Following Game of thrones, I watched an episode of The Good Wife. I totally love this show! It's well written, honest (in all the dark shades) of politics, life, law and in/justice. But it’s also light and hopeful in the persona of the heroine, Alicia Florrick, with her rational ability to compromise, coupled with her uncompromising moral compass. I love her, I would never want to be her, but I respect her immensely and want to be my own version of her.
Why? Because she has integrity. Not in a fairytale sense, or in empty intent, but in a real world context. In each episode she is challenged to remain respectful and true to her ethical compass (her personal brand) in a landscape where ideals rarely conquer and the 'business' of politics and the idea of sacrificing personal integrity for ‘greater good’, reigns.
Much like Daenerys Targaryen, the queen of dragons from Game of Thrones, she has strength of conviction, not hinging on an ideal alone, but withstanding experiences of potentially shattering consequence where ideals are constantly broken, challenges are rife, and no-one else seems to keep their promises or behave in a manner deserving of your trust. When faced with such challenges, one can either fight (hard) for that ideal and rise to their potential, or give up in the hopelessness. Both these ladies fight without compromise and indeed rise as a result.
Not sure how my integrity would stand up if I was actually forced to be in the shoes of either of these heroines… but rest assured I aspire to those qualities as best I can in my somewhat simpler life, for myself, my loved ones, and for my clients.
Integrity is a word that gets thrown around a great deal these days, particularly in the context of brand values and the like, but I'd dare to say there seems to be a misconception that by virtue of merely stating that you have integrity somehow makes it real. It doesn’t. How does the claim to integrity really get tested to prove it to be anything other than just a hopeful aspiration?
What does the word actually mean?
- the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles
- the state of being whole and undivided
So that’s the literal meaning, what does it mean for brands?
The first point (1) relates your moral compass.
And the second to your foundations…
Your brand values and promises are the foundational 'pillars' upon which your brand is built, and are guided by your values and beliefs – your moral compass. Staying true to those pillars is how you secure the integrity of your brand. Your brand as a whole is a sum much bigger than all these parts.
Here are a few tips for really living a brand with integrity
1. Who are you?
“Be yourself, everybody else is taken”
Firstly, you need to know who you are - What are your brand pillars?
Once you’ve soul searched your way to a defined answer, you (and your team) need to exude these qualities and ideals with vehemence. Because, your brand isn’t your logo, font choice or colour palette – these are merely a part of your visual language. Your brand is your behaviour, attitude, processes, approach, people and most importantly your interactions with your team and clients alike. Being accountable to your brand promises across all of these intangibles is a daily challenge that is vital to the integrity of your brand.
A customer comes to you because:
a. you have something they need/want,
b. you are delivering what they need/want in a way that’s in tune with their own ideals and establishes an emotional connection.
To resonate on-brand, customer expectations need to be continually fulfilled to keep that trust growing into a strong and enduring relationship. Consistency is at the core of trust. The more aligned you are to your brand promises, the more trust your customer will invest in you. The more a customer trusts you, the more value your brand amasses.
Your value is inextricably imbued in your reputation:
In a climate where challenges are rife, change is constant, and trends are transient, being true to your brand pillars is increasingly difficult yet CRUCIAL to your success as a brand. Be consistent and live up to, or indeed exceed, your own expectations as a non-negotiable. In todays consumer driven market a business’s hard earned reputation can be broken in an instant, and often takes a lot longer to repair, if indeed ever. Ignore one pillar, and your foundations are compromised.
2. Dance to your own beat – Integrity shows up when challenged.
While we are not necessarily facing a war of the lands, or managing unwieldy dragons as children, and masters and slaves like Danearys, or political antagonism, bribery, blackmail, corruption like Alicia, as businesses and brands we inevitably face our own challenges - and they vary.
Technology and connectivity has brought insanely high visibility to what is going on EVERYWHERE. Everyday there’s something new and shiny to distract and entice us, challenging the commitment to the restraints (and constraints) inherent in an enduring brand. It looks fresh, Inspiring, and sometimes appears to be delivered with insight and vision. In reality, it too, shall pass, just like hyper-colour t-shirts and big perms did. Change is great and necessary to stay relevant, but if that change is merely reactionary, not visionary it lacks integrity. If it’s not tested against YOUR brand pillars, you risk collapse. If one pillar falls, the rest will follow.
Think evolution not revolution
I recently read this fantastic quote -
"In a world full of Kardashians, be an Audrey"
Think about the great fashion icons – can you imagine, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O or Deborah Harry constantly changing their look to keep on trend? No. They understood who they were, what pieces exuded these characteristics best and they stuck to it. Their consistency and authenticity is why their names are still bantered around today (ok, and they are also all total babes, not unlike Alicia and Daenerys).
Fashion is fleeting, Integrity is timeless.
3. Patience is a virtue - Building trust and reputation takes time.
At the beginning of my career, I thought serif fonts should fall off the planet. I was enticed by the new, the clean, the minimalist. Happy to live within my integrity and humanness, I was wrong! My love for all things helvetica was naive and inexperienced.
Serif fonts have a place, a purpose and evoke an emotional response that early on I was too immature to realise. They have solid foundations, incite nostalgia, create trust. They provide clarity (designed for legibility) and are utterly classic.
Furthermore, enduring brands have an unstated wisdom and knowing, they’re not pasting their iconic brand mark on anything trendy just to associate with the fashion of the times. Brands don’t need to change their dress, if it’s a timeless one.
There is a time and place where the serif may appear dated, but a household recognisable logo should not necessarily be changed just because it’s founding font is no longer on trend. Much brand equity lies in its history, as well as its future. It has endured, through many an economical, political, and fashionable landscape, which means it remained relevant, but also solid, unchanging, reliable and grounded. Know from a business perspective there is value and equity in endurance and the recognition fought for and earned through association of a consistency.
Your brand pillars need to be strong; with strength of character and conviction. Not only do you need to believe it as part of your (reason for) being, but you need the strength to follow through on those convictions. Integrity is something which is only tested in times of struggle, of change, of unrest or temptation, often many times. This is where integrity is an uncompromising compass in every decision you make pertaining to your brand.
Champion your integrity like the queen of dragons, with conviction and without compromise no matter what is going on around you. It doesn’t matter that it’s hard, it’s essential. Remain relevant, but remain true.
Be that brand.
Brands do evolve, and we all need a new haircut from time to time but if your brand is about to sacrifice a key pillar to keep current, then it’s time look in the mirror and reevaluate.