Branding: The Good, Bad and Ugly – An Important Lesson From MEC

At Level5, we define brand as the value of a promise consistently kept™. Keeping a promise is no easy task. No organization knows that better than Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC), who yesterday announced the decision to discontinue selling products tied to a well-known gun manufacturer. Hats off to them.

Brand value is a powerful combination of positive AND negative attributes.

MEC’s recent decision really drives this point home.

As a reminder, MEC doesn’t sell guns. But they do sell outdoor equipment that’s made by guns and ammunition manufacturer Vista Outdoor Inc.

MEC also has more than five million passionate, involved members. Many of these members have a deep, emotional attachment to the brand. They feel they have a voice in how MEC makes decisions. They also have strong opinions on whether or not these decisions live up to the organization’s corporate purpose and values.

MEC should be commended, not only for knowing its members at a deep, emotional level, but for making a fast and informed, data-based decision aligned to its vision and values. 

“This one has been a very emotional issue with a lot of different opinions…requiring listening with the facts at hand,” stated CEO David Labistour when sharing MEC’s recent decision. As of this writing Walmart, Dicks, Krogers and REI in the USA have all taken action related to gun restrictions. There’s no shortage of other companies that could stand to take a leaf out of MEC’s book. Here are just a few valuable takeaways.

Three important lessons for branded organizations:

  1. Acknowledge that brand value is generated largely by associations with positive and negative emotions. And remember, negative emotions are typically three times more powerful than positive ones, i.e. you can’t just bury your head in the sand when things get ugly.
  2. Demonstrating a meaningful social responsibility strategy is quickly becoming a powerful driver of brand value, choice of employer among millennials, and even financing. In fact, in a recent poll conducted among 2,000+ Toronto Star readers, 75% respondents said they prefer brands with a social conscience. (Check out the strong opinion Blackrock shared earlier this year on the topic of social responsibility.)
  3. Know your customers. Really know your customers. And your employees, too. Not just what they say, but how they feel. How do their emotions inform and connect to your brand promise? How does your response to controversial situations align to your organizational values and the behaviours they guide? Social media gives consumers a powerful voice. It’s imperative you understand the thoughts and emotions behind their words, not just the sentiment of their words.

A new day has dawned for brands and branded organizations.

The leaders of great brands understand the emotional impact they can have in the marketplace with their current and potential customers. They pay attention to what’s being said and felt, and rise to the good, as well as the bad and the ugly, in order to keep their promise consistently.

It’s inspiring to see David Labistour use the MEC brand to drive positive social change. Congratulations @MEC!


By: David Kincaid, Managing Partner and Founder

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