Who you are matters. Not just what you do or sell, but who you are.
*photo by Kristina Ruth
Big consumer products companies and agencies spend a lot of time talking about defining your brand personality. So, here’s a fun fact. The word ‘personality’ comes from the latin word ‘persona’, which means ‘mask’. In most cases, that is what a brand personality is: a mask. And, if you think about it, creating a brand personality doesn’t make sense. I don’t define my personality as Nancy. I am Nancy. That means that everything I do, and don’t do is who I am. Everything.
In today’s age of Google, people not only research online to understand the companies behind the products, but they share what they have learned. Through social media, the number of people they can tell is amplified. So it is no longer enough to just say you have a great new product. You have to be a great company. According to the latest Edelman Good Purpose Study, 53% of people say that if quality and price are similar that Social Purpose is the most important factor in brand choice, a growth of 26 percent versus 2008.
So, who are you? What matters to you as a company?
Patagonia gets it right. They talk about their mission in terms of “Our Reason for Being.” Strong words that mean something real. Patagonia’s ‘Reason for Being’ is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” It is clear. I know who they are, and because of this I choose them over other options.
But it isn’t just what they say – it is what they do. And don’t do. Their ‘Reason for Being’ is reflected in everything: It is reflected in how they source and manufacture their clothing. They created Footprint Chronicles, which allows people to track a product’s impact from design through delivery. It is reflected in their efforts to minimize waste and even consumption. Beyond encouraging customers to make repairs themselves, Patagonia takes back their products even after years of use for free or affordable repair or replacement. They even went so far as to run ads urging people to NOT buy a jacket or anything else that they don’t need.
It is reflected in how they invest their grant and charitable dollars such as participating in 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses that pledge to give 1% of their profits to grassroots environmental groups. It is reflected in how they treat their employees. They offer health benefits to everyone, including part-time, retail, and warehouse staff. They even subsidize child care and counseling. It is even reflected in their corporate governance. Last year, California passed B Corporation Legislation, allowing corporations to formalize a triple bottom line approach to business (profits, planet and people). Patagonia was the first in line to register with this new incorporation.
Patagonia doesn’t have an “environmental steward” brand personality. It is who they are.
So, who are you? What is your company’s Reason for Being?
How is your Reason for Being reflected in everything you do?Are there aspects of how you act as a company (to your customers, your suppliers, your employees, the planet, etc) that is inconsistent with it?How steps can you begin taking now to bring alignment and consistency into your company?
So go forth. Remove the mask.
Ideaction Corps is a collaborative. The Corps includes accomplished agencies, firms and freelancers with diverse skills and service offerings. We've come together because we want to use our talents to build a better world.
Our profiles will tell you a bit about our (amazing) talents, but I’d like to give you a sense of what we are about. The Corps has grown organically over the last year. It started with a few people that I pulled in on projects that needed experience or manpower that I did not have. People like Dennis Culloton and Angela Benander of Culloton Strategies, whom I’ve known for many years, Kathy Doyle with Doyle Research, who came recommended to me when a client needed stellar qualitative market data, and Evy Lui, who helped build Ideaction’s own brand,* have been with me since the start. As the vision grew, I reached out to more respected colleagues with whom I’ve worked. Some are second-degree-of-separation recommendations whose reputations precede them. Many are certified B Corps, as is Ideaction. Here are a few things you should know about us:
We give a damn. Active members of our community, Ideaction’s Corps members are committed to making a difference. There are clear common threads among our values: Trust. Honesty. Learning. Passion. Love. Risk. Collaboration. Excellence. Impact. Humbleness. Community.
Every Corps member is involved in far more than their company’s services. I can’t do them all justice in this post, but for example, Clear Space’s Thea Polancic is the woman behind the Chicago Chapter of Conscious Capitalism. Tim Frick, founder of Mightybytes (who built this website) and Nancy Goldstein of Compass(x) are leaders in the B Corp movement in Illinois. Tim Frick is also the brainchild behind the just launched EcoGrader, a tool that will help companies build more sustainable websites. Nancy, whose past work includes some of the nation’s most well known brands (including launching Pillsbury’s Refrigerated Ready-to-Bake Cookies and Brownies, for which I will be eternally grateful), sits on the Business Opportunities Committee of the llinois Task Force on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Enterprise.
