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Why Meaningful Brands Make Manifestos Their Business

Photo Credit: Holstee 

Photo Credit: Holstee 

Holstee. 

Have you heard of them? If you haven’t, then the odds are very good that you’ve seen them, you know, subliminally. 

Holstee is an apparel and recycled goods brand that sells t-shirts, wallets, and letterpress posters, 10% of which benefit Kiva and other organizations like PETA. It’s the bootstrapped love affair of its sibling founders, brothers Dave and Mike Radparvar, whose company roots share a similar upbringing as most startups and callow companies looking to get off the ground: they quit their day jobs, rented their apartment out, and welcomed Ramen as a diet staple.

When everyone in their circle was getting into the digital game, they said, they were falling for the idea of a tactile product that could be worn as one’s own, and whose brand philosophy was more than just satiating “buyer’s desire”.

They wrote the manifesto, posted it to their site, and then in an episode of classic anticlimactic haste — they pretty much forgot about it. Until, of course, it began making the rounds on social networking sites like Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest. But was there something more to this, something telling about the fact that a simple page of words had reached such virility? Designer Rachael Beresh styled the manifesto for print, and the company hired two producers to keep up with demand for posters and postcards.

The appeal was magnetic. People could love the brand without ever having had contact with the brand’s products or people. The manifesto represented more than t-shirts and wallets. The manifesto represented every innovator’s vision, the common fiber that binds consumers beyond demographics, target audiences, and personas. The manifesto is a common denominator for anyone who gives a darn, a belief system any person with a pulse can say yes to, whether they loved “brands” or not.

WNYC’s New Tech City podcast interviewed the Radparvar brothers last week, on the pitch-perfect climate for their manifesto’s success. “It was 2009, the heart of the recession. People were looking for a message, even we were looking for a message that we were in the right direction.” At a time of mass vulnerability and literal insecurity, Holstee took a stance by sharing beliefs that could stand any economic wipeout. Ironically, those beliefs became the foundational product of the brand.

According to Havas Media Group’s 2013 study, “meaningful brands” outperform the stock market by 120%. Proof positive that brands who take an emotionally resonant stance toward something benefit from the type of community, impact, and yes, income, they set out to capture. As we’ve blogged about before, B-Corps are on the rise, with companies like Warby ParkerEtsy, and The Honest Company joining forces to bring purpose to their profit.According to the study’s Meaningful Brand Index (MBi), the higher the brand connects to personal and collective well-being, the stronger brand equity it has, and the more attachment its audience has toward it.

In the case of Holstee, the framework is doubly true. Their concern for sourcing sustainable goods and seeking out organizations like Kiva give customers a reason to align their personal value systems with the brand’s. On top of that, the brand’s manifesto — that which costs nothing to look at and little to own — works for the brand in even bigger ways. The manifesto gives Holstee a voice. It gives it a set of internal and external company core values. It gives it free advertising, through sheer circulation on the web. It gives buyers the opportunity to appreciate the brand for its purpose and its product.

Today, the manifesto has been translated into 14 languages, viewed and shared into the millions. It continues to be a rallying cry for the likes of other meaningful brands, likeZapposThreadless and Google.

Editor's Note: This blog post was originally written for and published to the Brand Fever blog. For more of my commentary on branding and strategy, please visit my column here.