Walk the walk
And what do you do?
Better still, how do you do it?
Better still, why do you do it?
Because that’s the difference between branding, good branding and great branding. It’s the authenticity derived from going beyond ‘this is what we do’ — ‘we make computers’, or ‘this is how we do it’ — ‘they’re easy to use’, right through to ‘this is why we do it’ — ‘we want to change the status quo, we believe in challenging the default at every opportunity’.
In other words, what and how are never good enough for us. And nor should they be for you.
Here are some good questions to answer to understand your why:
— Why does my organisation exist?
— Why do I get out of bed in the morning? What motivates me?
— Why should anyone care about what we do?
— Why should anyone care more about what we do than what our competitors do?
Of course, not every company can create an emotional connection with its client base that, say, Apple can, or Nike or Ferrari or Moët & Chandon.
But: every purchase made has a human behind it. It doesn’t matter whether you exclusively manufacture and sell cable ties, or are leading fashion brand: at some point in your sales process a human being will say ‘yes’ — or ‘no’.
Now, some caveats. Our cable tie manufacturer cannot build the same type of brand as Apple. But the why is still there. You can still create passion, strength and belief around the idea of improving the quality, durability, recyclability and price of even a humble cable tie.
Even for areas of business which are traditionally less-interesting (and that’s all relative), remember this one key point: the person who, right now, is in charge of finding a new cable tie supplier is interested in nothing else.
We cringe when we see lazy ad agencies trying to make something artificially interesting simply because it bores them. This traditionally involves an entirely unrelated photo of an attractive model, and is perhaps the ultimate sign an agency has run out of ideas.
Every element of your brand should come back to that central idea: Why does your company exist, Why do you open the doors every morning, Why do you do what you do?
And, importantly, it should be backed up by your actions. If your why is to save the environment, then manufacturing single-use cable ties probably doesn’t make it particularly valid. But if you are working tirelessly to switch people to multi-use ties, or to invent a product just as strong and useful which can be easily recycled or will degrade in certain circumstances: now you have your why, and it matches your what and how.
What makes a brand authentic? Covid-19 has shone a spotlight onto many companies, good and bad. There’s enough negativity in the world right now, so let’s focus on the good.
TOMS sells shoes — and gives them away, founded on the idea that for every pair of shoes they sell they donate one to a child in need. They’ve also supported charities to help bring clean water to underdeveloped countries and donate meals to schoolchildren. They took the view that by founding a business rather than a charity they could have a greater, longer-lasting impact on the world.
What = we sell & donate shoes
How = easy-to-use website, quality products
Why = a vehicle to help those less fortunate
Timpson have long put people and doing the right thing at the heart of their brand. For a long time now they have offered to clean an outfit for anyone unemployed who has a job interview. When they closed all their 2,150 shops because of Covid-19 they announced staff would remain on full pay — even before the government’s furlough scheme was announced (and we’ll avoid the obvious joke about them being ‘Key’ workers…). They own holiday homes for staff use, run a ‘Dreams Come True’ scheme which pays for staff to undergo IVF or otherwise-unaffordable dental treatment, right through to flights to visit family on the other side of the world.
What = we repair shoes and clean clothes
How = well-trained staff, top quality products
Why = Great Service by Great People
Chief Executive James Timpson said, “the right way to run a business is through kindness — if you’re good to people then it’s good for business”.
What’s important is that they don’t just talk about being kind. They don’t just make high-profile donations to charity while treating their staff terribly, they don’t run TV adverts with feelgood poetry while making money from dubious markets. They put the wellbeing of their staff, and customers, at the centre of everything they do, and work outwards from there.
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We’ve included two examples for a reason. The first, TOMS, puts the ‘good’ side as their principle reason for business. Instead of opening a high street charity shop, they have decided this is the best way to earn money and do good. Their brand is built around the good they are doing, and it’s a key part of their website, half of their main navigation in fact.
With Timpson, on the other hand, it’s simply part of their business. You have to dig through their website to find out more detail.
Which is right, which is best? You might argue that the company which (relatively) quietly goes about its good work is more ‘virtuous’, and could lead to people forming a stronger connection. A quick scroll through Twitter and you will find plenty of people who use them purely because of their approach. TOMS has an equally loyal following, however, and there’s a real confidence to telling your story so directly. It is a challenge to beliefs; a willingness to risk losing a sale because someone might not share your values.
One final example: Triodos Bank set themselves up as a ‘sustainable bank’. They don’t work — at all — with certain sectors, including alcohol production, gambling, pornography, tobacco, conflict minerals, animal testing and more. Refusing custom based on your beliefs is a true demonstration of your integrity.
This might be a good time to add that we can’t create your brand authenticity for you, and anyone who tells you they can is, well, let’s just say they’re not being very authentic themselves. It has to come from what you believe in. We can help you tease it out, we can help you identify what’s important to you and your business. We can help you get your message across — we can help you demonstrate your authenticity, but we cannot create it for you.
Brand authenticity cannot be a strategy. It must be a way of life, and it must start at the top of your business and work all the way through. You can’t send out a memo and a press release to change your company’s culture. Otherwise you stay in the what and how categories. An architectural firm which donates to homeless charities but designs hostile architecture is ticking the what box: we support charity and the how: we donate money. But they are nowhere near the deeper why.
Something we love to do at Integral is dive deeply into your business. We don’t just want to understand what you want to achieve with a specific project. We want to understand why you want to do it. How it fits in with your overall business. And then of course finish with what needs to be done to best achieve your goals.
And that’s the point: people look at things the wrong way around. We ask someone at a party ‘What do you do?’, and then have to pretend to care about the job they do. We know the why for many workers is simply ‘I need to pay the mortgage’, and we don’t have any pretence that every worker in every business should be passionate about everything they do. Sometimes a job is just a job.
But if you’re going to go through the pain, hassle, stress and emotion of running a business, it’s worth knowing why you’re doing it?