Kyte Baby Scandal: A Core Value Cautionary Tale
–Carrie Richardson, Partner, Richardson & Richardson Consulting
Kyte Baby, a brand synonymous with promoting the importance of family, recently found itself at the center of some core value controversy surrounding an employee dismissal. While some may say that the scandal was a company not adhering to their core values, I maintain the issue is the company choosing aspirational core values.
Copied from the Kyte Baby Website:
“We’re parents, too
Kyte Baby may have started as one mama on a mission, but we couldn’t do what we do today without our team—a diverse group that includes parents, caregivers, and sustainability advocates hailing from all around the world, from our headquarters in the US and manufacturing facility in China to Canada, and even the UK.”
Core Values Aren’t Picked by Your Marketing Agency
I once asked a client what his company core values were.
His answer: “ Oh, let me look – our marketing company made them for us, I think they’re on our website.”
That was the beginning of a difficult client engagement. A leader who believes that core values are buzzwords that should resonate with target prospects is a leader that is very likely going to find themselves dealing with two very big value challenges:
- A toxic company culture internally
- An erosion of customer trust externally.
Today we’re going to talk about what happens when your core values are revealed to be merely marketing fluff instead of a corporate ethos.
Alignment between a company’s proclaimed core values and the actions of both the leadership and employees of the company stand as the cornerstone of a company’s identity and credibility. When a company or the leaders of the company are seen publicly acting in ways that are counter to their declared values, the backlash to a brand – even a beloved one – can be swift and serious.
Having core values is not a marketing strategy.
Your core values instruct your marketing strategy.
The best core values actively repel those who wouldn’t be good prospects for your business. When your values align with those of your client base, that leads to raving fans. Raving fans are the promised land for any business. Raving fans means repeat customers, social media accolades, amazing five star reviews, and referrals.
Once you’ve built that trust your marketing flywheel begins to spin much faster.
What Happened With Kyte Baby?
But what happens when your company or your leadership publicly fails to honor the very core values that attracted your base? Let’s look to the online clothing retailer Kyte Baby for a recent example.
In January 2024, a Kyte Baby employee rushed to the hospital to be present for the premature birth of their adoptive son. The newborn weighed less than 2lbs, born at only 21 weeks gestation. Her newborn son would require a lengthy stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
The employee put in a request with Kyte Baby’s HR team that would enable her to work remotely from the hospital, a 9- hour drive from the office.
The request was initially approved. However, Kyte Baby’s CEO chose to reverse the choice made by the HR team. She said it would not be possible for the employee to work remotely, and based on the employee request, the CEO considered this the employees’ resignation if she would not return to the office after the maternal leave offered by Kyte Baby.
Story of the employee being fired went public (and not by the employee – she was in the hospital NICU).
Social media immediately rallied around the new mother, and previous fans and followers of the brand took to vilifying the CEO of Kyte Baby. Previous high value customers promised a boycott on the expensive bamboo baby clothing retailer. Influencers were seen throwing away their Kyte Baby “stashes”. Posts on all social media platforms exploded. even by women who had not purchased from the company. All of Kyte Baby’s social posts were subject to scrutiny and legions of angry mothers chimed in with their thoughts. Many of these negative comments can be seen all over Linkedin beneath all Kyte Baby business page posts.
Initial Damage Control Failure
The CEO made a scripted apology on Tiktok. It was clearly (and admittedly) written by the legal team at Kyte Baby. More customer backlash ensued, declaring the CEO to be cold, unfeeling and not empathetic to the plight of working mothers. Not a great look. With working mothers being a high percentage the Kyte Baby fan base, the internet did what it does best. The internet went to work making sure that every mother everywhere that used any social platform would know:
“Kyte Baby doesn’t Practice What They Preach.”
Second Attempt At Damage Control
Later that day, the CEO of Kyte Baby made another Tiktok apology video – this time, unscripted and apologetic for the decision she had made.
The internet still was not happy.
The Employee Goes Public With Her Side of The Story
Suffice it to say, the things Kyte Baby said happened and the things the employee said happened were drastically different. The employee will not be returning to the company. The employee granted one exclusive interview to Today, but otherwise she’s stayed engaged with her family at the hospital – she was also unaware of the CEO’s TikTok apologies, as the employee did not use that social platform.
The CEO posted a new parental leave policy on website this week. Will it be enough to convince the stakeholders, clients and employees of Kyte Baby that the brand is salvageable? Time will tell.
Reactive Changes From Social Media Outcry
This page appeared on the Kyte Baby website this week, outlining the new policies around family and parental leave.
Their original policy allowed two weeks of parental leave, and only for biological parents. This was another core value statement mismatch, as the CEO used to work in adoption and states in an interview on her own website how important adoptive families are.
This reactive change screams “we got caught, oops, sorry about that!”
The idea that a company could, in less than one week, create a comprehensive parental leave benefit, shows the care with which strategic decisions are being made. Quickly. Reactively. And certainly not in alignment with any strategy that included alignment with a well-defined mission, vision or core values.
Core values cannot be aspirational.
They must be lived.
And your messaging must be aligned around them.
Core values aren’t a wish list of the things we hope our company will be one day. They are not the things we post online in hopes that they help us get the attention of a “better” market segment who will “believe” we mean them.
Core values are the things we do today.
They are who we are as a company right now.
Maybe Kyte Baby truly wants to be a company that supports healthy families and working mothers.
Today they’re not, and now Kyte Baby will have the long road to recovering trust ahead of them. Will they be able to convince their loyal customers that they weren’t lying to them about how important “families and babies” are to the CEO and the company she built?
Core Values Aren’t Marketing Buzzwords
Instead of trying to convince the market that the values they don’t have exist – or scrambling to create programs to demonstrate they exist now, perhaps Kyte Baby could take a different approach.
Kyte Baby could simply go back to the drawing board and create the mission, vision and values that will make more sense for a growing online retailer. From there, they can begin to create a marketing strategy to either win back their previous customers or attract new ones that aren’t as invested in the “making life better for mothers” narrative.
Kyte Baby doesn’t have to stick to the “families families families” narrative that is biting them on their butts right now.
They make high quality clothing for humans who have skin sensitivities.
They make their clothing with a zero-waste policy, using all scraps for bibs and small towels.
They pay their employees overseas fair wages.
There are so many things that Kyte Baby could have explored as core values that would be attractive to consumers that they need not double down on the one value that was clearly outed as a “nice to have” vs. a real value.
So what do you think?
Did they make a mistake by not honoring their core values?
Or did they make a mistake choosing a core value that they could not honor?
A Personal Core Values Story
When we were choosing core values for Managed Sales Pros, my leadership team shot down all of my suggestions. They claimed, and rightly so, that I did not embody any of the core values I wanted for my business. I was told to go back to the office and demonstrate the core values I wanted every day for a quarter. If I could do that, the leadership team would agree to the values I wanted to have.
I did it. I came back the following quarter, and my core values got put on the wall. And we lived them. But that’s another story.
What Can We Learn From Other Brands About Core Value Mismatch?
Next blog post we’re going to look at another beloved brand whose CEO’s public misalignment with their core values got him ousted from the company he founded and grew. It’s a little company called Lululemon, maybe you’ve heard of them?
If you want to talk about building your strategy “hat trick” – mission, vision and core values – with the assistance of a professional, you can schedule time to talk to Ian Richardson. In his work with Fox and Crow Group, that’s his “why”
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