Brand is often first to blame when marketing tactics aren’t converting, customer churn and employee attrition rates are increasing, the team is not performing, or financial performance is declining. How many times have you said or heard the phrase, “We have a brand problem”?
And sure, the brand could very well use some love, but this is merely a symptom of a bigger underlying issue. In fact, the real source of the problem isn’t brand. It’s culture. And, as it turns out, these two things cannot be inextricably decoupled.
Culture is hungry (and it never gets full)
Thanks to Peter Drucker, one of the forefathers of modern management, we know “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The problem is, once it does, it’s still hungry for more. After strategy, it then turns to the rest of the brand for lunch, dinner, and every snack in between.
When culture, which we simply define as your organization’s internal environment, erodes, it tends to leave a trail of devastation in its wake. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the elements of this environment––your culture––are invisible. Yet, when there are issues, they manifest in very real ways.
They might manifest in a broken customer experience, poor converting websites, declining employee performance, and the list goes on. Culture impacts how employees behave and the decisions they make. How your team acts internally then impacts how consumers experience your brand, and that ultimately determines whether your customers convert and if they’ll become brand champions.
In other words, your brand is only as successful and profitable as your culture allows. It’s never about the logo. Culture is the glass ceiling, and it is an aspect of the brand that cannot be ignored.
So, if brand is defined by more than the visible elements, what does it encompass? In short, it’s the collective sum of everything you and your people say and do. But, let’s break this down further.
We consider brand to be the sum of five parts:
- Culture: Who you are. The convictions driving your mission and vision, and the values that serve as your organizational glue.
- Story: What you say. The explicit articulation of your brand, or the marketing narrative that communicates who you are to your stakeholders.
- Service or product: What you do. The product or service you provide.
- Experience: How you feel. These are the digital or physical touchpoints you offer. Ultimately, it’s how your stakeholders feel about their experience, which determines whether they keep engaging.
- Identity: How you look. The visual and aesthetic qualities of your brand. This is what your stakeholders see first––your logo, website, design, etc.
These five pillars culminate to create your brand promise. And they effectively tell your audience what to expect from your brand. When this promise is delivered consistently, it builds trust, which creates advocates––internally and externally.
Culture sets your people up to deliver on your brand promise. When your team fails to meet client expectations, or your products don’t solve your customers’ problems, you’ve got a culture problem masquerading as a brand issue. And so, when marketing isn’t delivering or a message isn’t landing, it’s always the pillar of identity that gets the attention, when in reality, it’s culture that most determines and sustains success.
When there’s misalignment, traditional solutions––updating visuals, rewriting values, or developing a sophisticated digital marketing campaign––won’t fix the underlying issues causing the problem, nor will it sustain lasting change. And, in fact, problems tend to become more pervasive the longer the culture problem is ignored.
Culture is loud. Very loud.
If culture has the ability to impact every fiber of your organization, it would make sense that it’s loud. In fact, it’s meant to be the loudest expression of your brand.
When your culture is aligned with your promise––motivating your people to deliver on that promise––it is the single most important determinant of your brand’s success. Great leaders and the most successful companies listen to their culture and infuse their brand into every aspect of it. And this creates what we refer to as a “Marquee Culture”.
Like bright lights on a theater marquee, your culture is like a beacon, authentically announcing your brand, showcasing what you do, who you are, and what your stakeholders can expect. This is what builds advocates––internally and externally. And this becomes the most powerful marketing strategy you can ever employ.
Building a Marquee Culture is part art, part science that involves a systematic, practical method that infuses six interconnected layers:
- Principles: Behavior-based values that guide your people to act, behave, and make decisions that reflect the brand.
- Architecture: Systems and structures that reflect your brand and support your staff. For example, many organizations want to drive deeper innovation internally, but their structures are riddled with so much red tape that innovation becomes near impossible to achieve. In other words, the system or structure is not conducive to innovation despite what the internal messaging may be.
- Rituals: Brand-building experiences designed to reinforce your culture. An example of this is the annual pumpkin carving contest at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in which a group of engineers gets to apply their skills in a fun new way. This may seem silly on the surface, but it’s rituals like these that generate enthusiasm, energize employees, and inspire shared joy.
- Lore: The stories circulating within your organization that reflect how your people experience your culture––positively, negatively, and everything in between.
- Vocabulary: An internal lexicon designed to keep your team focused on moving the brand forward.
- Artifacts: The tangibles that your people can see, feel, touch, and engage with. Well-designed artifacts echo your brand and sustain your culture by tangibly pointing out what you value and how you operate. Artifacts should add value and help your people interact with your brand.
When these layers align to reflect your brand, it sets up your people to carry your brand further than you ever imagined and can give you a powerful competitive advantage.
A Marquee Culture is the main attraction
To build a Marquee Culture, start with your principles, the immovable values that comprise the first foundational layer of your culture. Principles connect your core values to specific employee behaviors and guide actions and decisions.
In misaligned organizations, values are often ambiguous and lofty. But your people don’t need aspirational values. They need a clear understanding of how to perform to support the brand’s success. In fact, according to a Gallup study, only 27% of US employees surveyed strongly believe in the organization’s values and even fewer believe they can apply those values to their everyday work. That’s a problem.
Changing this requires clearly articulating what that value actually means as a behavior and not just a belief. It shows people what it looks like to perform to organizational standards, interact with others, and deliver on the brand promisee.
Promote these principles every chance you get—in meetings, internal communications, training sessions, onboarding, and performance reviews. Hire by them and fire by them. Reward and incentivize the behaviors showcased in your principles. Doing this bakes accountability into the equation.
Bring your principles to life by showing your staff just how serious you are about living it out as an organization. Toyota did this with the creation of “The Toyota Way” –– a set of principles and behaviors that serve as the foundation of the company’s approach to management and production.
An aligned culture rewards
When your brand and culture are aligned, everything becomes easier. Your employees believe in the work they do and champion your brand. Your customers turn into loyal advocates. And your teams are better prepared to weather crises and challenges because your aligned culture guides them to innovate and navigate the shifting waters with courage.
Creating a Marquee Culture isn’t easy. And it can’t be built overnight. But the effort is worth the reward––it will fuel success from the inside out and create loyal advocates, inside and out.
Aligning your brand and culture takes focus and work. You have to be willing to be brutally honest about everything you do. You need courage and grit. But the potential payoff in increased employee engagement, customer loyalty, and long-term success is well worth the effort.