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I was reading a short post by a fellow academic, who talked about the “soul” of a company. How then, can a company present a soul to the world?

First off, even as a student of theology, I am using the term “soul” here not in the traditional Christian or religious context, but in this dictionary context:

soul – the essential part of fundamental nature of something

Therefore, when we are describing a company with “soul”, we are talking about the unique, easily identifiable nature of a company, that anyone who looks at any facet of the company’s presentation to the world, whether in its advertising campaigns, its branding, its collaterals, its public relations messaging, its product packaging, its procedures and systems, and even its people. We can also describe “soul” as having a genuine brand personality, something that anyone can easily discern to be real, to be deeply rooted, to be passionate, to be strong, and to be convicted.

Many companies have this “soul”, that uniqueness that sets one company from another, even if the arena is a tightly contested one with many “me too” players.

For example, Apple had this soul especially when the late Steve Jobs was deep in the running of the entire organization. Every facet of Apple felt like it had Steve in it, and that was a great thing. Every product I used and even evangelized as a Mac expert and consultant in the 1980s, was something I could recommend to another with no reservation, even if the product would cost so much more than the average competing PC. There was something immediately magical when a new user touched a Mac for the first time, and that included many colleagues and friends I introduced the Mac to.

Another brand, in my opinion, has a soul that extends right up to today – Leica. Leica, as in its cameras, is synonymous with rangefinder cameras that are expensive, but can create images that are legendary, in the hands of the right photographers. Anyone with lots of money can buy a Leica, but only a chosen few have the right meld with the soul of Leica to make truly memorable images that befit the walls of a museum. Even in the age of digital cameras where one maker after another is piling on features and specifications, the older and the newer Leica rangefinder cameras retain their simplicity and charm, and continue to be workhorse cameras of street, portrait and even fashion photographers worldwide.

The soul of a company can enjoy longevity, but it does not last forever. No company, like any dynasty, can last forever. The soul of a company finds it hard to last beyond the lifespan of a company. Therefore, the only hope we can is to retain the soul of a company as long as possible, for the decay or death of the soul of company often marks the beginning of the end.

So, how do we get a soul for a company? How do we keep it?

First off, we cannot manufacture a soul for a company. No amount of expensive advertising, relentless publicity, endless shouts on social media, will earn us this soul. We have to already have it. All too often, the founders of a company are the soul of the company. When they form their core teams, these teams begin to inherit the soul from the founders. As long as everyone is on the same page as the company grows, the soul remains, and continues to grow and strengthen until it becomes a formidable, engaging and identifiable force.

Even if the original founders retire under amicable circumstances and new executives are brought in, it is entirely possible to retain this soul. It is important to find the right executives, who can identify intrinsically with the soul and brand personality of the company, rather than simply hire on credentials, or the need to meet obligations. Find the right executives who can live and breathe your soul of the company, and you will strengthen the personality of your brand and your company, and make it stronger to the consumers. Think long term, think sustainability, and not short term profits or targets.

However, when a company, especially in its nascent stages, gets acquired all too soon by a larger entity, it will be nearly impossible to retain its original soul, but will be consumed by the soul of the larger entity. This is a sad reality. There cannot be conflicting brand personalities within a company. This becomes a choice by the owner-managers of a growing concern, if they are interested at all to grow the company with their projected personalities, or to simply become subjugated by the larger acquiring entities.

It is no longer enough to simply set up a business seeking nothing but profits, or to live off the capital by investors. Those days are long over.

Today, bootstrapping is the norm, and it is far more important to believe in what you have, what you are going to deliver, and to keep at it. There will always be people who will share your dreams with the same gusto and help you grow together, just as there are others who will come and go as rolling stones. You do not need the consent of every one in your path, if you truly believe in what you are doing.

Keep standing firm, keep growing, keep going forward, and keep believing. There may never be permanence, but brand longevity belongs to those who dare believe, and those dare to dig their heels hard into the sand.