Remember your father (or someone) telling you, “Actions speak louder than words”? Well, I have an addendum to that. Actions speak louder than your brand promise (look no further than the Religious Freedom Restoration Act).

I bring this up in light of Indiana Governor Mike Pence signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which permits business owners who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons the right to turn away gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Pence said over the weekend there is still some interpretation left to be done in enacting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act law but the damage as been done. Indiana is now known as a state that is not open to everybody. That directly contradicts the brand promise of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that says: “Leading business. Advancing Indiana.”

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

What has Pence done to the brand of Indiana?

I suppose as a brand guy I could say that Indiana has put a stake in the ground, saying who it is for and who it is not for with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But that’s not the point here. Indiana becomes now known as a state that could refuse you service.

What century are we in?

Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Thinking outside of politics

Politics aside, this is a slippery slope as it’s not that far from a business owned by a Muslim saying it will not serve Christians in a country that was founded on the ideology of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Turning this subject to a business perspective, this is the reason we tell brands that they should never veer away from their brand promise or it becomes less believable. Any communication that steps away from that promise lessens the impact of what you are trying to say.

For example, if Apple starts looking and sounding like everybody else, its promise of “Think Different” becomes less believable. How many times have you seen a brand promise in an ad or any other form of communication only to find that that brand’s website is completely different? Consistency is key.

So when Pence said on Saturday that he supported introduction of new legal language to clarify that the new law does not promote discrimination, it’s hard to believe him.

His brand promise (and, by proxy, that of Indiana) has already been established when he signed the law in the first place. Angie’s List has announced it is re-thinking its plans for a campus expansion in the state while the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has called the law “unnecessary.”

What kind of impact those will have is up to debate. (After all, money trumps all.) But there’s an important lesson to be learned here for brands. Understand what you represent, and don’t do something that contradicts that message.

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