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Don’t just be a brand: Instil some purpose into your message and make it mean something

The most successful brands, businesses and people in the world all share one common trait: what they represent means something to the communities around them.

It’s this realization that has shaped the ‘purpose before profit’ movement, which highlights the fact that if you’re passionate about something and you’re delivering a solution that solves a real need, profits will naturally follow. Chase the money however, and success will be short lived.

For Grid Worldwide, an award-winning through-the-line agency that is based in South Africa that works with brands internationally, the ideal of ‘purpose before profit’ is encapsulated in the business’s ethos: Make It Mean Something.

Create purpose first and value will follow

As an agency we have evolved from a specialist design agency into a through-the-line specialist brand agency.

Make It Mean Something has been an integral part of this journey, because it helped us understand that creating brands that have purpose and meaning is how you create value – not just for ourselves as a business and for our clients, but for their customers and communities.

Every idea must solve a cultural tension in the world today. When you can do that, you’re a purpose-led brand. And purpose-led brands are relevant.

But what is a philosophy that is nothing more than a hashtag or a mantra on the wall?

The Make It Mean Something concept launched five years ago. Operating as a Make it Mean Something Company keeps us honest in every brief, every day, and in everything we do. Our goal is to create meaning, not logos, billboards or corporate identities – yes, those things are how a brand shows up in the world, but the meaning behind it is our starting point.

Understanding that in order for a philosophy to live and breathe within a business, it requires an operating system, Grid's partners developed Investment Creative, the OS that drives the philosophy on an operational and granular level throughout the organization.

Here’s how Investment Creative works – and how it’s changing the game for both Grid and its clients.

Investing in meaning and growth

Grid doesn’t just talk about the importance of brand-building working in synergy with business development, it lives it.

We invest in start-ups that we believe have the potential to be game-changers. From a commercial aspect we don’t take fees, we take an equity stake. We get involved in business and brand development, as well as all the different touchpoints the business needs to make an impact on the market and with investors.

It’s short term pain in the sense that we deliver a full product, brand and roll-out with no income, but we’re playing the long-game. As long as we sell hours, we will remain slaves to the industry. As investors and partners building other businesses and brands however, we’re making an impact in an entirely different way.

Investing in businesses goes beyond the companies that Grid has an equity stake in however. We invest in our clients’ business so that they see positive returns in terms of brand value, market value, share price and so on.

This investment can take multiple different forms – equity, paid fees, a consultancy role, a leadership role, a creative role; how it looks isn’t as important as aligning the outcome with the goal, and the fact that we understand everything we do is an investment into something that must positively impact lives by creating meaning.

Adding value to brands and people

Grid focuses curating the entire experience that people have with brands, from start to finish.

We are a high-end agency; we don’t do anything in small measures. But this means we also have to add real value and create meaning with what we bring to the table.

We treat each client’s business as our own. Your business is our business; one team, one purpose, one partnership. That sits at the heart of Investment Creative, and it allows us to freely give our clients value based on knowledge and connecting the dots, like an open collective.

We’re on the frontlines. We’re paying attention to what’s happening around the world, and to what our clients’ goals and values are. This gives us the opportunity to bring clients together for bigger and better collective outcomes. We’re all operating in a connected world – we’ve chosen to embrace that so that everyone can benefit from it.

The criteria we use for embracing ideas is simple. We consider:

  • How does it add value to something that already exists?
  • How does it play in culture?
  • What’s the return on investment for the client?

It’s a philosophy that has been baked into the core of the business by its founder, Nathan Reddy, Grid's chairman and CCO. Reddy is the pioneer of meaning in brands. His vision has given us the tools to build Investment Creative, which we are using in turn to help brands find and fulfill their own meanings.

Adam Byars, Joint CEO at Grid Worldwide.

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