Brands Must Replace Friction With Empowerment

Jeff RosenblumMay 22, 20195 min

Friction is the difference between the way things are and the way they should be. It’s the big things that prevent us from being who we want to be. It’s the little things that prevent us from doing what we want to do.

Fighting friction provides a system for prioritizing opportunities. It provides a framework for creative development.

Digital technology completely disrupted the brand-building model that worked for the last century. Fighting friction is the new way forward. In a world where consumers are bombarded with marketing messages every moment they are awake, brands need to find a new way to stand out, get considered, build loyalty and win evangelists.

Fighting friction enables brands to divorce themselves from legacy business models. It is a revolutionary approach to building unprecedented customer relationships and unparalleled financial performance.

Welcome To The Revolution

When Yvon Chouinard (pictured) graduated college, he and his friends called themselves dirtbags. They meant it as the highest of compliments. Dirtbags didn’t care about capitalism. They didn’t care about material things. They didn’t care about anything except enjoying the great outdoors.

Yvon was part of the 1964 first ascent of the North America wall of El Capitan in Yosemite, using no fixed ropes. Over the next few years he spent countless months rock climbing. When he needed a break from rock climbing, he and his dirtbag friends went to the beach and surfed. That’s it. That’s all they cared about. They cared so little about the finer things in life that they lived off cans of cat food, which they mixed with oatmeal for extra sustenance. They weren’t even regular cans of cat food. They were the dented cans that they bought for pennies.

Even when you’re eating cat food, you still need pocket money. So in 1957, Yvon bought an anvil. When he took a break from surfing, he pounded on metal until he invented new kinds of pitons that enabled climbers to tackle routes they could never scale before. Yvon originally sold them out of his car, but soon grew his company to a huge success.

He no longer needed to live off of cat food. Then one day in 1970, he was rock climbing in Yosemite and saw something that he had never seen before. There was a hole in the rock. A scar. At first, he couldn’t figure out what caused the hole. But it tormented him. Finally, Yvon realized what was damaging the thing that he loved the most in the whole world. It was the pitons he created. His invention was scarring the rock.

For a dirtbag, Yvon had become relatively rich from those pitons. He had more than enough money to climb and surf to his heart’s content. But the thing that was helping fulfill his dreams was also hurting what he adored the most—the rocks he loved to climb.

When I first heard this story, it made me think of the equipment that corporations use to grow brands. Specifically, advertising. Like Yvon’s pitons, advertising originally did amazing things. It made brands wildly successful and took them places they’d never been before. But eventually advertising started to scar what brands love the most in this world—their reputation with their customers.

Yvon didn’t try to solve the problem with his original equipment. He threw out the old designs and created new aluminum rock climbing equipment called chockstones. They enabled climbers to scale the rocks without leaving a mark. The clean climbing revolution was born.

Ultimately, his new equipment led to the creation of Patagonia, one of the world’s most successful outdoor gear and apparel companies. From the start, Patagonia used a revolutionary approach to virtually everything. Nowadays it’s common for companies to have on-site childcare and cafeterias dedicated to healthy choices. Patagonia had both in 1984. In 1986, it first committed a share of its revenue and profits to environmental causes. It demanded the use of organic cotton in 1994, before most people knew what organic was.

This is core to how the Patagonia brand is built. Patagonia rarely uses traditional advertising. Instead, they use a platform that removes friction. They understand that to enjoy their products, their customers need a healthy environment. So they donate to environmental causes, create content that exposes the damage that their own manufacturing does to the environment and print collateral that asks their customers to buy fewer products.

This spirit was exemplified in their revolutionary initiative that took over their website and marketing collateral. It had a picture of a new Patagonia jacket and urged customers in a giant font: “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” By asking their audience to purchase fewer jackets, they could help reduce the amount of garbage from old jackets and manufacturing by-products from new jackets. This was not just a passing PR gambit. This was a friction-fighting platform.

Brands Must Be A Friction-Fighting Platform

The friction that exists for Patagonia customers is that the creation of outdoor gear actually damages the great outdoors. So Patagonia built a platform to remove the friction. They empower the audience through education. In spite of doing things that seem contrary to their direct interests, their approach is working. Patagonia has never performed better. That’s the power of removing friction.

Fighting friction works because the digital revolution fundamentally altered the relationship between brands and consumers. Brands can no longer create scars and cover them up with slick ad campaigns. Everyone knows the truth and they know it in real-time.

Just as Yvon needed to create a new tool to climb mountains, brands need a new tool to build success. A tool that improves people’s lives. A tool that helps brands prioritize how their resources are invested. A tool that leads to unparalleled financial performance. That’s what happens when brands replace friction with empowerment.

This isn’t about how to create a good brand. This is about how to create a breakthrough brand. A brand that breaks its addiction to advertising and creates an army of evangelists. A brand that cuts through the hype of the latest media technology tools. A brand that focuses on behaviors over messaging. A brand that empowers its customers and dominates the competition.

Brands that fight friction empower. Not just interrupt.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Jeff Rosenblum and Jordan Berg, excerpted from their book Friction: Passion Brands in the Age of Disruption, published by powerHouse Books

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