Strategy

Understanding the Relationship Between Company Culture and Brand

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In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Denise Lee Yohn discusses the challenges organizations face when trying to establish a brand that is in line with an audience's needs and wants. This blog explores what steps can be taken to ensure your culture, brand, and audience are all in sync. 


Denise Lee Yohn, a leading authority on positioning exceptional brands, recently wrote an article for Harvard Business Review, titled: "
Why Your Company Culture Should Match Your Brand".

Yohn begins this way: “Ask people how to develop a good corporate culture, and most of them will immediately suggest offering generous employee benefits, like they do at Starbucks, or letting people dress casually, as Southwest Airlines does. Rarely do people point to encouraging employees to disagree with their managers, as Amazon does, or firing top performers, as Jack Welch did at GE.”

Build It and They Will Come. But Will They Buy?

The reason there are some variations of cultures by company, according to the author, is that cultures need to be aligned and in sync with customers’ needs and wants which, of course, vary depending on what one is selling. So sometimes, even high performers miss the mark because they are not acting in step with their audience. For example, if you are beginning a tech company, you and your team are focused on the technology. It’s what you have to sell. It takes a certain culture to achieve that, and they could very well develop the best technology product ever. And all the while they are building it; the mantra is build it and they will come. And if they do come, it’s not going to be the bells and whistles alone that cement the sale, it will be the culture of the people that sell it for you and interact with the customer. And if the culture is product driven vs. people driven there could be a disconnect.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

According to the author, one way to tell if your culture is not in sync is “If you engage your employees differently from how you expect them to engage your customers, your organization is operating with two sets of values.” At the heart of this issue, it often comes down to how well your team understands what you’re selling. In professional services, where there might be a technical component to your client’s solution, teams can sometimes become myopic and fail to engage the client with empathy and understanding. Even if the technology is the correct fit, it has to enter the psyche of the client in a way that they can embrace and own. That happens when the team practices empathy as part of the culture you create and that makes it easy to relate better to customers.

Knock Knock. I’m Back

Some brands need a culture of efficiency, performance and a strong sense of purpose, and other brands require a high degree of shared values and empathy. Once you identify what you want your brand to be, you can identify what type of people and culture you need to make it happen - not only from your perspective, but from the clients you serve. Some years ago I learned this lesson personally. I was going to college in the Midwest and needed to make a few extra dollars. My roommate suggested I find a job. I saw a job posting that read “Full Time Pay. Part Time Work.” I took it. It was selling Cable TV subscriptions for straight commission, door to door, in a very cold November. I took the training, got my brochures and sales lead cards, got bundled up and charged out the door with encouragement from my roommate. She said: “Go get em!” I returned with no sales to expectant arms saying: “Well, how did it go?” “We’re gonna die,” I said.

It would have been easy to leave the job but I figured I must be doing something wrong, because some of the other people on the team had sales. So I went back the next day to the very same homes. I asked if they remembered me, and they said: “Yes, No!” I asked them to please explain why not. Long story short, I heard a bunch of different answers, all of which I was able to convert into sales. Asking “why” was the key. I later became the number one salesman, and they hired me on graduation. I helped build a culture of curiosity and empathy, which turned out to be quite successful.

Image is Destiny

The author concludes the HBR article with the following: “How you operate on the inside should be inextricably linked with how you want to be perceived on the outside. Just as brands differ, there is no single right culture. Identify the distinct cultural elements that enable you to achieve your desired brand identity, and then deliberately cultivate them. When your brand and culture are aligned and integrated, you increase operational efficiency, accuracy, and quality; you improve your ability to compete for talent and customer loyalty with intangibles that can’t be copied; and you move your organization closer to its vision.”

Understanding that your brand is literally connected to every single aspect of your business including the words and actions that are displayed by your team. Ask yourself “what would I want to experience if I were a customer?” and then build the culture to deliver it.

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