Image is nothing without sincerity


Brand positioning is vital in business; it allows consumers to differentiate one company from another. Unsurprisingly then firms commit vast amounts of resources to developing identities, yet so many still don’t seem to understand that their actions speak louder than any press releases or projected pictures.
Just look at Starbucks, an organisation that has worked hard at moving away from the global franchise stereotype, advertising its various charitable exploits whilst promoting environmental awareness and social responsibility amongst businesses. In short, this isn’t just another greedy blue chip corp. Apparently.
Walk into any outlet and that proposition is clear. Fair Trade logos and the customer’s name neatly frothed into the top of each delicious cup abound. Starbucks is your friend. Starbucks cares. Starbucks has dark wood furniture. Then again, Starbucks has only paid £8million in UK taxes over the last 14 years, and not a penny in the last three- news that hit this month, as the country creaks under budget deficits, irrespective of its emergence from the dreaded double dip.
It’s worrying to think how much difference a similar sized donation could make to essential services, and that’s before you consider the number of other firms also guilty of comparable legal but unethical practices (see also: Vodafone). Digressions aside let’s stick with the coffee giant though, and its nearest rival, the British based Costa, a brand that has no option other than paying the full Inland Revenue bill. Surely no amount of spiel can deny that for one to contribute nought, and another what’s rightfully due, isn’t competitive practice, let alone Fair Trade?
Thankfully there is a silver cloud on this distinctly depressing horizon, namely the furore Starbucks’ avoidance initiative has resulted in. A PR catastrophe, according to our industry press, such bold statements are well founded, considering what we’re supposed to think of the biggest bean roasting brand in the marketplace. If you didn’t pick up on it earlier, the intended image is a far cry from the profit hungry multinational now at the centre of this embarrassing economic scandal.
It’s a strange contradiction for a company that obviously invests so much in issuing positive messages. Perhaps they thought we wouldn’t notice, though it’s far more likely they simply presumed nobody would care, an assumption that speaks volumes about a wider culture. eBay, for example, also made headlines for similar reasons in recent weeks, and that’s just one more off the top of my head. In each instance discussed here the damage is done, reputation wise, and will take some repairing, proving that without genuine sincerity and consistency in terms of actions, any brand positioning can be rendered useless with one insightful article.