By Darren Evans, founder and director of brand consultancy The Engine Room
For some people, considering anything remotely related to an obituary, would be a pretty morbid exercise. But when it comes to the legacy of an organisation – or more specifically a brand – composing the ideal obituary is one of the most powerful visionary tools a company could adopt.
It is easy to get swept along with the seemingly mounting pace of the business environment, but sometimes it is important to stop and think about ‘what could be’. Some of it may feel a little fantastical, but by considering what a company might be known – or remembered – for in 25 years’ time, it is possible to make change and steer the path that follows.
Purpose, principles, personality
There should be at least three key cornerstones of the brand obituary – a sense of purpose, beyond commercial gain, which will influence what the company was able to achieve; principles, which were integral to behaviour and how the organisation was run; and personality, which defines how the company was known.
Some people would prioritise the creation of a ‘family’ or the provision of a ‘nice place to work’, for instance, whereas others would want to be held with great renown for instigating change in a complex sector or breaking down barriers to equality. The creation of jobs plus the personal and professional development of once unskilled workers, may also be key for many business leaders. Much depends on the culture, size and sector of the organisation of course.
Seeing the obituary ‘in print’
Composing the obituary mentally is one thing but writing it up is another – if it was to have its own newspaper headline and front-page article, you would undoubtedly think differently.
Mocking one up can therefore be very enlightening, and there doesn’t necessarily need to only be a single version. A ‘best case’, ‘middle-ground’ and ‘worst case’ piece, with different possible endings, will help to highlight the change management process required to make progress.
Other ‘stakeholders’ may have valuable insight to offer too – if you’re brave enough to invite their honest opinion. So, whilst this could be an exercise for just the CEO – or senior management team – alone, the involvement of others may lead to a more genuine (and eye-opening) account.
Who has time for this?
The velocity of change in the business landscape means this exercise will rarely take place. Some owners simply don’t plan any more, let alone with such a forward-reaching focus. A sense of short-termism unfortunately dominates the mindset of many leaders, particularly those driven by shareholder value. But some elements of identity – and ROI – will take time to nurture, which makes the obituary exercise even more meaningful.
The write up also doesn’t need to be a lengthy monologue – obituaries are often short, which should make the process easier to accommodate. But, irrespective of the time it takes, and whether the result will be used to craft a brand in the earliest conceptualisation stages or re-engineer a brand that needs to adapt, the effort is certainly worthwhile.