When you work in brand marketing, or anywhere in a marketing-driven company, an interesting thing happens. Or more accurately, an interesting expectation happens.
Suddenly, your choices are no longer your own. They become a representation of the brand you work for.
If you work at adidas or Nike, the company now claims ownership over part of your closet. If you’re seen wearing a competitor brand, you might not have a job for long.
If you work at MolsonCoors or AB InBev, and you’re seen drinking a beer brand that isn’t in your portfolio, your upward mobility may vanish.
The reasoning behind this expectation is flawed.
The idea is, if you as an employee aren’t supporting the brand, then who is?
But here’s the thing. Each of us is a complex mix of seeming contradictions. What makes you interesting (and increases your value to a company) is the very fact that you are interested in a variety of things. You enter a company as a vibrant, multidimensional version of yourself and are asked—through cultural expectations—to inauthentically become a 2-dimensional version.
Taking away choice from a population is reminiscent of a dictatorship. Take a look at dictatorships. Ask yourself, do the people living there appear to be thriving? Is innovation thriving?
Asking your workforce to stick their head in the sand and pretend there aren’t competitors in the same space—competitors that also offer compelling product options—is damaging to your future success. You want your employees to be able to honestly say when another company is doing something valuable, interesting, and noteworthy.
Seeing what brands people choose freely, and having the opportunity to find out why, is valuable.
Pretending you live in a utopia where only your brand exists isn’t real or beneficial. You want your workforce to be intimately familiar with all the brands in your space so they can make informed decisions and suggestions for your company.
The expectations you set shape your company culture. They can either strengthen it or weaken it.
The best cultures invite people to share themselves. They never ask their people to forfeit their voice or forfeit their freedom of choice.
After all, if you truly believe you’re creating the best brands in the world, you won’t feel threatened by the freedom of choice.