Long before they were bought out by the food giant Unilever, when Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield started selling homemade ice cream out of a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, it was personality and tons of attitude that helped get the business off the ground. Jerry said, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” Ben said “Every company has a responsibility to give back to the community.” Those two simple ideas became the driving philosophy of the Ben & Jerry’s brand.
Over the years they’ve had a lot of fun with their crazy flavours: First it was Cherry Garcia, named after Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Over the years, Karamel Sutra, The Vermonster and Oh My Apple Pie… there’s authentic brand personality in every spoon. All these names were original, sometimes controversial, and were very different to everything else on the market.
Bravery is certainly a huge part of their brand personality. Ben & Jerry have never been afraid of a little controversy. They decided from the off that the company needed to stand for something beyond just making money. So they built their passion for social and environmental issues into the business model. That, by itself, differentiates their brand from the competition – and from 90% of the corporations out there.
You won’t see Haggen Daz doing Free Cone Day for local charities. Or buying environmentally friendly freezers. Or supporting Fair Trade. Or railing against military spending. Or even occupying Wall Street. Or supporting a local school fundraiser…
In their book, “Double Dip,” Ben said “Modern marketing is a process whereby faceless, nameless, valueless corporations hire marketers to determine what the consumer would like their brand to be, and then fabricate an image that corresponds. But they still only get a sliver of the market, because their made-up story isn’t any more appealing than the next. With values-led marketing you just go out there and say who you are. You don’t have to fool people to sell them your product.” That’s what you call an authentic brand personality.
Most business owners seem to think they should keep their personal views and beliefs out of business – they consider it too be a very risky strategy. But for Ben & Jerry, their personalities and personal moral code created a corporate culture that’s become a model for value-driven businesses everywhere. It’s this that drives brand loyalty. And it doesn’t come from big, trumped up marketing efforts. It comes from doing things passionately. Consistently. And honestly. As Ben & Jerry have said, “Only the quality of the product and the resonance a customer feels with the company can produce repeat business and brand loyalty.”
Big personalities resonate. But as Ben & Jerry prove, you don’t have to be Richard Branson to build a successful brand. You just have to be passionate about something. Because humans are naturally drawn to passionate people. Ben & jerry’s may not be authentic anymore, but you can learn a lot from their journey as a brand, and how it was integral to their success.