more than dress up

An authentic reflection of your culture, values, and beliefs as an organization.

Before you finish this intro paragraph, write down a description of your firm/company in no more than 50 words. Save it. We’re coming back to it.

What are the “core values” that drive your firm? Perhaps you address your core values in your mission statement. However, if you’re like most companies, you have neither, or you don’t remember because it’s not distinctive and has little relevance to those core values.

Our friend (and client) Tim Williams, a professional services consultant with Ignition Consulting, recommends replacing your mission statement with an articulation of your firm’s purpose. Why does your company exist? Many answer that question by saying, “To make a profit.” Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Profit is not the reason for a business to exist, it’s just a test of its validity.” At the center of your business should instead be a bold emotional reason for being. At the center should be the heart of your brand. Purpose, or a “why” is what gives your business heart, heart is what drives the emotion, and emotion is what gives your brand life. Successful businesses have a purpose, like you’re contributing to a greater cause, rather than simply responding to profit goals or your competitors. To distil your purpose, Tim Williams suggests you ask yourself the following questions:

> Why does this company exist?
> Besides making money, why are we in business?
> What inspires us to come to work each day?
> What is the meaning in what we do?
> What significant contribution does our firm make to the industry, the profession, or the world?
> What would we want to achieve if we knew we could not fail?
> What kind of difference do we want to make?
> What kind of legacy do we want to create?

Your purpose and values are part of your identity, and if you have determined your purpose for being, then your identity is authentic—true to the values and purpose that drive the company. Your brand resonates with authenticity when your external actions align with your internal culture. Your external actions are anything from your website to the charities you support and even to the employees you hire. When those external actions align with your culture, you are authentic and believable. As Marty Neumeier says, “If a brand looks like a duck and swims like a duck, then it must be a duck. If it swims like a dog, however, people start to wonder.”

Whenever we begin a new client relationship, we always visit the offices of the client early in the process. You can tell a lot about their culture and personality by being in the office. Everything from the furniture to what’s on the walls of the cubicles suggests matter of importance. Who are your idols, and what do they say about the personal values of the individuals in your organization? What attracts your best employees? How about your best clients and partners? The teams you put together are like tribes—because you share the same values. One of our best clients subscribes to the same magazines and reads the same books, so it’s no wonder we have a good relationship.

What are your stories that are told and retold around the office or during every presentation? What do those stories also reveal about the priorities and culture of the firm? (I did write an article last month about our client, BrainStorm, and their own powerful story.) If you read closely, you might have noticed that our clients are often unaware of the power of their natural and less formal communication methods. We’ve often used verbatim statements—heard during our one-on-one interviews with clients in the “discovery” stage of our “head & heart” brand design process—for homepage or brochure copy.

What are the defining moments in the life of your company? Additionally, consider why the business was started, what made you seek out an important recruit, and what was your response to a big loss or a big win. How you react to such challenges and choices can define your core values and your authentic identity.

Now, go back to the 50-word description you wrote when you began reading this article. Pull out a copy of your latest proposal and find your mission statement. Do both your description and proposal reflect the core values, culture, and heart of your organization? At modern8, we define a brand in three ways: through emotion—your culture, purpose, values, and beliefs; through strategy—your positioning and competitive advantages; and through design—where both emotion and strategy come together to visually and verbally create an emotional impact. If your review reveals a gap between your true brand and the way you express your brand, then it’s time—for a change.