Brand Culture – Intangible Concept, Tangible Results
For any organizational brand building initiative – whether rebranding, strategic branding refresh or brand merger or acquisition – building a strong brand culture should be as much a part of the going-forward company blueprint as the financials, the operating model, individual business unit integrations or any other elements on the table.
Organizational culture may feel intangible and emotional, but time and time again research has linked positive cultures to tangible results like higher revenue, boosted productivity, higher employee engagement, lower employee turnover, increased innovation, lower healthcare costs and more appeal to job candidates. Organizational brand culture matters, and it deserves top billing on any corporate agenda.
As written by Deloitte in the article Cultural issues in mergers and acquisitions – The question that inevitably arises is: “What forces are powerful enough to counteract the value-creating energy of economies of scale or global market presence?” Culture has emerged as one of the dominant barriers to effective integrations.
In a study by Society for Human Resource Management, culture was found to be the cause of 30 percent of failed integrations. Companies with different cultures find it difficult, if not often impossible, to make decisions quickly and correctly or to operate effectively.
Navigating Brand Culture
Successful cultural change results from having a clear idea, informed by executive leadership, cross-functional leadership and key external partners, about…
- what type of culture the business needs
- identifying the specific attributes that go along with it, and then
- focusing on managing the drivers that shape and influence culture rather than trying to manage culture itself.
This kind of upfront and inclusive dialogue has been integral to the success of many of the company-wide strategic branding engagements Trajectory has been a part of – whether corporate rebranding, brand refresh or merger/acquisition.
Defining Brand Culture
To avoid getting lost in translation, when we at Trajectory talk about brand-led company culture, we mean:
- The behavior, attitudes, values and beliefs in a group forming an organization
- Everyone across and at all levels of the organization “owning” culture – from CEO on down
- Recognition that brand is a driver of clarity and unity (i.e., culture) – as it conveys the reason your business exists and how it intends to have an impact
- Aligned with the business strategy (as only then it supports the execution of the strategy)
- Collective engagement around brand purpose and promises, and how this translates to (meshing) employee experience and customer experience
- Leadership ensuring that everyone is moving together toward the ideal picture of the future and that company vision and values are represented in every aspect of the business
What we don’t mean is letting company culture shape itself organically based on the values and behavioral expectations of individual company leaders (which it will without guidance). If this is the case, there is a high risk of conflict between what is strategically necessary and how individual leaders prefer to lead. This, in turn, can lead to people not understanding the purpose of their work and actions in the bigger picture. We’ve seen this first hand, and its negative impact on people and business.
Involving Employees in Brand Culture Shaping
As your company culture reflects what your organization stands for, and as the voice of your business, your employees are vital to ensuring that it succeeds. We suggest that they be integrated into any “strategic branding” process from the start – having a voice in sharpening (or shaping) brand strategy components.
There are easy ways to include employees from across the organization in the upfront “Discovery” phase (and throughout) so they feel part of the process, e.g. through email outreach/communication alongside other cross-functional and leadership interviews. It’s tough to expect that employees will fully embrace, implement and align around your company ideas, if they are only hearing them for the first time through after-the-fact presentations.
We also suggest including a representative sampling of customer interviews from across the business in our Discovery, to further objectify the process and enhance believability and trust in recommendations.
Three General Phases
For all of the organization-wide brand building programs that Trajectory guides, there are three general brand-culture building phases. However, we always spend time with CEO’s, COO’s, CMO’s and HR across our individual client organizations to discuss the priorities and tactics most appropriate to their cultures and learning practices.
Outlined here at a high-level (supported with processes and tools that we’ve created throughout) are the three phases.
- creating internal brand teams (ambassadors) to help drive organizational change
- meeting early and often to define responsibilities, workflows and deliverables (including inventory of all touchpoints affected by the change)
- informing employees (about process, outcomes, expectations; customer-facing/non-customer facing)
- generating excitement for launch
- aligning leadership team (around common vision)
- engaging and inspiring employees (to deliver brand and business agenda and creating a desire to “win”)
- educating employees about how new brand relates to their jobs (ultimately building something truly special and lasting together)
- equipping employees with behaviors/tools to enable them to embody the brand
- plan for communicating to clients, partners, other stakeholders
- plan of sustained communication (journey vs. sprint recognition)
- recognition and rewards (reflecting brand and business direction)
- ongoing tools for frontline employees (to take personal responsibility for business performance)
- equipping leaders to lead by example through required/consistent actions (given importance of leadership actions to influence culture)
Supporting Building Blocks
Based on years of brand/culture building work, there are four elements that we consider to help people feel committed, motivated and ready to work together (and which we build into above):
- Inclusion. All employees feeling valued, heard and empowered to succeed.
- Purpose. Employees feeling that their/their teams work has a positive impact on the world.
- Trust. Trust that coworkers are supportive, accountable and helpful. Feeling psychologically safe increases innovative thinking and can boost productivity.
- Clarity. Clear roles and responsibilities, shared understanding of team goals, and established processes for achieving these goals. Knowing what metrics are measured ahead of time.
Brand-Led Culture Bottom Line
Brands, both B2C and in particular, B2B brands, are built from the inside out. When your employees are happy and aligned, they’ll thrive and as a result, your company will thrive. And it doesn’t matter the diversity of your team in terms of backgrounds, ideas, skills. There’s just one commonality that is vital: shared belief in the company’s “new” brand – its purpose, meaning and values. And this is what we work to achieve together with our clients.
Since 1999, our hybrid brand consultancy / creative agency has worked with clients across the health and wellness industry to build stronger brand-led businesses. Reach out for a no-obligation consultation.