SAN RAFAEL — Living the attributes of a brand from day to day is the best way to model the core values of a firm, maintain transparency and strike a responsive chord through messages and actions that ring true among employees and customers alike, according to four Marin County business leaders at an annual conference Thursday.

They were part of a panel on “brand promise” at the Impact Marin Conference, sponsored by the North Bay Business Journal at the Embassy Suites in San Rafael attended by more than 150 business leaders.


CEO Russ Colombo said Bank of Marin reinforces its brand promise by building strong relationships with its customers, as well as through employee and line support, commitment to community and discipline in sticking to what it does well:

“We are not a faceless bank, looking for short-term gains. We continually strive to get to know our customer’s businesses in depth so we can help them can grow. Some feel pressure to show high quarterly returns, but this can increase risks. We’re in this business for long-term future success. This approach has always kept Bank of Marin on the fairway, not in the rough. It’s all about building trust.

“Consistency pays off. During the recession BOM’s annual revenues did not take a big hit, declining modestly from $12.6 million to $12.5 million. Our community commitment to giving back pays dividends in multiple ways. As we grow, we continue to create opportunities for people, that reinforces the cycle of giving, while also supporting our brand. You have to remain true to your values and not compromise.”


For Jamie Pardi, CEO of FanCompass, a firm that helps firms acquire fan data and monetize every aspect of the fan experience to build a sustainable business for companies, said a major issue for some firms that make big announcements and claims, is the inability to deliver on their brand promise.

“I started our company with a commitment to deliver the highest quality software. We focus on building revenue for our customers. A recent survey of our customer relationships over the past six months showed that FanCompass retained 100 percent of its clients. We don’t sell vaporware; you have to do what you say you are going to do. In a competitive business climate, you must perform better than the other guys.

“To attract and retain good people, FanCompass pays for employee health insurance and everyone can become an equity owner.

“We also share case studies with the sports industry, with a key focus on baseball, that helps build relationships by showing results and how we achieved them — which in our case involves the ability to help sell thousands of tickets to sporting events as we support the supply chain. If you don’t sell seats, you can’t sell hot dogs!”


CEO Albert Straus, founder of the Straus Family Creamery, said his company doesn’t act like a commercial dairy or have adversarial relations with its milk suppliers:

“We maintain close ties with our farmers and hand deliver checks to them every two weeks. We also meet with these farmers quarterly to talk about quality and pricing matters and truly appreciate their input. Some 90 percent of the dairies in Sonoma County are organic now. We see family farms as a solution to climate change and immigration concerns. About 80 percent of our employees are immigrants and we treat them the way we would like to be treated. We offer ESL classes, citizenship classes and provide health and dental insurance.

“At the same time, we are paying the highest prices to farmers in California for the milk they produce, which enables them to reinvest in infrastructure, succession planning while maintaining the loyalty of the farmers and employees. Straus Family Creamery is also engaged in getting consumers and the public to understand family farming practices and solutions that benefit us all.”


Helen Russell, Co-founder and CEO of Equator Coffees and Tea, maintains her firm’s brand promise by telling true stories – “its not about not what we do, but how we do it.” She and her team members talk about how they support growers overseas and help protect endangered species in the process.

For example, Equator’s coffee barista in the lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel conference site of Impact Marin eagerly retold the company’s story to every one in line waiting for a fresh brewed cup. Russell’s sincerity and compassion about her brand model is a key to Equator’s credibility.

Equator buys 200,000 lbs of sustainably grown coffee a year from growers in Sumatra. Part of its revenue goes to hire two “rangers” that patrol tiger terrain to prevent poaching.

“Why we do this is our passion, we embody our brand through story telling. There are some 300 coffee roasters on the West Coast. Our success in differentiating our business is due to transparency and by providing the back story of what goes on behind the scenes to help local coffee growers and protect wildlife in the process, two goals that consumers can relate to and endorse. Even the milk we use with our coffee is organic. People like that and identify with us.

Gary Quackenbush (gary.quackenbush@gmail.com, 707-322-1882) is a contributing writer.