The following is an adapted excerpt from Maria Ross’ new book, Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget (Norlights Press, April 2014). Maria uses lots nonprofit examples in her book. I thought this bit on branding and your reason for being would be particularly valuable to my mission-minded readers. If you like this, I’d encourage you to buy Maria’s book. It’s available online on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other major book websites or at her website, Red Slice.
When it comes right down to it, your organization is either in business to make money, raise money or influence people to act in some way. But unless you know the true essence of what your business is all about and its personal impact on people’s lives, you’ll be stuck on the lowest rung of the ladder. In a competitive market where many unknown and new organizations fail, that’s a death sentence.
Marty Neumeier, director of transformation at Liquid Agency (Liquidagency.com) and author of The Brand Gap and Zag suggests giving yourself the Obituary Test to figure out your reason for being: write the obituary of your organization in twenty-five years and outline what it did that was great and why the world is a better place because it existed.
“When you do this, you see something bigger. You see how every symbol, message, and action you put out into the world creates a brand legacy in the minds of customers, which is really where brand lives in the first place,” Marty says. He advises this will not only attract the right employees to grow your business, but will impact everything you do. “When you open a business just to make money, you can lose heart.”
Please don’t overcomplicate how you express your reason for being. It doesn’t have to be big, momentous, or heavy. Alexandra Franzen, a communication specialist and author of 50 Ways to Say You’re Awesome (Sourcebooks), advises that the clearest way to express an idea is best. “Think about the last time you read a blog post, heard a TED Talk or listened to a story at a dinner party that really impacted you, that made you want to do something,” she asks. “Was it long, convoluted, unnecessarily detailed? Or was it simple, clear, direct and conversational?” Alexandra adds, “Writing about the work that you do—your ‘reason for being’—is a form of storytelling. And if you want to inspire people to take action, a simple story is best.”
In her work with entrepreneurs, she finds that many people—especially those with a purpose-driven, passion-driven business or organization—get overwhelmed when it comes to describing their work. Many business owners feel their “reason for being” ought to be “bigger” or “more complex” than it actually is, she says. But again: simplicity is best.
“Maybe you’re an illustrator and your ‘reason for being’ is to add more beauty to the world. How refreshingly simple is that?” suggests Alexandra. “Or maybe you’re a yoga teacher and your ‘reason for being’ is that you’d like to help one thousand people in your lifetime feel more comfortable in their own skin. Once you release the idea that your ‘reason for being’ has to be dense or complicated, it’s like a huge weight off your shoulders. Things start to make sense—for you, and your audience, too.”
When writing about our organizations, we tend to overcomplicate and seek something that sounds big and meaningful, when what is really meaningful is often expressed in the simplest way.
A clear Brand Strategy, based on your larger reason for being, makes it easier to focus your organization’s activities around one true cause. It helps you easily determine which products or services to offer, how to price them, what your logo should convey, what experience your website should evoke, and even which people to hire. Making such decisions without a strong brand foundation is akin to throwing darts at a moving target. You’ll waste time and money with designers, website programmers, and writers because either everything will look good, or nothing will. And more importantly, people will tune out your message because they don’t have the time to unravel what it is you really do or mean and how it applies to them. Without a guidepost, any road looks like the right one, even if it leads to a dead end!
More about Maria
Maria Ross is a consultant, author and speaker who believes cash flow and creativity are not mutually exclusive. As chief brand strategist and creator of Red Slice, she advises start-ups, solopreneurs and small to midsize companies on how to craft irresistible brands. Maria is the author of Branding Basics for Small Business and her humorous and heartfelt memoir, Rebooting My Brain. A dynamic speaker, she delights audiences ranging from The New York Times to the Chamber of Commerce to BlogHer with her wit and wisdom and has appeared in numerous media outlets, including MSNBC, ABC News, The Huffington Post, Forbes.com, NPR and Entrepreneur Magazine. Maria lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, their precocious Black Lab mix and a new son on the way Spark a convo with Maria @redslice or join her Facebook tribe at www.facebook.com/redslice