We are passionate about our work. There are a kazillon consultants and service providers out there. But we all know they are not all great. Cool websites, a good pitch, but action- not so much. Sometimes it’s difficult to be sure you are getting what you need for the money. So the first thing I will say about Ideaction Corps is that my colleagues roll up their sleeves and work their tails off. They don’t just tell you want to do, they DO it. This “can do” ethic is true even for the strategic planners in the group. I first worked with Tim Fallon and Laurie Shulti of TSI in 2004 on the American Public Health Association's stragetic map and again in 2007 when I hired them to tackle the Girls on the Run Chicago plan. I am in love with their visual map, and they are uniquely skilled at developing both visionary and practical approaches that get right to implementation. This proactive work ethic of the Corps team makes sense to me, because you can get superhuman strength with adrenaline – like lifting a car in an emergency. Ideaction Corps consists of people who can lift your car.
"One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested."E. M. Forster
We’ve got Gravitas. Speaking of heavy lifting, Dave Bayless was Director of Communications for the Chicago Police Department for years. Dennis Culloton was press secretary to former Illinois Governor George Ryan and Chief Spokesman for Meigs Field in Mayor Daley’s administration. These guys have a very different definition of “crisis” communications than most. Angela Benander, on the Culloton Team, was Press Secretary to two U.S. Senators. Nancy Kohn, of Kohn Consulting has raised $25 million (yes, million) for candidates for office, and has more than 25 years experience as a political consultant to candidates and progressive organizations. Traci Failla's cause marketing experience includes major brands such as Wendy's and Miller Brewing Co.
We understand the issues. While assembling these talented people, I kept asking myself, who are the smartest people in this City? Who knows the most about the issues that we are facing, the challenges in education, violence, health care, poverty, housing and our economy? The answer: Elizabeth Graettinger Cole, Jim Cheshire, Angela Rudolph, Katie Groen. If you are deeply involved in any of the aforementioned challenges locally, you know who these people are. They know the programs that work, how to benchmark progress and success, where to invest dollars that will have impact you can measure.
We are socially conscious entrepreneurs. In addition to being small businesses, we incubate new ones. Case in point: Phil Tadros, the man behind the award-winning digital agency Deojo, is also a serial coffee entrepreneur, with more than 13 coffeeshops under his belt, most recently Bow Truss Roasters. Deojo has literally helped hundreds of startups and investors develop products for the web, and has quickly become known as mastermind start-up think tank and production house. Lauri Alpern, with Open Door Advisors is well-known for her leadership of The Enterprising Kitchen and helped found the Great Cities Institute at UIC. Today she advises some of the most successful social enterprises in the City. Laritza Lopez with the Purple Group has an entrepreneurship program that assists Hispanic business owners and is also the founder of reallatinoimages.com. Mana Ionescu at Lightspan Digital was recently featured by Built in Chicago as a woman driving Chicago’s Digital Renaissance. Mark Roth (Sinergi) is one of the original founders of Centerstage Media, an advisor to Impact Engine, and the entrepreneur behind the effort to bring The Hub to Chicago. Ideaction Corps is both a certified B Corp and one of Illinois' first legally encorporatated Benefit Corporations.
"Flaming enthusiasm, backed by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success."Dale Carnegie
We’re a creative powerhouse. Nick Stocking must have had heaven in mind when he conceived Design Cloud – a studio and art gallery that fosters a collective of independent artists and designers. And if you’ve not seen the Chicago AIDS Foundation’s “Change your Story” campaign, check it out, it’s the work of Matthew Brett’s Substance. Jill Pollack at Story Studio (also a B Corp) is the founder of the Chicago Literary Alliance and an accomplished author. Josh at Biodesign is talented designer who also happened to start a record label, Vizual Records.
We have a reputation for getting things done. Beth Michaels was introduced to me two years ago by a colleague, and since then, I keep running in to her in my client’s offices! There is an echo chamber of support for Primer-Michaels work, which includes 25 years of breaking down barriers to effectiveness and improving organizational culture. Keecia Broy was so great at connecting organizations to the talent they need that she developed a business out of it as an executive recruiter. Zbig Skiba's clients consistently cite his no nonsense, organized, solution-driven approach to aligning social impact to results. Michael Bauer is well known in Springfield for his relationships, knowledge, and ability to win. Sarah Neukom and Jessica Yaccino, founders of The Space, can rock out an event walking backward with their eyes closed, and have nailed it for the likes of Red Frog Events, the Chicago Innovation Awards and celebrites including Sting and Bono.
We’re happy. The bottom line is, we really like what we do and because we love our work we’re better at it -- so our clients love us too. If you have an idea or a project that helps to make the world a better place, we’d love to talk with you. Just tell us about your idea, what you think you might need, and we’ll get to work.
"To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness."John Dewey
* Logo design by Chris Kupczak
Kelly O'Brien is the President and Founder of Ideaction Corps, a full service social change agency whose clients include companies and causes doing good. She's passionate about helping people and organizations find the path to work with purpose, big ideas and infecting grace. She can be reached at @kellymobrien or @ideactioncorps on Twitter, or via the Ideaction Corps website.