When it comes to being authentic, Dolly knows best.

Dolly Parton embodies all that is good about America. A hugely talented singer-songwriter and musician; a 60-year career with global success; doing genuine good through her philanthropy projects such as the Imagination Library and the Dollywood Foundation; and just last week filmed encouraging people to get their Covid vaccine. Dolly’s rags to riches story and her positive, optimistic outlook is the American dream made manifest. It seems she can do no wrong.

That Dolly has crafted and maintained a personal brand and reputation, going from strength to strength over six decades and without a major crisis, is testament to an approach we could all learn from.

Dolly is well known for having a way with words and her quotes fill entire books. There is one quote however that stands out as one that all of us in brand and reputation strategy should think about applying and that’s “Find out who you are then do that on purpose”.

We know that this is something Dolly lives by. She has crafted and maintained something that’s based on a core of steel, something truly authentic. She knows who she is and she remains true to that. She has never wavered, which is why she’s strategically strong. Her authenticity brings a confidence and sense of purpose that has allowed her to ride out changing times and attitudes whilst staying relevant to her fans old and new. From our perspective she has it all – a credible, relevant and differentiated brand sustained over the long haul with a positive reputation on issues that matter to her fans and stakeholders.

‘Find out who you are and do that on purpose’ is the start point in the advice we give to our clients. We might speak the language of corporate brand and reputation, but the sentiment is the same. If you are clear on who you are and what you stand for then (and only then) you have the direction you need. All your resulting communications, marketing and engagement activities lead from this: you’re able to ‘do it on purpose’.  Without this understanding, anything you do in communications or marketing is directionless i.e. tactics before strategy and likely to fail.

Here at Tovera, whatever the brief,  we have a simple process to help companies find out – or be clear on – who they are and how to communicate that in a way that resonates and builds support with stakeholders – i.e. do it on purpose:

  1. The Who– establishing from the outset who you are as a company and how you wish to be perceived by your customers and stakeholders.  Asking how that fits and supports/works in harmony with the founding principles of the company and its corporate brand positioning/proposition. We know from experience that there can be differences of opinion within companies on these questions so they are best interrogated and answered in a workshop type environment and/or through an internal research study. The ultimate output is agreement throughout the company of ‘the who’ we are which would include clarity on the desired brand positioning and proposition as well as the desired reputation on the key issues of the day.
  2. The How– when you’re clear on the who  you want to be perceived as and to whom, then you need to find out how far that is from reality i.e. how your customers and stakeholders currently perceive you. That takes good qualitative research across a sample of key stakeholders (e.g. Government, Regulatory, key Customers, Topic Experts, Influencers, Media etc.) led by independent, professional, qualified researchers. Following this external research we then analyse the gap between that and 1  above i.e. who you want to be (the desired positioning) versus where you currently are (the actual positioning) and then develop the insights on how to effectively bridge the gap. The result is robust, evidence-based insight and direction for your marketing and communications strategies that have purpose, thereby building and protecting brand and reputation.

We are huge advocates of primary qualitative research among customers and stakeholders as we know from the many projects we have led that this is the best method for understanding perceptions and expectations. It is also an important reputation enhancing exercise in itself – we know that the very act of engaging stakeholders in confidential interviews where they can share their views and concerns actively builds support. It means you’re listening.

Some of our favourite Dolly quotes:

  • I’ve had to go against all kinds of people through the years just to be myself. I think everybody should be allowed to be who they are and to love who they love
  • I’m flashy and flamboyant. Had I not been a girl I’d definitely would have been a drag queen
  • I look totally artificial, but I’m totally real, as a writer, as a professional, as a human being.
  • When asked by an interviewer how long it took to do her hair she replied, I don’t know, I’m rarely there. 🙂