February 13, 2017

Finding Discipline About Who You Are

Allegra Poggio • Production Director

You Should Know

  • You need to know your WHY to be successful
  • The difference between a value and an outcome
  • What is a brand framework?

If there is one thing that has been consistent in my time at Visceral, it is the ongoing desire from all of us on the team to learn, change and grow—individually and as a team representing a company. Visceral is now 10 years young, so basically a teenager. At the end of 2016, we were wrapping up our most successful financial year to date and we collectively decided that having gone through a bit of a growth spurt, we needed to reset on the who, what and why of Visceral.

What was the issue?

While we all generally understand what we are doing at Visceral, all of us speak about us differently depending on who is talking and who we are talking to. I’ve heard one of us say we are a “digital agency” and another say we are a “communications and marketing agency” or a “web development shop”. It’s not that we are NOT these things, but none of these things actually capture the full scope of the why, who and what of us (our PURPOSE). And while one could argue these are semantics and not so important, I strongly believe that words matter.


The problem was that we were speaking in a jargony fog that didn’t feel like Visceral. What we needed was CLARITY.

We didn’t need a new brand (logo, messaging, visual identity)—we needed to focus on what we do and how we do it so we could continue to make an impact and enjoy doing it. If you are familiar with Simon Sinek (if not, get on it), you know that he theorizes that if a person learns their “why”, it can make you better qualified and confident to choose a career and find companies that create environments where you can feel inspired and fulfilled every day. Translate that over to a company that knows their why, and you can imagine you have a better chance of strengthening a culture that is authentic and attracts the people that seek inspiration and fulfillment.

Personally, I wanted to know what makes us special? What is our WHY? And how can we use that to:

  • Build a culture that fosters fulfillment
  • Grow our team (by attracting the right people)
  • Create more partnerships with clients that support our purpose
  • Make an impact

What did we do?

At this point in our almost teenage years, we know better than to think that we could get ourselves CLARITY without outside help. So, we tapped our friends at Within People to help us realize our purpose, values and proposition and communicate that to the world. It felt like a great exercise to kick off the year in January. We were excited about working with Within because other than being an incredibly smart and inspiring group, Visceral hadn’t ever done anything like this for ourselves even though it is something we would prescribe to clients. Do as I say, not as I do – right?!

It was refreshing that Within’s sessions really are not about branding. Or messaging. Or team bonding. They do, however, magically manifest to helping in all of those areas. It was a very practical deep dive into unraveling our culture, our ethos and our aspirations. Our partner at Within, Natalya, facilitated two day-long sessions with our team. The goal was to come out with what Within refers to as a Brand Framework. In those sessions, we sought clarity by doing the following:

  • Finding and articulating our purpose (why we exist)
  • Identifying the values (behaviors) that guide our culture (how we work)
  • Understanding our community (clients, colleagues, collaborators)
  • Shaping a unique product & service offering (what we do and what it means)

The workshops were full of exercises that broke us into smaller groups to focus on topics like what makes us different from our competitors, what makes our clients unique, what behaviors do we honor with respect to how we work, who are the people in our community? We would discuss, share and then iterate on the ideas. Within’s facilitation was essential here in distilling our thoughts into tangible items that resonated with us. What was most inspiring was that we agreed on a lot (which is good when you are trying to achieve one common framework to work from) but equally challenged each other to push beyond the typical language in our industry.

There were many post-its, lots of doodling and a lot of thoughtful engaging conversation to get to a final brand framework.

What we learned?

As an example, we began with our values. Our values represent the behaviors that define our culture, shape how we build relationships with everyone we work with (clients and partners). To achieve an understanding of our values, we started by identifying themes. The themes we agreed on were: fun, being one team, creative, strategic, collaborative. These were then distilled further into behaviors and actions like learning, flexibility and building. What was key for us was understanding that values are not outcomes. For example, trust, innovation, integrity are not values. Those can be outcomes of executing your values, but they are not values. At the end of it, the values we came up with (which are part of a larger framework) to drive our behaviors are:

  • Craft with purpose: we think holistically to help people solve the right problems
  • Learn by doing: We’re a nimble team and we’re always open to change
  • Be one team: we operate with mutual respect and we get things done together
  • Love what you do: we enjoy working together and we’re driven by people, not only profit

In this climate, discipline about who you are, what you do and why you do it has never been more important.

How will we apply this?

Over the next few months, you will see us refine our language about who we are right here on this website and in our conversations with clients and prospective clients. We’ve already used what we learned in our workshops in several of our proposals. Along with the values, we defined a purpose statement and our offering. Ultimately, who we are hasn’t changed, we just unfolded the building blocks to talk about ourselves, grow our team, attract the clients we want to work with and create impact. That personally makes me feel simultaneously super cozy and amped up to get to work.

In this climate, discipline about who you are, what you do and why you do it has never been more important. This is not a time for us to waiver in our ideals, or think twice about our purpose. It is a time to lead by example and unleash the ideas that help MOVE us all forward.

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