Much has been written about the notion of “humble leadership”. Almost 13 million returns on Google suggests this is a topic that has intrigued many writers – and perhaps eluded many leaders. In a business environment where Transparency, Authenticity and Customer Service (Servitude?) are espoused daily, I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising.
But is there a place for brands that are humble??
Google the phrase “humble brands” though and you get less than 6 million returns. Less important? Or just fewer credible examples?
The definitions (or mantras) of humble leaders aren’t particularly surprising. A few of the common ones;
- Share the spotlight or step away from it completely
- Acknowledge your limitations/weakness
- Invite feedback
- Trust in those around you
- Be strong and gentle
So is it possible for brands to act in this way? Because, let’s be honest, leaders come and go, so shouldn’t brands be carrying this water?
In my experience there are very few true examples.
Ben & Jerry’s is a natural example. Maybe its all that Vermont hippie culture but they definitely feel like a brand that gets humility. Taken directly from their mission and values statement, how humble is this?
We strive to show a deep respect for human beings inside and outside our company and for the communities in which they live.
Perhaps less well known, UK food and beverage company Innocent is another that typifies humility. I adore this remark – brimful of English sarcasm – taken from their mission statement;
We sure aren’t perfect but we’re trying to do the right thing. It might make us sound like a Miss World contestant, but here at innocent, we want to leave things a little bit better than we find them.
But both companies go further than pithy mission statements. Innocent has an incredibly robust partner network that they hold to incredibly high standards (#1 and #4) and a strong commitment to leaving a proper legacy (#5). Ben & Jerry’s famously crowdsources their flavor names (#1) and founder Jerry Greenfield is an outspoken voice for the limitations of business (#2) and the need to assist struggling communities (#4).
Food and beverage brands as humble? Okay, I can buy a certain straight line there. But a Utility company? In my experience Utility companies are the furthest from humble.
In researching this notion of “humble brands” a colleague pointed me to Canadian utility BCHydro. I was kinda surprised.
What floored me was that, for a monopoly, they’re actually trying to get folks to use their products less. That in a region where electricity is both clean (hydro not coal or nuclear) and plentiful, they’re actually taking on an advocacy role with local government to make building and environmental regulations tougher.
I also thought this initiative – Candlelight Conservation – was a great example of Humble Rule #1, driving more recognition for restaurant’s energy conservation efforts than it did for BC Hydro.
With sustainability such a key issue for all three companies, I’m not surprised that ethics and socially-empathetic initiatives register high for them.
What did surprise me was that, unlike many other companies, these three were quite circumspect about it. No megaphone shouting. No horn-tooting. Just quietly getting on with doing the right thing.
Maybe there are humble brands out there after all.
What say you reader? Are humble brands a new phenomenon or not? Should we be trying to cultivate more of them?