How the 7 virtues translate into best practices for marketers.

By Tasman Richardson

The Bushido code or the seven virtues of the samurai, are a collection of beliefs which are meant to define a samurai’s character in the same way that chivalry works for knights. In an age of self-help books and new age gurus, it’s hard not to cringe a little when eastern philosophies are co-opted for marketing purposes. But it’s really no stretch. My translations may be a bit loose but there are solid case studies to support each of the samurai virtues in action. I’ve included the first three in this first installment.

This is about doing the right thing or making the right decision, not because it’s easy, but because it’s ethically and morally correct. Liberty Mutual are an excellent example because they believed this was an authentic part of their business, which made it easier to translate into a successful campaign.  The number of premiums written grew 10% in the first year that they ran their television spot. The theme was “What goes around”, an ad encouraging people to do the right thing. The commercial gained thousands of positive responses. Here’s one that sums it up nicely: “”I gained a lot of respect for your company…your commercials showed what little things people can do to show care for others and make the world a more civilized place.”

Courage 勇氣
Eastern cultures often lean towards a greater good approach so instead of phrases like “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” you might hear “The nail that stands out gets hammered”. This fear of being different is felt by brands too. Being different can attract ridicule, but the whole point of differentiation is to have the executive courage to stand out. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods is said to have challenged an investment analyst during the company’s 1990 annual meeting. The analyst was concerned about tight profits, so the advice was to follow the sensible lead of other companies by cutting back on rapid expansion. Mackey’s response was completely against this. The way he saw it, there were only a finite number of perfect locations that fit the Whole Foods’ demographic, so the company wouldn’t hesitate to sign up great sites whenever it could. He was confident that once the stores were up and running for a while, they would recoup costs with strong sales. If the analyst didn’t like the fact that this might constrain profits in the short term, he could sell the stock. This raises another key point, as noted by former Procter & Gamble CEO A. G. Lafley, the best time to gain market share is when your competitors are in retreat.

My take on this would be charity and the sharing of good fortune. Brands associated with charities (sometimes referred to as “Cause Marketing”) are only effective if customers can relate to them. A recent study by BlogHer found that although consumers said they would buy more from brands related to a good cause, their actual behavior didn’t match. There are a few ways to improve this. Local charities are easy for people to relate to, and letting people know in a clear and simple way, how their purchase contributes is essential. The study also found that young people are more likely to switch brands or pay more to support a cause they believe in. A great example of ALL of these practices in action is Kroger, a supermarket operator in Cincinnati. According to VP of corporate affairs, Lynn Marmer, $40 million of Kroger’s donations are directed to a 15 year old community rewards program. Shoppers that carry the store’s loyalty card can name a local charity they want to support and then Kroger gives 2%-5% of each shopper’s bill as a cash contribution. It’s all the customization of choosing, plus it’s going to a place you’re familiar with in your own neighborhood. Best of all its money you would have spent anyway so it really feels like free money towards a good cause.

In part two, we’ll look at case studies for:



So, stay tuned for more ancient brand wisdom. In the meantime, if you have your own examples of the seven virtues in action, or maybe a tragic brand that strayed from the path, feel free to post in the comments section below. Domo!

(Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, Doing The Right Thing)

(Source: Harvard Business Review, CEOs Need Courage)

(Sources: Crowd Science, Brands and Charity, Forbes, Companies that give back the most)