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Innovating Brand Culture

January 7, 2019

CubiclesI recently met a woman who is a conflict resolution professional. She works with management and employees to address disparate approaches to corporate culture. When is an employee just not fitting in? Who needs to change to achieve a better fit? How can we mediate that change to everyone’s satisfaction? Add to that, over the holidays, I finally got around to reading Fusion, an excellent book by the inimitable Denise Lee Yohn. In it, Yohn shows how good companies fuse their external brand with their internal cultures to become great companies. (That goes along with what I continually preach – The same brand strategy that attracts your best customer also attracts your best employee.) These occurrences, so close together, made me want to revisit the very nature of corporate culture and improve my understanding of what it is, how it relates to branding, and how brands and cultures can be used to transform one another.

Infusing change into a culture requires some innovative thinking, of course. But the innovation has to be based on some sort of business requirement. If your company wears jeans and t-shirts every day, you can’t just get everybody to start wearing three-piece suits on a whim. There has to be some authenticity to the request. There has to be a business purpose. oak_paneled roomAnd that will usually have to do with achieving a more perfect delivery of the brand promise.

What exactly is corporate culture, anyway? According to Investopedia, “Corporate culture refers to the (set of) beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. A company's culture will be reflected in its dress code, business hours, office setup, employee benefits, turnover, hiring decisions, treatment of clients, client satisfaction and every other aspect of operations.”

That’s a pretty good definition. And I take special note that many business cultures develop organically and over time – in much the same way many brands do. And in the same way many management teams ignore their brand, letting it “just happen”, as it were, cultures are often ignored in much the same way, and just evolve without notice.

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To get your culture to make sense and align with your brand, first you have to understand your brand. You have to be able to list all your market’s constituencies. You have to understand the purpose your market has for you; you need to know what they think you are for. You have to understand how your products and services are being utilized and to what end. You need to be clear on how you differentiate from your competition. But then, once you have that clarity on your brand strategy, you have to execute. And that often requires change – a change of logo or visual identity, for instance.

Open officeBut it can often require a change in corporate culture as well. If you know your brand, you know what your clients expect of your people. If your clients wear t-shirts and jeans you’ll seem like a space alien if you approach them in a three-piece suit. And vice versa. You have to pay attention to your market and learn what they expect from you. Find out what you need to do to get them to allow your brand into their lives.

(BTW, when I use the jeans vs. suit metaphor, I’m not referring to sartorial choices alone. I mean the business hours, office design, employee perks, and other things that go along with those choices of styles. I mean the philosophy of culture that dictates jeans vs. suit.)

This is why brand engagement for staff is so important. Everybody has to know what the brand promise is and how their job function contributes to the keeping of that brand promise. Everybody has to understand the value of brand and how undermining that value leads to lower sales and, perhaps, worse. Once employees are so engaged, they will understand and welcome any needed changes in culture. Because it won’t be the boss who is arbitrarily demanding changes in workplace behaviors. It will be the market asking to be served in the way that suits them best.

A funny thing about innovating brand culture. It’s very much like innovating brand strategy.

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