If you’re breaking ground with some new start-up in Austin, Texas, or in Silicon Valley, you’re in a place that eats, breathes, and sleeps disruption. If you’re a regional supplier for farming equipment, your world’s probably a bit more seasonal.
But while we give a lot of attention to the outside culture, location, and market demands that shape a business, the factors working on the inside are just as vital.
Every organization has an identity. Not something invented or made up out of thin air, but a genuine self that distinguishes it from other organizations.
While optics, impressions, and outward expression go a long way, your identity holds everything together. And it’s how others recognize you. It makes you unique… and whether or not you know it yet, it makes you remarkable.
How Do You Find That Brand Identity?
We call the first step in the process finding your frequency.
Ideally, a process like this would start with a brand workshop, where an experienced brand consultant could work through exercises with the leadership of an organization in order to better understand its underlying purpose and values. Because no two organizations are exactly alike, it’s impossible to create a step-by-step guide in a book that works for everyone.
Still, I’ll give an overview of the five main ‘beats’ in the process of helping organizations figure out their authentic identity and how best to express it:
Beat one: Discover your ‘Why’
Beat two: Let your ‘Why’ determine your Purpose
Beat three: Let your Purpose define your Values
Beat four: Let your Values create your Vision
Beat five: Let your Vision set your Goals
In the rest of this post, we’ll cover beats one and two—how discovering your ‘why’ helps you understand what your organization is really about.
The Big Why
Understanding your organization’s brand starts with why.
Why does it exist?
This isn’t the same as asking: ‘what are the values of your organization?’ as well as ‘what’s it’s character and personality?’
The why captures all of that. A different why creates a different organization.
Organizations are kind of like a cross between people and blenders. Wait. Hear us out.
People have a kind of purposefulness in themselves. A person’s job might involve landscaping yards, but that doesn’t mean the person exists in order to landscape yards. It’s the person who gives a purpose to the landscaping—not the other way around.
On the other hand, blenders have a very clear purpose written into their name: blending food. But blenders are made out of plastic and metal, and so they can continue to exist even when they’ve been tossed in a box and stowed in an attic.
An organization is like a person…and a blender.
Like people, organizations must be driven by a purpose because they’re filled with people. But like blenders, they get their purpose from what they are made for.
An organization’s purpose defines it’s identity. But unlike blenders, organizations are composed of people, not plastic, and those people act intentionally and care about the purpose of what they’re doing. The moment that sense of purpose is gone, the organization disappears.
Let’s think for a moment about the differences between a bank, which exists to make money, and an amateur hockey league, which exists for fun, recreation, and that occasional bout with the gloves off.
If an amateur hockey league started holding money for people and then lending it out at interest, it would be a bank.
If a bank got out of the money business and instead its employees spent all day skating on the ice and scoring goals, it wouldn’t be a bank anymore.
What you do defines what you are.
Even if some parts of an organization feel pointless, or even as fake as one of those North Korean propaganda villages, the scarcity of resources like time and money or the hard-wiring of human psychology guarantees that there is some ultimate reason why it exists.
Large or small, every organization serves some end.
Diving Beneath the Surface
The answer to the question “why?” may be deeper than any individual in the organization consciously understands. It may not be something that anybody has ever openly named or articulated.
It is usually deeper than the service it currently provides (whether banking or recreation) and bigger than the individual motives of those who happen to be leading it. It isn’t something invented ad hoc, arbitrarily constructed or superficially pasted on—rather, it has to be discovered.
Something has brought a group of people together to cooperate with one another. Without the glue of shared meaning, they’d split up.
So, what is it that holds us together?
What is the one thing that, if it were taken away, would mean your organization no longer has a reason to exist?
Ask why, and then keep asking.
Maybe your company’s why is to sell cars. Great, but why? Don’t say, “to make money”, because there are a lot of ways to make money aside from selling cars. So, why sell cars? Maybe it’s because you want people to drive cars that are faster, safer, smoother, and sleeker: cars that make driving more pleasant. You want their daily commute to be the most enjoyable part of their day.
But now, why do you want that?
Maybe it’s because you believe that life is short, and like Dom from Fast & Furious, you want people to live their lives a quarter-mile at a time. Or maybe you know that nothing’s as important as family, and that the hour somebody spends driving someplace often matters more than what they do when they arrive.
Or maybe you own an ice cream parlor.
Your company’s why is “to sell ice cream”, you might say. Ice cream is great, but it’s a what, not a why. Why sell ice cream? Don’t say, “well, we sort of fell into it after our smoothie business didn’t work out.”
That might be part of your individual why, but it isn’t your company’s why. What end does that ice cream parlor serve in the world? Maybe it’s that you want to give people a chance to chill out and take in their surroundings. Maybe you believe the world needs to cool down and enjoy something sweet for a few minutes out of the day.
Now we’re getting it!
But what if your organization isn’t as fun as a car dealership or as quaint as an ice cream shop?
