Social impact and purpose-driven branding: Dot Two Dot

Tom and Ian, directors of Dot Two Dot, wearing pink 'Stand Together' anti-bullying campaign t-shirts

Dot Two Dot helps businesses grow their social impact through purpose-driven branding, communications & PR.

Two Sparrows gets to share our Hobsonville co-working space and collaborate with some inspiring people. One team is Dot Two Dot which was formed in early 2021 after like-minded Ian Leader and Tom Newton-Smith combined their experience and skills. Through collaborative and impactful workshops, they help enterprises connect the dots between people, brand, and community responsibility to explore, create and deliver a purpose-driven brand, communications, and PR strategy.

We recently spoke to Ian and Tom to hear more about their business and the impact it makes.

What was the drive to form Dot Two Dot?

Tom has a branding and graphic design background and Ian’s experience is in community development, social responsibility and how business and community can work together.

We had been talking for a few years about how we could work together and bring our strengths to a new purpose-driven organisation. We ended up running a brand sprint workshop for a mutual friend’s business. The workshop focused on how you can activate a brand’s values through social good.

Often with traditional brands they think about social impact, but it’s not always woven into everything they do. Social impact is seen as a nice add-on but it does not form the fabric of the organisation. We saw that gap and wanted to change that. We ran that workshop for a friend, and it was really successful. Everybody enjoyed it and could see the value in it.

Tell us about the name Dot Two Dot

It’s about connecting the dots of business to form a cohesive and purpose-driven strategy. We call it the head, heart, and hands of doing business. The head is logical; heart, emotional; and the hands are practical. We believe businesses need all three elements to make a difference and for their ongoing viability.

We asked ourselves: “How can we help businesses become better human-led businesses that focus on the logical, emotional and practical side?”

We spent the 2020 Christmas break reflecting on how we could make our partnership more permanent. At the start of 2021 we said, “Let’s do it. Let’s set up a company.” We had been sole traders for a long time (at least 10 years) and didn’t want that loneliness any longer!

What does it mean for a business to have a purpose?

Our communities are typically described as a series of silos doing things to, for and at each other. We believe that communities are jigsaws. When each piece of the jigsaw understands their purpose, it is far easier to see how they fit within the community. Having a clear purpose is a way of fostering connections and belonging with the people, organisations and places that are important to your ongoing viability and success.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re for-profit or not-for-profit – there’s a huge amount of value to be gained through actively engaging with your community and participating in the social and economic development of where you do business. A clear purpose helps to scope and define who you need to be in relationship with, how you can be involved and why.

For example, small businesses are regularly affected by crime and the root causes of crime are predominantly social issues. Therefore, business needs to be actively involved with community, government and philanthropic organisations in generating and delivering short and long-term solutions to address crime and its causal factors.

What tangible results do your clients achieve?

Manurewa Business Association would be a classic example. Ian has been working with them since before Dot Two Dot on implementing their strategic plan and pulling together some of the key projects they’ve got as part of their plan. As part of connecting with local business and the wider community in a practical and impactful way, they launched a coworking space for creatives focused on photography and fashion.

Dot Two Dot has done a lot of work with Pasifika start-up businesses that got funding through the Pacific Business Trust as part of the Covid recovery. We provided them with a solid foundation for their branding and they loved our values-based approach. We’re not trying to hide values or merely design a poster to put on the wall – we create something people can live by, which is important for start-ups.

Can you give us some insight into your process?

Our first stage is the “Explore” stage where we facilitate a brand workshop called “Stand Up, Stand Out.” We help businesses stand up for what’s important and stand out for what they do.

The next stage is “Create” where we move into brand design and the communications and social impact strategies

The final stage is “Deliver” and that’s the way we help you follow through on activating your strategy through your branding, communications and PR.

Dot Two Dot logo, with tagline 'Stand Up Stand Out'

Describe for us what a workshop’s like – how do you give space for everyone to have a say?

When we run a brand workshop, we follow a process called noting and voting. We use a lot of sticky notes and dots. In a group setting, we will work with around eight or nine people.

A post-it note acts as a creative constraint as it only allows you to record a single idea. This forces you to be concise and clear in your response – and makes you really consider your priorities.

Everybody works in silence to record their response to a question on a post-it note. Then each person places their post-it on the board for everyone to see. Next, participants vote by placing a dot beside the top ideas they are interested in pursuing further.

The benefit of this noting and voting system is everyone has their voice. Extroverts don’t rule the room; introverts can’t hide away or not participate. If there’s a draw, we use big dots for the decider. That’s when the CEO or General Manager gets the deciding vote.

