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What Ford’s and Chipotle’s Recent Actions Reveal About Their Values

Values matter. That’s the message that comes through loud and clear in recent moves by Ford and Chipotle. In Ford’s case, they took on Cadillac by spoofing their ‘Poolside’ ad with an #Upside ad that calls attention to the values that Ford espouses, while mocking Cadillac’s blatant materialist bent. Meanwhile, over at Chipotle, they are actually raising food prices to keep up with rising costs, and not shying away from it, but instead openly discussing the fact that they’ve built enough good-will with their customers to do so without risking a revolt.

What do these examples have in common? They reveal that these brands stand for something potentially polarizing and aren’t afraid to very publicly acknowledge it. Let’s look at the recent history of both these brands and how their latest moves are in harmony with their deeper purpose.

For years, Ford has been moving steadily forward in embracing sustainability and fuel efficient vehicles in their fleet. The carmaker has developed multiple vehicle platforms that are in keeping with public demand for more options, including hybrid and full-electric vehicles. Bill Ford Jr., Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company, has been bucking the industry on this topic for most of his career. He pushed for fuel efficiency programs long before the price of oil spiked in the mid 2000s, and resisted pressure from within his own company to disassociate himself from the ‘environmental wackos’ that were toxic to Ford’s bottom line. Indeed, Ford is no stranger to the sustainability conversation.

Bill-Ford_TED

Bill Ford Jr. speaks at TED 2011

Over at Chipotle, the brand has made major strides in emphasizing quality ingredients that are free of antibiotics and non-GMO when possible. They famously served up an indictment of the industrialized food system during the Super Bowl in 2012 with their 2 minute Back To The Start TV commercial, and they followed that up with a 3-minute short film called The Scarecrow, which goes further into the issue of industrial agriculture. Chipotle has established trust with its customers by going far beyond what is required in terms of disclosing their food sourcing, and even casting a harsh light on the issue overall.

While the Ford commercial was an opportunistic reaction to another car company’s ad, it ultimately gives a strong wink to younger drivers who share values that Ford espouses while taking a public stand on what’s really important to people.

Chipotle’s proactive announcement that food prices are going up is illustrative of their belief in the strength of their brand and the loyalty of its customers. It’s no surprise, then, that instead of turning to cheaper ingredients or cutting costs in other harmful ways, they instead chose to embrace the reality that it costs more to serve the food their customers have come to expect, and therefore the menu prices need to be adjusted accordingly.

Both examples show that brands can take a position and stand for something more than the quantifiable aspects of their products and services. In a competitive landscape where price wars and emphasis on the economic edge a brand is able to deliver rule, these brands zig while their competitors zag and dial up the emotional, intangible benefits their brands provide, whether explicitly stated or not.

Ford and Chipotle are arguably among the strongest brands in the US, and this is no accident. They stand for something and don’t try to hide from it, even when it might alienate some people.

Simon Sinek in his ‘Start with Why’ TEDx talk discusses the importance of brands understanding the deeper motivations behind customer behavior. He posits that people are moved to take action when a person or brand believes what they believe. These shared beliefs trump rational benefits and cause people to be loyal to those who are in harmony with their values.

Values matter to people. They are at the core of human behavior. Brands who embrace the values of their most valuable customers are poised to win the hearts and minds of future customers who gravitate naturally to the message the brand broadcasts. This becomes increasingly important in a landscape of constant noise and information overload, as people tend to turn to what they trust when confronted with too much stimulus.

Brands must get beneath the surface-level chatter in the marketplace and understand what’s really going on with their customers at an emotional level: what they believe and what their deeper motivations are. Only then can they respond in manner that’s truly resonant and build their brands on a solid foundation that endures.