A crisis like COVID-19 can feel isolating, which leads to self-reflection and contemplation for both individuals and organizations. However, it can also ignite a desire to help, creating an opportunity to prove your purpose and stand out in times of unpredictability and ambiguity.
I recently read an article about how New Balance, a shoe company at the surface, is now developing and manufacturing face masks for hospitals. That story inspired me to write this blog and dig into how institutions can use this time to have a positive impact and really display who they are and why they exist.
When we think about companies or institutions as just an industry, brand, and/or business, we are neglecting the real passion and mission of that organization. Any good company or organization is much more than what they do. Those that set themselves apart know why they do what they do, and that is the essence of who they are. During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ll see those organizations rise to the top and generate stories of hope, love, support, and more, and they will make a real difference for their stakeholders and the world.
Why do you exist?
That’s a heavy question not often considered in everyday life. When Carnegie Dartlet conducts research into college and university identity, we develop what we call a “cause statement” to help answer that question for a school. We ask campus stakeholders in a qualitative setting to choose three words—a verb, adjective, and abstract noun—to finish the sentence, “State U exists to…” It’s a powerful exercise that forces participants to think deeper about the school’s core mission and get past messaging only about “what” a college or university does in order to capture the essence of “why” they do it.
For example, Carnegie Dartlet exists to “inspire authentic connections,” and that cause statement is thread into everything we do and say. We help colleges and universities with their enrollment and marketing initiatives, sure. But our genuine purpose is to inspire authentic and real connections with each other, with our clients, with prospective students, and within the higher education industry.
A couple of other brand examples:
- Apple doesn’t exist to create cool and expensive technology; they exist to “challenge preconceived ideas.” It’s at the foundation of everything they do.
- Disney doesn’t exist to produce animated films or sell expensive theme park tickets; they exist to “inspire childlike wonder.” And they’re fulfilling that cause even with the parks closed by delivering exclusive content into homes via Disney+.
- Coca-Cola doesn’t exist to feed your caffeine habits or make different flavored sugar water; they exist to “spread classic happiness.” We’re talking about a company that literally owns the image of Santa Claus—they’re after that feeling in everything they do.
So why do you exist? We know what you do: you provide excellent education. But that doesn’t capture why you do it, and it doesn’t necessarily hold up as your core mission to serve your students—current and prospective—through difficult times like these.
What’s your mission?
As much as COVID-19 has caused pain and stress, it has also allowed new heroes to emerge in times of suffering. Finding your school’s cause—something that goes deeper than providing a degree—will help you prove your passion in a time when it can make a significant impact. Having that grasp of identity is what separates Disney from being just another theme park and Apple from being just another tech company. These companies know who they are, and we buy into the stories they tell again and again.
Lastly, your reaction to current events will build your reputation. It’s important to think about what parents, students, and counselors are saying when they discuss how your institution has reacted and responded to this situation. Now is a pivotal time for you to discover yourself and your story and change lives through that work.
Check out our other resources on how to keep your community engaged and informed during COVID-19. You can also follow us on Twitter as we continue to post updates there as well. Questions or concerns? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us!