As identity strategists, we work all the time with corporate and nonprofit leaders who come to us seeking the benefits of identity work: improved loyalty and preference, increased sales, an energized workforce and so on. But one of the biggest misperceptions is around the idea of identity itself. Most people confuse it with branding, when in fact your identity is different from your brand in key ways.
A brand is a promise. When someone sees the brand they should know what they’re going to get. Branding is doing everything humanly possible to ensure that the brand promise is fulfilled. That’s what branding is about. But branding is often aimed at specific target audiences: people who want whiter whites or brighter brights. Brands are what I call outer driven. They’re driven by trying to please people out there.
Identity to us is a bigger idea. It’s about the essence of who you are. You might have several brands that make various promises and are aimed at different people. But your identity should be inner driven.
Identity and Authenticity
The power in identity comes from being who you want to be, not who others want you to be.
Your identity shouldn’t be constructed the way some politicians run campaigns—running around the country doing various focus groups to find out what people care about and then giving speeches tailored to very precise groups. That’s all outer driven.
The most powerful identities come from thinking about who you are, what you care about, what matters most to you, what you want to accomplish and why people should care that you exist.
The Six Elements of Identity
As you undertake identity work it’s important to understand what identity is not. It’s not your vision. Your vision is how you see the future. It’s not your mission. Your mission is what role you want to play in that future. It’s not your goals. Your goals are what you want to accomplish. It’s not your logo (your logo identifies you, but it’s not your identity). It’s not a short-term initiative—that’s a tactic. And it’s not a marketing responsibility, it’s a CEO’s responsibility to deliver on your unique sense of self.
So those are the things we think identity is not. But what is identity?
- It is the essence of your organization
- It is your organization’s sense of self
- It is what the organization stands for, is committed to
- It is what the organization cares about, its driving force
- It is what you want to be, not what others want you to be
- It is why your organization matters
You can go on the web and easily find a number of how-tos that promise you can create an identity in five easy steps (give or take). But the reality is that determining your identity is a matter of deep exploration. It requires you to see yourself from new angles, think about possibilities, understand where your industry will be in the future. It’s hard work, but it’s the key to motivating your employees and changing the way your customers, shareholders and competitors think about you.