What is identity?
An identity is who or what a person or thing is. Your identity is how you define who you are; it is also how others define you (and these definitions are often not the same). That’s why we talk about self-esteem and probably don’t always realise how important it is to health and wellbeing.
How we define ourselves is a self-representation of our culture, interests, relationships and efficacy in doing the things that matter to us. Our sense of identity and belonging is impacted by various factors, including our experiences, community and our physical environment (‘place’).
We have all heard of the ‘herd mentality’. This, too, is an expression of identity and belonging. Moving like schools of fish in shared reaction.
There are many sayings that emphasise identity. Consider, ‘never forget where you came from’. An expression of who you are relative to your ancestry and the place in which a legacy is rooted.
In the 21st century we are witnessing a challenge to notions of identity. For example, the increasing number of people who identify as gender nonbinary.
We are also seeing the rise of identity politics – of shaping political narrative, or polemic, that dog whistles or overtly states division based on race or religion.
Long-standing or new, all these perspectives on identity emphasises one irrefutable fact: identity is very important to who we are and the decisions we make.
“They’re a good company.”
Putting aside the crime against singular nouns, this oft-heard phrase does something very interesting and important. Its interlocutor has assigned a human attribute to an inanimate construct: a company. This is a ‘good’ company. In doing so, an identity – beyond desks, office towers and an army of workers – is being assigned to the company. You could say it has been given a heart.
It is why brand archetyping has proved to be a useful way to categorise companies – applying a personality framework that helps to define a company relative to its customers’ needs and competition.
This is materially significant.
Nearly two-thirds of consumers globally (63 percent) prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs
If we believe a company is good we are more likely to buy its products, trust its services, believe the information provided to us and take the advice of its representatives.
And, even if the advice is being given to us by a person, we will assign responsibility to the company. The banking royal commission provides a painful recent example of how companies that do a lot of good and employ a lot of ethical people, will be branded ‘evil’ for the behaviours of a few. The impact on revenue, profits and market capitalisation have been painful to witness – and ultimately impact every Australian with superannuation that holds bank shares.
We need not more evidence of the value of a good brand, but here is the most recent brand value report on the world’s leading brands from long-term estimator, Brand Finance.
This is beyond ‘reputation’. Reputation is an expression of brand integrity and business performance. Ultimately you can never ‘protect’ the reputation of a brand that is pervasively seen as bad unless you address the fundamental attributes that are defining its identity.
There’s another blog on that topic here.
“So, where do you work.”
Once the ice is broken and the bottle corked, it’s one of the most likely questions any of us will receive at a social occasion. It triggers an immediate emotional and functional reaction.
The functional response will be to define what the company does: the outputs and (if we are proud enough of it) the outcomes. This is why brand narrative and value propositions are so important.
The emotions could be pride, excitement, resignation … or shame. All of these relate to our own identity and how strongly we feel it aligns with the organisation for which we work.
When talking about an employer we might find ourselves saying ‘we’. This is an expression of belonging (so often considered by psychologists and social scientists in the development of children and families). If a brand is a platform, a community or a tribe, belonging is directly related to the strength of the brand experience and identity of the company.
We hear a lot about purpose these days. Purpose statements have become an emotive expression of mission and vision designed to inspire employees and customers. Ultimately, they express the identity of the organisation as much as what it sets out to do. Bold companies can be bold. We must believe in the potential. We should also demand evidence.
Globally, 75 percent of people trust “my employer” to do what is right, significantly more than NGOs (57 percent), business (56 percent) and media (47 percent).
If employees believe in their employer, they will be more productive, stick around and act as advocates in the community, as citizens. These all have bottom line impacts. More importantly, employees that feel they have agency is achieving a social purpose will more likely achieve it. That’s why, at Ellis Jones, we believe in helping employees to feel big, not small.
The virtuous cycle of purpose branding
A virtuous cycle is one in which linked actions repeat thereby scaling outcomes over time.
This is an important concept when we consider brands as a platform or a driver for social impact.
A brand with a social purpose attracts customers and employees (who can also be customers when not at work) because of the social benefits of its actions, products and services create. Those customers and employees are proud to have agency in the benefit created as it expresses their identity. They not only continue to be loyal to the company, they advocate the benefits. This drives growth in impact and sales revenue enabling a company to scale both, often exponentially.
It’s why creating shared value is so important as a business strategy.
And why the brand itself, beyond the company’s output, can have an impact.