We’ve all been there. You’re at a dinner party or on a date and the person you’re with does nothing but talk… At you. About themselves. All night.

At first you think, ‘What a confident and interesting person - this is going to be fun!’. But by the end of the second course you realise - with a ‘there’s an hour of my life I won’t get back’ feeling - that you’ve not been asked a single question or discussed a topic that you care about.

Chances are it won’t matter how clever, successful or attractive your companion, if you feel like you haven’t been heard, you won’t experience that buzz of human connection. You might even decline pudding.

For our Scaleup NE clients, the date analogy is important. Companies readying themselves for expansion often decide it’s time to invest in ‘brand development’; everyone agrees that it must look and sound the part when disrupting markets or navigating new territories. Yet too frequently the process skims the surface, failing to consider the business’ core purpose or the hearts and minds of the audiences who will ultimately determine whether that business lives or dies.

A recent survey illustrated the growing expectation the public has of brands in relation to social discourse. Hardly a surprise, given the impact of social movements on politics in recent years, or the domination of social platforms that give brands the opportunity to speak directly to the public. And yet many companies, just like the bad date, focus on promoting themselves before working out what makes good conversation.

It would of course be completely unfeasible and, frankly, a bit awkward to start shoe-horning views on world peace into every corporate marketing opportunity. Context is key. A robust brand development exercise should involve unpacking your organisation’s stance on issues that affect your customers, so that you can ensure a consistent and contextually-sound approach – from recruitment policies and supplier contracts through to integrated marketing campaigns.

Besides building valuable trust and loyalty with external audiences, when companies articulate their values, they also provide internal teams with clear, strategic direction. A head of marketing should be able to determine which external events, networks and sponsorships to build into the yearly plan, based on target audiences and cross-over themes between partners and campaigns.  And an HR manager who can proactively look for evidence of core values when short-listing candidates is better able to assess ‘cultural fit’. In short, everyone is strategically aligned and understands the bigger picture, whether their focus is internal or external.

The inside-out approach to branding is not a new or social media-driven phenomenon. In one of the most viewed TED talks to date, Simon Sinek explains how great leaders – from Martin Luther King to Steve Jobs - define the fuzzy heart of their work first and foremost: why it matters, not what they do and how they do it.

So, when we see our Scaleup NE clients embark on a branding exercise we want them to think about how they connect with audiences on the issues that matter to them. How should it feel to visit their store / office / read about them the media? Do the company’s tone of voice, reputation, and values align and resonate?  

As tempting as it might be to build a brand around commercial USPs alone, if you focus solely on how much faster, stronger, and shinier you are than your competitors, your company could simply come off as a bad date.