Many business owners sincerely believe they understand their company brand. They can describe it, quantify it and explain its place in the market. They can recount corporate history and accomplishments and detail future plans and goals. These are all necessary items for communicating a company's brand message, but they are also the most superficial ones. These descriptive attributes tell us about what the business does, but not who the company is. The true power of a brand does not come from the what, where, when and how. It comes from the "who" and "why."
Think about it for a minute. Almost every organization can cite what they do, where their offices are located, when they started and how they do what they do. It's the same in science and many other fields. Experts explain how things work, but not why they work. The real effort, the real sweat and tears, comes from digging deeper beneath the surface and asking the tough questions... "Who are we as a company and why do we do what we do?"
This exercise requires some honesty, reflection and soul searching on the part of those in leadership. Perhaps that's why Henry Ford said, "Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it." This exercise may seem like splitting hairs, but the results can be profound. The early owners of the railroad industry deemed themselves invincible because they owned the railways. They could describe their business in very specific terms, including the miles of track, the number of boxcars, the annual revenues. But these wealthy business owners eventually faltered because they never realized who they were... providers of mobility. In this broader, more expansive view, they would have naturally evolved their business into cars and then planes. They would have known they provided freedom of movement to people and products, and in that role they would have constantly searched for more efficient ways to provide that service. Instead they said they owned railroads - a shallow well.
If you can discover who you are as a company, and why you do what you do, then you can transcend the ups and downs of the marketplace. You can survive a drought. You will remain relevant and avoid riding a trend into the ground. Apple has remained relevant precisely because it did not cling to its initial identity as a computer company. Apple saw that it could enhance people's lifestyles digitally. That opened the door to music, movies, editing, podcasting and a slew of new opportunities. Compare that to Gateway Computers. What if Gateway had seen itself as truly a "gateway"? Then perhaps they would have made similar shifts in their business. Instead they are largely viewed as a computer company. And when you become tied to a product vs. a concept, you become a commodity. Can you say railroads?
Take a look at your company. Who are you? Why do you do what you do? What is your real benefit to your customer? It's not in the actual service or product you provide -- that is subject to constant change. The truth of who you are and why you do what you do is much deeper than that. When traced fully back, it will lead to an intangible concept that can transcend concrete products and services. Take out your mental shovel and spend a few days digging deeper. You may just discover a fresh new source of ideas, inspiration and revenue.
About the author: With over twenty five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought after branding expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.
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