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Purely positive

In an environment where communication is increasingly mistrusted and seemingly based on half-truths, there is enormous value in being honest about your brand, says Ashgrove Marketing’s Terry van Rhyn

Many years ago, I was in a boardroom with owners and senior executives trying to articulate their USP as a business. The business was not in a sexy consumer-facing lifestyle brand arena but rather in a very traditional and highly-regulated financial services B2B environment.

I always start these sessions by trying to find out why the individuals involved do what they do. Apart from anything else, this helps to avoid the “tech speak”, that painfully preposterous industry lingo only a handful of people really understand and which has very little resonance with actual users and consumers.

At first the responses from around the boardroom table were tentative and rather scripted. I was getting nowhere trying to find out what makes this company – and its people – tick.

Because, although I often hear it, it’s never really about being “quicker, smarter or faster” than your competitors. And it’s more than just using those corny words like “different” or “special” that we find in so many headlines and taglines, and that are meaningless if not clearly demonstrated.

One can always suggest that you are different but how does your “difference” affect others and why should it be important in their lives? Just by simply saying it does not mean that you are, or that your audience will believe it.

What I am looking for is always that one thing that makes you truly unique. Or as Simon Sinek says: the “why do you do what you do and why should anyone care?”

Back in the boardroom, finally, and from the person I least expected, came the first unfiltered statement of truth – that key to unlocking the conversation and getting the energy flowing. What made it more special is that it came from someone who worked behind the scenes, creating products and running the analytics, who was not client facing. He said quite simply that he wakes up every day to make sure he can do his very best so that someone out there as an end customer will be better off as a result of what he does.

This was such a profound statement that it opened the floodgates for all the other people around the table to start sharing their reasons for doing what they were doing. The stories were all so powerful that they effectively started to write their own brand positioning and purpose in business.

What I loved about being part of that process was that we were able to peel away the veneer and uncover the truth – the real reason they do things. It always comes down to something personal, and that is always what will separate you from the pack.

You see, we all touch the lives of others in what we do every day – with no exception. Yet it’s hard sometimes to remember it when we live in a world of information overload amid the clutter and distraction of always-on social media.

It often feels like we are at risk of becoming anesthetised against real human feelings and the awesome power we hold to positively impact other people’s lives.

We need to fight hard to retain that characteristic in a world that has become progressively a more vicious place: where cowardly, faceless keyboard warriors can say what they want without regard for the harm they cause. (I’m not sure what this says about the human race, but that’s another story altogether.)

In my world of brand advertising, we live to find those single-minded messages based on those special little bits of truth that will resonate with the desired audience and cause a favourable response or reaction.

It’s never easy finding these gems but there is a huge value in digging deep to find a business’s true point of differentiation. Believability is a rare commodity, now more than ever in this world of misinformation. But it’s what stands you apart and makes your customers trust you.

Purity, both in purpose and in message, will always stand out – and is so much more positive to see in an age so dominated by half-truths and careless, often heartless, chatter.