“Find out who you are, and then be it on purpose.”

The wisdom of Dolly and Douglas.

“Find out who you are, and then be it on purpose”


I’m a big fan of a pithy one-liner and I was surprised and delighted that I’d never seen this wonderful bit of wisdom from Dolly Parton. It makes perfect sense with her ‘it takes a lot of money to look this cheap’ schtick, but it’s also a great life motto. So of course it’s a great command for companies too.

Everyone prefers it when you don’t try to be something that you’re not, and when you just relax and be yourself. But defining yourself is one of those radically important things that far too many organisations and businesses neglect to do with the necessary level of commitment. It’s at the very heart of carving out a great brand that people want to buy into, and to trust.

Don’t think for a minute that this is fluffy marketing twaddle — this is a seriously hard-nosed commercial imperative. The first thing financiers assess when they look to buy a company is the value of the brand. If you don’t know your brand down to the last penny, what price will anyone else pay for it?

I’ve recently got to know Neal the founder of Lovehoney, the UK’s biggest and best supplier of adult toys, who told me in no uncertain terms how much he valued defining their brand. He admitted that they paid a lot to do a comprehensive review, but that it was the best money that they’d spent. He explained that the results of the initial customer surveys had not only surprised and delighted them but had given them a shot in the arm that increased sales too.

Their customers were nearly all married couples who thought thatLovehoney brought pleasure and fun to their marriages, revitalising their sex lives and — crucially — making them very, very happy. Everyone is happier when they are having good sex.

Neal explained that this made everyone in the office very happy too. The change in the team’s perception of what they did (and who they were) shifted from being mildly embarrassed to being super-proud. They didn’t just sell sex toys, they reinvigorated marriages and spread joy and fulfillment. The whole process helped the company to feel excited and motivated and that helped productivity and spiked sales.

Once you know who you are, you can really cut loose and BE who you are. The Lovehoney brand work informed everything from website and product designs to advertising campaigns and customer services, and all for the better. They now proudly call themselves the Sexual Happiness People. That’s who they are on purpose.

The Cornish surf apparel company Finisterre have always had a pretty good grip on what they did, and why, but it was only when they honed in on their who they were that they really accelerated. They couldn’t and didn’t want to compete with the huge Aussie, Hawaiian and Californian surf brands, soaked in sun, tans and palm trees. Their people surfed in perpetually cold water and cold water surfers is who they are.

Finisterre defined the category — which had existed, but never been named — and in a stroke spoke straight to a huge population of Northern European water babies, raised on freezing beaches and on icy seas. Cold water surfingis their thing and although megabrands like Volvo and H&M are now riding their wave (so to speak), it’s a party wave and Finisterre are the only ones who are really ‘being it on purpose’.

I’ve been searching in vain for a half-remembered Douglas Adams quote, but the essence was, “He went off to India to find himself. Unfortunately, he forgot to exchange addresses and lost touch with himself again almost immediately. This time forever.”

You’d be surprised how many companies struggle to give a short, truthful and non-jargon-filled answer to the question ‘what do you do?’ That’s the corporate way of saying ‘who are you?’ You might just be an an accountancy practice (“we’re accountants” does work) but your not just doing other people’s sums, you’re giving them financial peace of mind.

There’s no point planning an ad campaign, a PR push or a sales drive if you don’t know who you are, as a company or as an organisation. They will all ultimately fall short because none of it will ring true. You can’t be you.

“Man, know thyself” was the challenge of ancient Greek philosophers because, frankly, you’d never get anything done of value or worth if you didn't get to grips with your own identity first.

So thank you Dolly, for summing up so beautifully everything that I do for a living. That’s helped me to define what DirtMeetsTheWater does.

We help you to find out who you are, and we make sure that you can be it on purpose. Most wonderfully.