Consider, for a moment, my favorite definition of brand:

brand  n.  /brænd/ : the promises you keep

Think about the promises of some popular brands. Coca Cola promises us a delicious, fizzy drink using its secret formula. Heinz delivers tried and true ketchup, increasingly in varieties, but always in line with its signature taste. Now, let’s shift from what we buy to where we buy and look at brand promises of popular retailers:

Wal-Mart … promises the lowest price.

From their website, the company is committed to, “above all, an unwavering commitment to saving people money.” To accomplish this, they have operated for decades in a frugal culture, squeezing suppliers so that customers can benefit from a great price.

Amazon … promises convenience and selection.
Early in its history, Amazon has positioned itself as “the earth’s biggest store.” Its marketplace now accounts for a majority of its retail sales in the U.S., ensuring that the site remains unparalleled in selection with millions of products available at any given time. The company’s vast logistics and distribution network enables convenience at a new level, now offering 1-day delivery through its Prime membership program.

Trader Joe’s … promises simplicity and value.
The company works directly with suppliers to source high-quality products and offer them (mostly) private-labeled under the Trader Joe’s brand. A typical grocery store carries over 50,000 products; Trader Joe’s carries about 4,000 products. This ensures simplicity — we don’t have to choose between 15 varieties of (basically the same) potato chips, particularly since we trust Trader Joe’s to pick for us. Direct sourcing from suppliers also gets them better deals, and they deliver on their value promise by passing the savings on to shoppers.

Whole Foods … promises high quality natural and organic foods.
In addition to organic produce, we can buy “animal welfare rated meat;” “sustainability wild-caught seafood;” and “body care products with ingredients you can trust.” They ban hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and more than 100 colors, flavors, and preservatives commonly found in food, as well as 100+ undesirable ingredients in their beauty products. Check out their list of unacceptable ingredients. Even as a subsidiary of Amazon, Whole Food is maintaining its brand promises, at least for now.

Which brand promise matters most to you?

The brands we choose are an extension of our values, and our actions speak louder than our words. Most of us don’t stick exclusively with one brand, but it is worth considering how our shopping habits reflect our values and impacts our society.

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