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One time, while presenting a brand strategy to a client, I could feel myself tearing up. After several years of uncertainty about their direction, they finally had clarity about their real value, and their offering to the market. Their excitement – mixed with joy and relief – was palpable.

This new strategy, they said, captured them to a T, and they could see the enormous potential before them. “You’ve opened up some wonderful possibilities for us,” said the client.

It’s easy for me to become emotionally connected to the organizations I work for because every one of them is as unique and interesting as the people who run them, and I love helping them grow. What they often have in common, however, is a lack of clarity about who they really are, which limits their effectiveness.

Many organizations are built on the gut instinct of their founders. But organizations that move beyond gut and spend time really understanding their hearts find the opportunities for growth expand dramatically.

Organizations often focus on understanding their brand from the outside-in. And while it’s definitely important to take the time to understand your audiences, their needs and wants, and what they think, feel, and believe about you – a heart identity is a reflection of your internal emotions – why you do what you do, your commitment, and your promise to the people you serve. No brand is effective if it doesn’t respond to a larger public/business need. And no brand is effective if it doesn’t accurately describe the essence of the organization – Including its passion, promise, and unique skill set. As Simon Sinek has said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Having a clear heart identity and purpose helps organizations stand out from the crowd. And, because of the clutter of offerings in the marketplace, organizations need more than market awareness or surface-level connection with their audiences. They need to connect on a deeper psychological and emotional level. When your brand reflects your own heart, it allows you to connect with the hearts, as well as the minds, of the people you need to reach. And when it comes to making decisions about buying, partnering, volunteering, or donating, reason and emotion are equally important drivers.

When the inside-out connects with the outside-in, magic happens. Organizations that communicate at a heart level become bolder, more creative, and more confident, engaging more powerfully with their audiences. This confidence establishes trust, and builds credibility and lasting relationships that foster deep and meaningful connections.

Think of the emotional intensity the Saskatchewan Roughriders have established with a fan base that extends well beyond the province’s borders. The heart of the Rider brand is a love for their province and their fans, and, as perpetual underdogs, an undying belief that next year will be better than the last. This heart identity has helped the Riders move from near bankruptcy to the most successful marketing machine in the league – and the turnaround happened when they got clear about who they are and why they do what they do.

The Chairman of the Board of one organization I worked with told me that having a clearer understanding of their brand was a game-changer: “Once we understood how unique we are, we began to talk about ourselves differently,” he said, adding that a big reason for their growth (they’ve doubled in size over the past four years) is because of the way they now understand themselves.

So if you want to build a stronger organization that allows you to grow to a new level of influence, start from the inside-out. And don’t be afraid to shed a few tears.

Joni Avram is principal of Cause and Effect Marketing, which helps donors, businesses, and non-profit enterprises gain credibility, build influence, and grow support through effective marketing and engagement strategies. 

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