And what kind of response do you see from participants?

When we’re asking founders why they started their company or not-for-profit, we really dig into that. More often than not, we’re handing out tissues because the founder is so passionate about why they set up their organisation, they’re in tears. We’re not trying to make them cry but the process allows them to open up and share their passion, hopes and dreams and allows them to see they can weave that into their brand – they don’t have to dim that part of themselves – which is powerful.

We get this reaction because people are emotionally connected to their brand. We want to weave that emotion and heart into their brand experience – their visual identity, their communications, and how they get involved with the places and communities that are important to their business.

That passion is going to connect with the people businesses want to serve too.

Exactly. The other thing is authenticity. We don’t want people to be claiming stuff that’s not true – because then we’re getting into greenwash or social wash territory. We need to understand from the business owner, what authentically drives them and what they want to achieve so we enable them to communicate that.

Businesses run the risk of it becoming a tick-box exercise in terms of greenwashing or social washing – it’s vital they communicate and operate in an authentic way.

Some business owners may be passionate about being involved in the community, but there’s no room in the business to do anything about it. So, it comes down to strategy. It’s not about, “You must do this stuff,” we make recommendations based on budget, constraints, and your roadmap. For example, “We recommend you focus on this first, park this, and do this next.”

It’s not an all-or-nothing approach. It’s about meeting the client where they’re at and helping them create a pathway to achieve what they want to achieve and when they can do it.

Do you attract or work with a particular industry?

No, we appeal to a wide variety of businesses and organisations. The common element they share is they’re small-to-medium sized and are focused on being a decent business in their local community. They operate in a particular region, or they are from the community they work with and are keen to retain a relationship with that community.

We’d love to help more not-for-profit organisations fulfil their purpose and build stronger, mutually beneficial connections with local businesses.

Corporates have been doing this kind of work for decades. Small-to-medium enterprises used to think it wasn’t for them, but Dot Two Dot says a small-to-medium enterprise can benefit from the same practises and we help make the process relevant in a smaller business context.

Can you deliver brand workshops digitally as well?

We can, but we like to be face-to-face so we can gauge the energy of the room. Being digital you miss that kinaesthetic element – people standing up, writing, sticking post-it notes on posters. The human touch is lost through a screen.

Another side benefit of the workshop is it’s a good team-building exercise. We delivered one workshop where we had everyone from a board director all the way through to a house manager. The house manager came up with some incredible insights that some directors would not think about. We often say we should have one person at all levels of the organisation present to help build insights.

You’ve worked with Dr Jamie Schwass, a chiropractor who later won a Seven Sharp ASB Good as Gold award.

Yes, while all credit goes to Jamie for his hard work, I would like to think we helped instill some confidence that he could build a business based on his heart message.

The heart message is about how you behave as an employer and how you do business. It’s about your DNA as an entity and that’s what we describe as your brand essence. People engage with your brand essence, not just your products and services.

“It was by far the best decision I have made for my business yet. Having a clear, concise and easily readable document for our brand where we know exactly what our vision, mission, values, and messages are, allows us to be extremely congruent with our client and get our true message across. We love all of what Tom has done for us, from the brand discovery to the graphic design. If you’re on the fence, take the leap, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.” – Dr Jamie Schwass.

Which part of the business journey is the Dot Two Dot process most relevant to? Would people do it before they start or several years down the track?

A Dot Two Dot workshop is a perfect way to start a business, yet we can help reinvigorate business owners that have become depleted or demotivated. We think about how we might help inspire people to do more with their business and participate better with their community through a brand refresh.

What else do you value at Dot Two Dot?

We like to connect people and grow our client’s networks. If we recognise clients with a shared interest or opportunity, we link them together.

The goal down the track is to host functions – dinners or lunches – where we bring together like-minded people, businesses or not-for-profits so they can have a conversation, do business together and spark something new that’s good for everybody. It’s something we enjoy doing – because we both like good food and good company. Work doesn’t have to be boring!

The question we often ask ourselves or clients is, “Is the profit for purpose or is it purposeful profit?” And it’s a nice little tagline to ask people: “Why are they in business and what are they doing?” From there we connect the dots. In connecting people, innovation happens – they work well together to create something new and exciting.

That’s a great way to finish. How do people stay in touch with you?

Drop us a line – we’re always happy to chat. Our website is the best way to find out more about us and get in touch. We are both on LinkedIn and Instagram too.