When you choose an identifier for your business, you’re immediately faced with the question of defining it for your clients…and for yourself. What does XYZ mean, and who are you in relation to it?
For example, what is copywriting?
I’ve often been faced with this question at networking gatherings. I introduce myself as a copywriter, and again and again the first question is something like: “I’ve been thinking of a really great invention. Could you help me to trademark it?”
No, I tell them, I’m not a patent, trademark, or copyright expert…for that type of advice they’d need an attorney. I am a copy writer – that is, I help companies to present themselves in the best possible way by writing marketing copy, for example, web content, sales letters, brochures, etc., etc.
“Ahhhh,” they say, the light dawning…”Could you do that for me?” And the conversation begins…
The same thing happens when I introduce myself as a consultant for sustainable businesses. Again and again I receive a puzzled look and a comment like: “My business recycles paper. Does that mean we’re sustainable enough for you?”
So over the past months, I’ve collaborated with eco-consultant Geoff Stack of Stack Coordination in joint presentations to not-yet-green business audiences. We talk with them about the benefits of sustainability (a.k.a. “going green”) – saving energy, improving employee health and morale, and saving money in multiple areas (this will be the topic of a Continuing Education course at CCBC in Fall 2010…watch Fresh Green Image for updates).
Geoff likes to respond to the question “What is sustainability?” with a slide of more than 100 tiny definitions, with Rocky Mountain Institute CEO Amory Lovins’ definition superimposed: INDEFINABLE. He follows up with Natural Capital Institute founder Paul Hawken’s definition: “improving the quality of life for all living beings within the capacity of nature to provide that life.”
That’s a big definition, covering a lot of territory…it can potentially fit businesses ranging from alternative energy suppliers to zookeepers, depending on the values and policies that guide their operations. In practical terms, sustainability or “greenness” is a set of values that can be adopted by any business in any field. It’s not an industry or a niche.
So we come to the question – how do you identify your business? How does it – and how do you – embody a role in your chosen field? And how do you define it for your clients?
In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty says: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” While I’m not advocating this psychotic use of language, the truth is that when you choose an identifier to describe your business, you become your clients’ experience of that word…the way it shows up in their reality. They may not explore its meaning beyond the meaning you demonstrate through your actions.
For example, how many mainstream consumers see Walmart or Clorox as defining green business – and thereby completely miss the larger social/environmental/ethical meanings of sustainability?
On the positive side of the fence, my husband was a master of this art of branding-by-being. As administrative director of the local center of a men’s international organization, he embodied a vision and set of values that went far beyond those of the actual organization.
From his interpretation of the organization’s mission, he created a reality that went far deeper than its official menu of services. Men were attracted because of his vision and values; they came, experienced healing through his role in those services, and helped to carry on a spiritual legacy.
When you promote your business, what are the vision and values you are projecting? How do you embody the gift that your business – and your industry – brings to the world? And how do you offer that gift to your clients?
That is the key to branding your business.