Sometimes the clues to your brand purpose are sitting just a couple desks away.

WRITTEN BY DAN SALVA

People will do things out of a personal passion they have that is related to the work they do. It’s what makes their work a vocation instead of just a job.

These actions can give you incredible insights into how you can form your brand purpose. Moreover, they can reveal a group of passionate evangelists that are just waiting to be unleashed. 

Stumbling backward into an epiphany

I’ve always had a passion for developing really creative brand work. Not just sensational stuff. The kind of stuff that had multiple levels of meaning that could connect with prospects in a multitude of ways. Work that could help them, entertain them, inspire them, or do all three.

I had a great epiphany early on in my career that has helped improve the ability to do the work I love. I’d like to say that it was a flash of genius, but it was more of a stumbling backward into an ah-ha moment. 

I was working for an advertising agency with a couple hundred people on staff. We had scores of account people and scads of creative types.

No matter how hard I worked at creating those elegant and meaningful ideas, their life expectancy seemed to be determined by the whims of the account people. 

From my point of view, it seemed rare that account folks would advocate for an idea. Worse yet, at the first sign of a client question, they’d willingly bastardize it - reducing it to a level of mediocrity that would do little to connect with a prospect or advance the business.

I was frustrated. And I was tired of sitting around and bitching with the other creative types. Yet I couldn't help but think that these account people were keeping me from my passion.

Leadership recognized the rift between the two departments. But this was a problem that has plagued agencies for decades. It seemed they had resigned themselves to the reality that this was just how things worked. It finally got to the point where I felt like I needed to do something or I was going to implode. I had tried fighting with the account people. I had tried talking to those in charge. So in what now seems like a monumentally obvious move, I went to an account person I worked with to try and truly understand why he didn’t think like I did about the work. 

This wasn't easy. At the time, it seemed akin to giving into the enemy. But I knew I couldn't go to bang my fist on a table. Or to preach. I had to get some humility. And demonstrate some empathy. It was the only way if I really wanted to pursue my passion.

What I discovered surprised me. This account person wanted to do great work, too. He wanted to see us create awesome things that moved people and moved business. I was dumbfounded. What was keeping us from conquering the world? Well, plenty. There were all kinds of things about his world that I had to understand. And when he shared them with me, I had a new respect for what he did (and I learned a ton.)

We started to realize that we had more in common than we thought. And the more we talked, the more excited we became. We started to realize that we were on to something. 

We started to realize that we could make a difference for each other. 

Sure enough, we started seeing that great work that I spoke of come to fruition. We saw it help our clients’ business grow. And we saw our clients reward us with more business.

I got so excited by this that I invited a group of young account people and young creative types for drinks after work to talk about this stuff. I thought maybe others might want to experience what I had stumbled upon.

It was interesting to see everyone discover that our wants were not all that different. More important was the conversation around how we could start to do things together that would help us all get what we wanted. And in the process, to nudge the organization towards becoming something we all envisioned it could become. A place where passionate group could work on things that had real meaning and value.

I came away from that night feeling intoxicated. And it wasn’t just the beer working its magic on me.

Then came a sobering moment

I got a note saying that the company leaders wanted to see me. They had questions about what I was doing.

I remember that meeting being a bit intimidating. I remember recounting my journey to them, telling them what I believed and what I learned. And then telling them how I thought that maybe there were others at the agency that felt like I did. Not just other creatives, but people on the account side. So I had a thought, “What would it hurt if we were to grab drinks after work and talk about this stuff?"

There was a long pause as they considered what I had said. An awkward pause. I fidgeted. And when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I asked, “Do you want me to stop meeting with everybody after work?"

"No!"

Their reply was so quick and adamant that it made me jump a little. They honestly didn’t know what to think of what had happened. There hadn’t been a goal set and a plan developed. It was just something that was fueled by a passion. A passion that grew out of a purpose. They wanted me to keep doing what I was doing, and asked if I would share whatever we discovered as a group.

I walked out of there not really understanding how important that moment would become for me. It was like a proof of concept for what would later become a pursuit of helping companies understand the power of a brand purpose and the passion that it can ignite.

Paying attention to the clues

If this experience taught me anything, it’s that there are clues to a brand purpose lurking throughout an organization. They are waiting to be discovered. They are yearning to have a voice. This phenomenon can manifest itself in any corner of the company and take many different forms. But you know them when you see them. The passion is undeniable. And the efforts feel very personal.

The fact that these passions are personal may keep people from openly sharing them for fear of ridicule. But they are real. You can unintentionally stumble upon them. You'll notice something different about the way somebody is doing their job. And when you casually ask, the floodgates open. I find it hard not to get as excited as they do. It's an irresistible feeling to share in someone's passion for making a difference.

The hardest part is recognizing these things as they are happening. They may not be as obvious as my example. Or they can get lost in the crush of the work day. 

But if we pay attention. If we look for the small subtle signs. We will discover some pretty amazing things. Things that can give us invaluable insight into what our brand could be. What it could stand for. And what it could become. 

Dan Salva is a co-founder of Will & Grail, with more than three decades of experience in brand marketing and developing and implementing go-to-market strategies. He can be reached at dsalva@willgrail.com.