A succinct and concise definition of a brand is that it is a badge of trust. Trust is earned by making a promise and then keeping it with integrity. But all too often the emphasis in brand building is put on the making of the promise rather than the keeping of it.
This in no way implies that having the courage to put an ambitious promise out there isn’t important. It is, because the integrity of keeping a promise and thereby building trust starts with making a solid commitment. But if those required to deliver on the promise don’t do so, brand building is seriously undermined, especially in a world of increasing cynicism driven by a combination of connectivity and disappointing leadership.
Which brings us to the point of this brand-insight article: what makes a shared purpose to deliver on the company’s brand promise a success or a failure?
We human beings are successful as a species due to our ability to work together. Neuroscience shows that we are wired to be collaborative and that our natural behaviour is to help each other to our mutual benefit. Good reference material for this can be found in Rutger Bregman’s book Humankind and in Dexter Dias’s The Ten Types of Human.
So, getting individuals and teams in organisations to work together to deliver on a promise is natural, as long as the promise is authentic and people feel they are working together for mutual benefit.
This mutuality is understood to encompass all the stakeholders dependent on the satisfaction derived from keeping that promise – from those owning the company to those leading it, those working under that leadership and those benefiting from the product made or the service delivered.
But all too often, the “working together” bit just isn’t there.
One example of this is the practice of putting CEOs into their position for a relatively short-term contract, thereby running the risk that utilitarian decisions will drive short-term efficiency rather than an investment being made in sustainability.
A good example of this is the reluctance of power generators to move from using carbon to implementing sustainable energy practices. The pressure being put on these executives by shareholders (ExxonMobil) and the courts (Shell) is indicative of the natural human drive to uphold the common good.
It is essential for leadership to inspire common purpose. If leadership allows divisiveness, the tendency to work together becomes destructive due to employees defining themselves as a group, working not towards a shared purpose but towards what they perceive as beneficial to their own needs. And the more diverse a workforce is, the greater the propensity for divisiveness. Keeping common purpose in a small, homogenous group is relatively easy; the bigger and more heterogeneous the group is, the more challenging this becomes.
To overcome this challenge, leadership has to start with clearly defining the organisation’s brand promise. This must be followed by a defined common purpose that is required to inspire the satisfaction of this promise to the benefit of all stakeholders. Once this has been established it must be communicated and displayed by leadership in a way that inspires belief and buy-in from everyone else in the organisation.
But this can’t be done if it is not authentic – there has to be an acceptance of diversity and the understanding that is required to turn diversity into the genuine advantage of all concerned.
And here, again, is the fortunate fact about how we are wired and related to our natural compulsion to work together: we are exceptional at empathy and at understanding each other’s needs, so we have this innate ability to be kind to each other, and this helps bridge differences. But again, the empathy must be authentic, because this ability to understand each other also helps us identify insincerity.
Achieving an inspiring sense of collective purpose has implications that go beyond the sustainability of business. In The Future of Capitalism Prof Paul Collier of Oxford University makes the persuasive argument that if we want the world to keep benefiting from capitalism, as it undoubtedly has, then leadership is obliged to embrace diversity and sustainability in pursuit of a far better and fairer benefit for all stakeholders. This starts with possibly leadership’s main function: communicating intent. The alternative is clearly articulated and substantiated by Collier: inevitable disaster.
Hence brandkind: the making of a brand promise and the keeping of it by tapping into the collaborative kindness inherent in all of us, to the benefit of all of us.
Johnny Johnson is a brand and communications strategist at TowerStone Leadership Centre.