There is a magnetism that all great names have, whether a brand or a person. It all comes down to…

People buying into what they stand for.

Such a simple assertion, you might think this is the shortest blog ever, but the story only starts there. After all, how do you even know what you should stand for? Simple does not mean easy.

Think about it. How many people or organisations do you come across every day and how many of them do you forget as soon as they are not in your face? The ones you think of even when you don’t need them are the exceptions. This recall comes down to a sense of admiration – a purpose that makes them tick. It’s not an identity so much as the mark they are intent on making and it means needle movers are incisive when it comes to ‘the how’ and ‘the why’, when most others get stuck on ‘the what’.

Let me give you an example. Being a great salesperson is fine, but it’s what you do, not a thing you stand for. You might say creating something from nothing is better, but not necessarily. If it’s a value however and that drives what you create or sell, you are getting somewhere.

I like to think of it as the brand being a car for your code (the DNA that drives you). The car takes it where it needs to go to thrive. Conversely, without you the car sits dormant. In other words there must be a synchronicity of code and calling. For either to fulfil its purpose, the car must be chosen with specific intention. This is a difficult realisation because sometimes it means admitting the car we like to drive, or even the car we’re great at driving, might not be reason enough to drive it.

Peter Drucker is quoted as saying “management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things”. He talks about failure being a direct consequence of lack of purpose. Albert Einstein put it this way “try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value… everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts can not necessarily be counted”. And therein lies our challenge.

What we need to know about needle movers

I think it’s helpful to apply a metaphorical lens. You have to find your core characteristics, the things that make your reflection in the mirror recognisable to you. Broadly, what is your belief system? Now with those key things front of mind, ask yourself, does your brand (your home for much of the week), or your focus at work (what you are working on), give you the space to be true to yourself? Because if you can’t do that, you are in no position to do anything really remarkable.

John Maxwell who has written extensively on leadership says there are nonnegotiable characteristics that every effective leader must have and a sense of calling is the first one.

I’ve had the great fortune of working with many brands over the years, some of whom can genuinely claim to be real needle movers. The one that rests at the top of my mind is Western Sydney University. When I worked on their Unlimited campaign – the one with Deng Adut – refugee come human rights lawyer, it changed the game for the brand because it aligned with their belief in the power of diversity as a force for positive community change. As a team, every person who worked on it knew what we stood for because the team was made up of people who shared that belief. And it was incredibly successful, reshaping the way the sector has behaved ever since.

Unilever Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Keith Weed also knows something about needle moving people and brands, with the likes of Dove sitting in his portfolio. He says, “We need to build brands with purpose. We need to go from ‘marketing to consumers’, to ‘mattering to people’.” Why? Brands that stand for something grow twice as fast.

As I see it there are three things that set you up for this capability to find your purpose and place. You have to invest in:

Learning – and have an appetite for risk: How often do you step into a challenge without map or guide, knowing you’ll get a few bumps and bruises a long the way, but a whole lot more experience? When you really value learning, this is exactly what makes you capable of moving the needle, not just once, not just in the right circumstance, but come what may. Those who do great things are not necessarily the most fortunate, but those who back themselves to learn quicker than the rest.

Relationships – and the capacity to truly connect: Do you really feel the weight of the relationships with your colleagues or customers? Do you genuinely get excited when you’ve seen positive change or downhearted when you don’t? These feelings should be a means to measuring whether you are in the right place, driven by the right things, or whether you’ve had the time and space to truly immerse yourself in the people. Both are equally important.

Change – and be willing to drive it: We’re are not here just to slide in behind someone else’s slipstream, or to pick out the things we don’t like as if that is a means to explaining why we’re important. Needle moving brands and people start new games, they don’t just play in the leagues of others or think that shuffling deck chairs helps the boat travel any smoother. Valuing change means making good use of time. To make an impression requires focus. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s also staying true to your code while revelling in change. This duality of priorities is essential.

At the end of the day, what makes a brand you love, or a person you follow, is their ability to discern between what they like and what they’re called to do. Like a lighthouse, they’re clear on what they stand for. And where they stand.

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