What if you resell used manufacturing equipment out of a giant warehouse to industrial plants all over the country?
That doesn’t sound very cool.
Still, ask yourself: why do you do it? Why do you exist? Why manufacturing equipment?
Maybe it’s because you believe in a rebirth for American industry, or because you remember how important it was for manufacturers to be able to produce medical equipment as fast as possible during a pandemic.
Find your why, and keep asking why until you reach rock bottom. What is it that you really believe? What is it that you want to bring about in this world? Why do you exist?
Start with that.
Purpose Pulls You Through
A shared sense of purpose is what brings a group through hardship and difficulty.
Suppose that you’re a basketball team and it is the middle of January. The season is halfway over. The weather is grey, and everybody’s feeling a little sick. You’ve won some and lost some, everyone’s tired, and your best players are all injured.
What keeps your team together?
There might be individual motives, but those individual motives aren’t enough to bind the group together. What really keeps the group together is that they share a desire to win—and in a very specific sense for that time and place.
Every team has its own story and its own definition of what winning means for them.
Like sports teams, organizations and B2B’s are held together by a specific purpose.
In order to get through the difficulties of the season, they need to be looking towards an end goal. Even the most faceless corporation with the worst automated customer service line has managed to survive in the midst of hardship and difficulty.
Some shared purpose is what keeps the group together.
Right to the Source
We’ve said that a group’s shared identity derives from their deepest why, the fundamental beliefs about reality, and desires for the world that drive them to exist in the first place.
But your purpose is the difference you are trying to achieve in the world.
It’s not just a problem that you’re trying to solve, something at the level of your products and services. Instead, your purpose is meant to be the solution to a bigger problem, something that you want to see changed about what or how the world works, the problem that first brought you to your why.
Maybe you want to sell a better toothbrush.
Before you start thinking about all the features of that new toothbrush, think about your why and your purpose. Your why might be something like helping people have closer relationships. Your purpose, then, is to make a better toothbrush so that people have better breath so that they can talk more up close to one another, for the sake of those relationships.
Keep asking: to what end?
If you say that your purpose is to make a profit, then ask, “To what end?” You go, “Oh, so that we can stay in business.” Right? To what end? “Oh, so that we can serve more people.” To what end? “Oh, because a better smile can change someone’s whole life.”
If I say, “To what end?” and then you say, “No. That’s it. That’s the end.” Then you know that’s your purpose.
On the Topic of Purpose…
There are three important things to keep in mind when trying to determine your purpose.
First, remember that a group can have a purpose without fulfilling it.
All of us have likely experienced being part of meetings, maybe weekly or monthly, where nothing meaningful is ever accomplished. The meetings themselves may be useless, and nobody can say why they happen. But the group of people has some purpose. Otherwise, they wouldn’t feel the need to meet with one another.
But meetings may not be the best means to their end. Either the group shares some end, or the group will come to an end.
So, remember that your job in figuring out your company’s purpose may be to articulate and make explicit something that has gone ignored or forgotten for years. Amidst all of the busyness and mayhem, nobody has ever bothered to explain it the point, and if you asked, nobody in the company could articulate what it’s all for.
That makes it all the more important to work on figuring out your purpose so that the life of your company isn’t just one big, long, overextended meeting where nothing is accomplished.
Second, note that the purpose and the effect of an organization are not the same thing.
A corporation’s effect on the world might be negative or meaningless.
While we can’t advise you in this book on whether or not your organization is good or bad for the world or just a collective waste of time… we can tell you when people work together in groups, what keeps them together is that they aim at some shared purpose. Something they intend to fulfill even if they fail to, and which they rightly or wrongly believe to be a good thing.
Even if they miss the target, they’re aiming for it.
When you’re trying to determine your company’s purpose, don’t look for where the arrows have fallen in the past. Look at where the archers were aiming.
Third, don’t confuse a purpose with goals.
Often it’s easiest to see what’s closest to us.
Whether that’s the next quarter or the next year, goals are things like, “make our sales quota” or “grow by 20%”. Goals are good, but they aren’t far enough down the line to be your purpose.
Think further ahead. Where do you ultimately want things to go? Something beyond growth and sales is out there, which has given you the momentum to move forward with your goals every quarter and every year. Look for that thing.
And if You Need Some Help with Your Brand Identity…
Give the Resound team a shout.
Whether you know your purpose inside and out, or whether you’re thinking it’s time to pump the breaks, take a deep breath and just ask ‘why,’ we’re eager to meet you right where you are.
Part of our ‘why’ is our belief that the world needs organizations like yours to discover how remarkable they are, and build that purpose into a thoughtful, true, and winsome brand expression… and then connect with those who are looking for them.
We specialize in helping B2B organizations discover their authentic identity and share it with the world.
Give us a call, or check those other resources here on our site and consider subscribing to our monthly newsletter to get a breakdown of our branding wisdom delivered straight to your inbox regularly.