branding-for-small-business-III-brand-culture-flux-appealThis third post in Branding for Small Business talks about strengthening your Brand Culture. We’re going to explore how driving brand essence deep into the fabric of your organization builds a framework for conveying value at every touch point, strengthening relationships along the way.

If you’d like to read the articles in order, go to Part I – What is Branding? for a birdseye view of what branding is and how it benefits your business, and Part II – What is Brand Essence? touches upon where brand essence comes from and how you define it.

So, What is Brand Culture?

Wikipedia describes brand culture as:

a company culture in which employees “live” to brand values, to solve problems and make decisions internally, and deliver a branded customer experience externally.

In actuality, your brand culture already exists, but you may not be aware of how the end result looks and feels to your customers or the public. If you, your vendors, or teams send conflicting messages, your methods will appear confused. And if your philosophies aren’t obvious, it’s more difficult for customers to relate to you.

In order to leverage your brand, your organization must live and breathe its brand culture so that it becomes the voice and personality of your business.

How does a business cultivate a positive brand culture?

Build A Winning Mindset

Once you’ve clarified the brand essence of your organization, you should have a solid idea of what values customers expect from you, as well as the sort of qualities you need from your teams to be able convey those values and implement best practices to serve your clientele. The more deeply-rooted your essence penetrates your working modes, the more reliable your message will become, leading to greater confidence and loyalty. It isn’t the strategy that informs the mindset, but rather the mindset that builds the strategy.

These same practices also benefit employee morale and participation. And because a healthy culture relies on an individual’s commitment to convey the virtues and mission of the organization, you’re building cooperation and trust directly into your business model! When you share company goals, successes and failures, incentivize efforts, and hire individuals with shared values, you gain team members who are mutually involved and accountable, converging toward the fulfillment of those goals.

Peter Drucker, Peter Senge, and Jim Collins all cite corporate culture as a key contributor to long-term success. In his book “How the Mighty Fail,” Collins suggests that weak or underdeveloped corporate cultures is one of the main causes of failure in many companies. Conversely, he shares that a strong culture often prevents great companies from suffering through extended downturns.

Most companies fail at creating and implementing a strong brand culture, in part, because:

  • they’re not committed to it on a company-wide basis
  • they consider it something esoteric that has nothing to do with profits
  • they believe it’s about advertising and merely relegate it to the marketing department
  • they focus on short-term gains and don’t take the time and energy to fully develop it
  • it’s not applied consistently

Richard Branson, one of the most beloved, hands-on brand ambassadors today has said:

“Branding demands commitment; commitment to continual re-invention; striking chords with people to stir their emotions; and commitment to imagination. It is easy to be cynical about such things, much harder to be successful.” 

This CEO of mega-successful Virgin is big on tweeting, takes a stand on important issues, and even lets his hair down in public. He’s human and accessible, and people love that! This may not be your style, but that’s the whole point – finding your voice and acting in unison with it is what brand culture is all about.

Brand Culture Starts At the Top

Get your CEO’s and team members on board and develop your organization’s Brand Essence. Strong branding begins at the top and makes its way down. Successful brands like Nordstrom, Whole Foods, Amazon and Zappo’s understand that branding starts at the core and permeates all divisions and channels of their organization.

What follows are a few methods that successful companies have used to drive brand essence into their corporate culture.

Involve Your Teams

Create a list of top attributes and goals and share it with your organization. The absence of clearly-defined goals leads to a lack of understanding about how to prioritize the steps needed to succeed. When individuals merely become drones acting out duties with ill-understood parameters, there’s little room for creative energy toward problem-solving, especially if there’s no reward at the end. There’s nothing like attaining a goal and knowing that you’ve made an impact. Once you empower individuals to become part of the solution, they become your best brand ambassadors because they are personally invested in your company’s success.

Drive Leadership and Participation

Most humans thrive on achievement and wish to be passionately engaged. Help your team by giving them the right tools to get the job done, as well as opportunities to succeed. Encourage a symbiotic relationship between the company brand and their personal values. Communicate clearly about your brand mission, ask for feedback regularly, and give incentives for ideas that bring the workplace into alignment . It’s a win-win!

Live & Breathe Brand Values

Bring life to your brand by implementing your values and philosophies beyond the boardroom. Don’t just list your company’s mission and ethics in a slideshow; find opportunities to bring them to life in people, products, spaces, at events, and in communications. Genuine beliefs that are modeled throughout the organization daily give structure to your brand and help your team carry it out. If you want your company to embody the culture, empower people and ensure every department understands what’s expected.

Celebrate Success and Failures

Your brand culture is a living, breathing entity that needs nourishment to flourish. If success is treated as commonplace, people will lose the impetus to drive toward the next one. A success for the company is also a personal success for the individual; likewise, failures have the potential to affect your entire company, so making everyone aware of what didn’t work is the best possible learning tool. Celebrating both victories and failures in your own unique way strengthens your team.

If you continually look for additional ways to create your thumbprint by keeping track of what works and eliminating what doesn’t, you brand culture will be entirely unique to your organization, which is why no other company will ever be able to replicate it.

Summing It Up

Any organization has the ability to build a strong culture – it doesn’t have to be complex, you just need commitment. Strong cultures don’t happen by accident; they’re cultivated. How do you create culture within your organization? Let us know in the comments!

I’ll end with this quote by George Brandt, author, prior line manager at Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and former chief executive at J.D.Power’s Power Information Network:

“Corporate culture..[is] the only truly sustainable competitive advantage..Given enough time and money, your competitors can duplicate almost everything you’ve got working for you. They can hire away some of your best people. They can reverse engineer your processes. The only thing they can’t duplicate is your culture.”

(Forbes article, February 8, 2012)

Additional Resources:

Six Components of Culture by John Coleman
Jenny and the Chicken

In Branding for Small Business IV, we’ll take a look at bringing your visual identity into alignment with your brand.

Sign Up
 to receive upcoming articles.