste has decided to take up a new cause – championing the plight of endangered species. Even though the company has no history of working with or for animals, its 85 year-old crocodile logo gives it an authentic, if tenuous, avenue to take up this flag. At least, that’s what I think.

alt logosA couple of weeks ago, I linked to a brilliant new campaign Lacoste launched called Save our Species (linked again below), partnering with a nonprofit of the same name. Lacoste offered limited edition polo shirts where ten endangered species replaced the crocodile logo. And it only produced quantities of each shirt that corresponded to the remaining number of animals extant. So, only 231 California condor shirts were made, only 60 Batagur turtle shirts and so on. All profits going back to the cause. The shirts were an immense hit and sold out immediately.

Now, however cool this campaign may be, it’s still a small program that won’t get much visibility. Lacoste is now challenged to find a way to scale up this kind of thinking. That’s hard to do when the whole point is to make the shirts as incredibly rare as the animals themselves. If it had sold shirts with the White Rhino, for instance, it would have made only three. And now that number has dwindled down to two. (RIP, Sudan!) But I’m confident the minds who devised this are capable of much more. Eagerly awaiting their next move.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you demonstrate the values of a brand. You find a cause that your market cares about – and that you have some standing to speak about – and you make a statement, hopefully, in an artful, attention-getting way. When the market sees you share their values, they like you and are more open to doing business with you. But, it can’t be said enough, you have to have an authentic connection to the cause. Lacoste’s link to endangered species is its logo. It’s a pretty weak link but enough to get them started.

If Lacoste drops it right there, it will be seen as exploiting the cause rather than championing it. To get full credit from the market, the company has to follow through and continue its support, consistently and over time. Then its association with the cause will become solidly authentic. Its leadership will be appreciated and the Lacoste brand will grow in strength and value.

Lacoste has picked out a winning strategy and launched it with a brilliant promotion. I might even be tempted to buy one of their polos. Why? Because now that I’ve seen them take a stand against animal extinction, I kinda like them.

Best Branding Reads – Week of April 2, 2018

Lacoste and Save Our Species
Again. Just a brilliant campaign.

Blockchain Name Changes Are Still Paying Off
I wonder if it helped, during the Dutch Golden Age, to change your business name to Tulip.

Gothic or Helvetica? For Brands, Fonts Help Tell a Story
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I can’t believe it’s taken 30 years for this obvious tie-in to happen! Take it global!

Interview with Mae Cheng, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of Mansion Global
Very interesting read, especially for those interested in luxury branding.

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