Last week Yum Brands’(YUM)Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains made a big announcement. They are going to remove “most” artificial ingredients from their food products “by July” (Pizza Hut) or “by 2017” (Taco Bell) “where possible.” According to AP, “Instead of ‘black pepper flavor,’ for instance, Taco Bell will start using actual black pepper in its seasoned beef… Artificial dye Yellow No. 6 will be removed from its nacho cheese, Blue No. 1 will be removed from its avocado ranch dressing and carmine… will be removed from its red tortilla strips.”
In ad speak, “Most…by 2017…whenever possible” means not all, not now, and not when it’s difficult. In plain English that means that the fast food restaurants are not going to serve artificial ingredient-free products like their successful competitors do. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut will stand for something only when it’s expedient.
Why then are they even bothering? As my friend Melissa Francis says, “It’s all about the money.”
Taco Bell has been trying lots of different things to shore up its steadily slipping sales. They’re introducing new products, introducing liquor in one of their Chicago locations, and trying to make their offerings healthier.
But by only going part of the way with the health thing, Yum Brands will see almost no benefit. Health-conscious consumers will not be swayed because the company removed their unnatural ingredients “whenever possible.” And Taco Bell’s and Pizza Hut’s regular clientele – who care more about taste and low prices than health and ingredients – won’t care either.
By not standing for something, the company will find itself in the purgatory of being neither fish nor fowl. With no discernable brand value built into their new menu changes, regardless of what it costs them to make the revisions, no one will care and sales will continue to drop.
BMW is always standing for something. The car company promotes itself as “the ultimate driving machine” and lives up to the promise by engineering the same performance pedigree into their $30,000 cars as they do in their $150,000 models. Apple is always standing for something, too. They consistently maintain their commitment to design in everything they produce – from products to software to packaging. They even design and finish the inside of their devices which few of their customers will ever even see. Ritz-Carlton’s “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” are consistently standing for something. The hotel chain maintains its service reputation by providing superior levels of customer relations each time they interact with their guests.
On the other hand, Toyota virtually ruined its reputation as an always-reliable automotive appliance. They weren’t standing for something when they refused to take responsibility for their unintended acceleration problem. And Lululemon seriously damaged its reputation for empowering women. They weren’t standing for something when their since-departed CEO told the world their pants “don’t work for some women’s bodies.”
Standing for something is not always easy but it is an essential component to building brand value. Standing for something means companies have to turn down business opportunities that don’t fit with their core values. Standing for something means people have to say no to prospects that won’t enhance their personal commitments. And standing for something means that brands have to be ever vigilant about the training and follow-up required to always maintain their reputations and public image.
Of course standing for something requires a strong sense of self-awareness. After all, before you can make a commitment to what matters you have to know exactly what it is that does matter and why you’re willing to fight for it. But once you do, standing for something can become one of the most important things you do to build—and protect—your brand.