Ethos is a Greek word that means “character”. It embodies the guiding beliefs or ideals that shape your approach to life. Kind of like a moral compass. This is where you really find out what it is that motivates you to do the work you do, and it is the underpinning of your work ethic.
A mission statement comes from ethos, but ethos is more. Deeper. It’s where you take your personal worldview and apply it to how you relate to others – what you want to bring to the world – in what you do and how you react to opportunities and challenges. It helps you define why you’re in the business you’re in.
Ethos is what makes you determined to get out of a warm bed at 3 a.m. and shuffle to the bakery in the dark. It’s what motivates you to prune grapevines in the finger-numbing chill on a boring, cloudy day. It’s what encourages you when you’re tired and dealing with a bad-tempered customer. Basically, it’s what you would do for your business if no one was watching.
It’s your internal ethics system. And unless you’re fixed on your motivation and very aware of why you got into this business in the first place, your façade may crack a bit, and your brand will suffer.
How exactly does a brand ‘suffer’? When you lose the motivation to keep it strong. When how you feel and how you operate aren’t in sync anymore. When you’re too preoccupied to look to see how it’s being perceived in the marketplace.
Need an example? Okay, here’s mine:
“I believe everyone needs to be affirmed, encouraged and to be told the truth. My work with others will be to show them where they are strong, produce work that is encouraging (versus intimidating) and give them truthful information.”
And that – when I’m paying attention – is what I strive for when I design visuals or shoot pictures or work with someone on their collateral or their website. It defines how I handle differing opinions . . . how I react to sudden changes in a project focus . . . or an unexpected interruption. I’m certainly not a saint, here, but keeping in mind what I feel I bring to mankind has helped me keep my temper in check, allowed me to be flexible with changes in direction, and empowered me to guide clients in their decision-making on a project, or a branding exercise.
I’m a company of one, but if you are a company of several, this ethos thing should be communicated to everyone that works for you. That gets everybody on the same page and influences how they sell, how they deal with problem customers, what they say in social media. It’s like a company-wide mantra that allows employees to draw upon, sort of a guiding light in a variety of situations. Your gift, in a way, to your company.
The worksheet for this is not easily completed. Lots of thought. Lots of time. Very personal stuff. What you’ll be doing in this exercise is arriving at a sentence that describes your place in the world and how you intend to carry out that belief in your business (which also encompasses your lifestyle, your human relationships, your approach to making dinner. But I digress.).
Remember your Story? That may be the basis for understanding why you got into the business you’re in. If you get stuck, go back to that.
So set aside some time, all alone, to think this through. Can you see how essential it is to your brand, in an everyday sense? Vital, vital stuff. And such a bonding agent for your company. I think you see what I mean.
A Big P.S.
Just as I was about to put this post to publish, the New York Times ran an article on what happens when an ethos turns itself inside out. When I mentioned an ethos is pretty personal stuff, I meant that not only does it take some soul-searching to figure out, but that it is meant for consumption inside your organization. Only.
Calling these phrases, “soaring rhetoric”, capitalists are slapping down companies that spout their ideals instead of saying what their company is really going to accomplish. Lofty speeches are one thing – and so is a moral conscience – but these critics want to see shareholder value.
Now, you may be a long way from having to prove shareholder value, but this article illustrates the slapback that can happen when these phrases go public and don’t stay inside the business. So you’ll need to think of some other slogans to promote with, because an ethos is sacred to the foundation of the business.
Here are some examples:
“Elevate the world’s consciousness” – WeWork, a shared working space real estate company
“We owe it to our children to find the right answers.” – Volkswagen, a car manufacturer
“An innovation company transforming the lives of people around the world.” – Peloton, an exercise bike
“Unleash the world’s creative energy by designing a more enlightened way of working.” – Dropbox, a cloud storage service
“Ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.” – Uber, a taxi service
Indra Nooyi, former PepsiCo CEO, says, “Not all companies need to speak up about everything. If the lofty rhetoric is not linked inextricably to the core business, you should question it.”
Other good quotes:
“Companies need a mission statement that is concrete enough to describe what they will do, as well as what they won’t do,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer. “If you promise too much, you risk having something that’s meaningless.”
“All of these companies finding their woke values is not a function of their principles. It’s a function of shareholder value.” – Brad Galloway, marketing professor, NYU
Grace Studio designs brands, graphics, and websites for artisan businesses. See her story and other stuff here.