I love the word holistic. Maybe it’s my history of working on the marketing team at Integrative Nutrition, or aiming to live my life in a balanced way, but holistic refers to the underlying essence of wholeness that we all unconsciously desire.
It also happens to be how any healthy system works.
Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur, a non-profit, or a mid-scale business, a system is what you’ve got. The question of whether it’s an effective one that has the right elements in place is likely the start of the process you can initiate to achieve wholeness, and ultimately see positive results.
The Holistic Business Model
You can find immense information online on basically any individual part of a business, but what’s often missing is the full context of how each of the various parts fit together. The big picture with the wide angle lens, at the center of which is your brand. That’s the point of relevance that ties everything together, like the hub of a wheel that gives meaning to each individual spoke in order for the whole thing to move forward.
Many think that your brand is a logo, or something to do with marketing. But I beg to differ, because your brand is really the core of your identity. It is the essence of who you are (as an individual or organization) and the more clarity you have in THAT, the easier everything else in the system will flow.
Now mind you, I’m not an “expert.” In fact, I feel that this word has been watered down to the point of triviality in a world where everyone is trying to be one. I have 10+ years of experience in marketing, sales, communications, and coaching, but I’m still learning. I’m telling you this not to downplay my own expertise but to say that this particular holistic business model is a work-in-progress. It may not be complete, and I invite you to comment if I’ve left something out because I wholeheartedly believe in co-creation and collaboration. That’s what systems thinking is all about, and I seek to exemplify learning and innovation with full participation.
So let’s get to it.
As mentioned, your brand is at the heart of the system. Everything revolves around your core identity. I elaborated on branding essentials in a previous post, but what I’ll say here is that investing in your brand is absolutely the best thing you can do for your business. It will be a long, hard road to clarity, one I liken to a vision quest because it will touch upon everything you thought you knew and demand that you reveal your innermost self. But that’s a good thing. And the result, ideally, is something clear, simple, and needed in the world. Something that can be stated in about 10 words or less and easily understood by the people you’re most trying to reach.
Here’s an example from an organization I support, the Biomimicry Institute:
“The Biomimicry Institute empowers people to create nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet.”
Is it clear? I think so.
Is it simple? Yep, it’s just one short sentence.
Is it needed in the world? Oh hell yeah.
From the core of this identity, they elaborate what that means on their website. They host sustainability-based design challenges, provide educational resources for classrooms, host a public resource site, have a consulting arm, and more. The point is that when you have a clear identity such as this, it is easy to explain what your business is all about, yet also leaves plenty of freedom and flexibility to experiment how that identity manifests in what the business does.
Not only that, but it helps every single person within the organization understand the collective intention of what they’re all doing, and how the different roles contribute to that effort. When there’s a lack of clarity, at best people tend to disengage and not work to their full potential, and at worst they could actually be detrimental to the business.
Your brand should be useful, meaningful, and memorable.
It can inspire, entertain, invigorate, educate, motivate, or nurture, but ultimately it must make people feel something or become somehow better. Why? Because if your product or service doesn’t leave an impression that is positively meaningful, then you’ll be forgotten or ignored.
So let’s move on.
Once you’ve got your brand clarity figured out, it should permeate throughout your mission, message, products, relationships, and team, and by extension things like marketing strategy, customer experience, and acquisitions.
Mission – this is how you’re exemplifying your brand identity and the bigger vision of what you’re really trying to do in the world. For Lifeisgood.com it’s not selling T-shirts, it’s spreading optimism. They sell T-shirts to generate revenue for the business, but they also have a nonprofit kids foundation, share positive stories from all 50 states, and create media. Having a clear and simple mission opens up the ways in which the business can operate and flourish. Check out these conscious brands for inspiration.
Message – this includes both internal and external messaging. By internal I mean the communications that happen with your team. Are they clear on the big picture of what this organization is trying to achieve? By external I mean anything that you publish, anywhere. Your core message should be consistent with your brand identity and your mission. It involves all marketing efforts, various pages on your website, advertising, blog posts, videos, social media posts, ebooks, and any other forms of content that you create. Be mindful about the words that you use so that they resonate with your audience. This is where it’s critical to have a copywriter, content strategist, and marketing manager who are able to see the big picture of the brand and bring that down to earth in the creation of cohesive messaging at every level.
Products – are you creating things that “walk the talk” of what your brand is all about? You’d be surprised at how often the values or mission of a brand is at odds with the products they actually make. I see this all the time in wellness-related products that use words like “natural” and even “organic” and have lots of green colors and leaves in their packaging, but then use all kinds of artificial ingredients and fillers in the actual composition of their products. We wouldn’t even know if it there weren’t laws stating ingredients have to be disclosed! The point is not to cheat your customers. Make sure your products are genuinely aligned with your brand message and identity. Make them as awesome as possible to truly serve your customers, and have integrity in what you’re creating. Without alignment here, your sales will suffer.
Relationships – this is really what success comes down to. Genuine relationships, built on trust and mutual benefit. Develop a relationship with your customers so you understand their experience, desires, and challenges. Likewise, reach out to potential partners whose mission is aligned and complementary to yours. Be honest with investors, affiliates, consultants, distributors, and anyone else who’s a part of your business network. The more you create opportunities to connect with these individuals the more you’re nurturing the seeding ground for innovation, collaboration, and success.
Team – your team is the staff, whether it’s full or part time employees, freelancers, VA’s, or consultants, and the founder. The founder is a leader of the team, but should also be an open and accessible part of the team. It is critical for everyone on the team to be clear on the mission, and fully informed to speak clearly to customers, ask the right questions, create design and web experiences that speak to the target audience, and of course, be proud and purposeful in the work they do. Every team member should believe 100% in the heart of the brand identity. If they do, they will bring their absolute best selves to the table, and that’s good for business.
What did I leave out here? Plenty!
Service, values, loyalty, diversity, wisdom, leadership, strategy, sustainability, influence. I could go on but I’ll save these topics for separate posts.
For now, here’s your takeaway exercise:
Look at the diagram and the five focus points above and ask yourself which is currently missing from your business? Do you have a clear brand but no system in place to enact it? Do you have a dysfunctional system? Do you lack brand clarity and positioning? Start by putting your finger on what needs your attention most, but be sure to move forward with the holistic mindset of knowing that every element impacts every other element. Don’t create a Band-Aid, create a long-term systemic solution from the inside out.
Get in touch if you think I can help.