Identity First

Identity is a big deal right now.

So are marketing and selling — especially the race-to-the bottom kind. “This thing happened.” “Look at us!” “See what we did there?”

Individual identity is capturing most of the headlines these days, but I think the real stories are in institutional identity. In the corporate world, for example, storytelling-as-advertising is still an early outline of the kinds of corporate identities that we’ll see in this century.

But what about institutions dedicated to the public good: government agencies, universities, non-profit and social enterprises?

The temptation, especially when cash-strapped, is to focus on “buzz” and selling rather than identity. And, with so many of these institutions feeling so strapped so much of the time, the end result is a lot of selling and telling rather than showing.

Yes, the short term might be painful. But what will really kill us in the long term is debasing the mission by nonsense marketing (buzz for the sake of buzz and nothing more) or putting strategy and identity up for sale.

When institutions sell their identities piecemeal, it says they don’t know who they are today — and they probably won’t like who they are tomorrow.