Opposite my house there are a few shops. Every few months one or other of these closes and every few months a new one opens. It keeps the place dynamic. The last one to open was an up-market flower shop since when my girlfriend has received noticeably more flowers!
Just before summer started one of the old shops was re-christened “The Dog and Duck”. For the few days between the name going up and the shop opened we wondered: How can you have another pub there? For those who don’t know, “Dog and Duck” is pretty common English pub name so it seemed there was to be a new pub.
Now my road already has 3 pubs it, with another 3 off to the side and a further 12 or so within five minutes walk - this is London after all. It all seemed a bit strange, and after all, there had been no planning permission requested for a pub.
When it finally opened the Dog and Duck turned out to be a ... well, I still don’t know what it was/is selling. Some T-Shirts with the Union Flag or pictures of BritPop singers, some post-cards which would seem more at home in a design museum, and other stuff which to someone or other probably seemed “designer” or “fashionable” or even “stylist”. Personally, I just called it a BritTat shop.
Nothing it sold was actually useful, the shop may have be able to sell to tourists or Oasis fans but not on a secondary road in Acton.
The fact that I can’t tell you what it sold is half the problem. Its location is the other. Both conspired against it but the root problem was: Identity.
The shop didn’t have an Identity that could be communicated easily - look I just tried! How are people to find out about this shop? How are they to tell others?
Yes the name was very clever, and the contents where probably clever to somebody but they failed to communicate to anyone what the shop was. So its no great surprise it is closing down. (Actually, my money was on the Dog and Duck being a coffee shop, now that would have been clever.)
Businesses need identity as much as people do. They need to know what they are about. The employees need to know what the business is about. What do you say when someone says “What does your company do?”
This is more than just branding. It runs deeper. It is about the soul of the organization. I know a product company that is adding services to its line up. The intention is to help sell more products, and very conveniently services make good money so it all helps growth. But this company is a product company; its identity is as a firm that produces physical products which people buy not as a service organization.
It is not wrong for this company to add services but it needs to realise that it is changing its identity. How will its employees, its competitors and customers relate to it in future?
Identity can constrain people and organizations, it can stop them moving outside of their comfort zone but it also gives them a base, and operating system if you like, one that helps them navigate the world and make sense of it. Identity change can be a great opportunity for growth and learning but it is also risky.
So identity is good, please experiment with changing it, step outside the comfort zone, just make sure you don’t loose it in the process or you’ll end up like the Dog and Dock.