Brand is not a smart scarf you wear on occasion. It is borne in the fibre and being of your business, and that’s where the connection to culture begins.
In my first blog I talked about the attributes of a “cult-like” culture, but no matter how strong your culture is, it is still by and large intangible. Somewhat like the wind, you can feel it but you can’t really see it. However, there is one facet of culture that can make your culture visible: your brand.
People tell me that I get downright cranky when people start talking about “creating” brands, when they talk about “branding” as if it is something you do to the organisation – and they are probably right.
The brand ideology I work with every day is deeply connected to culture, the result of aligned belief and actions, emerging from the inside out. Resulting brands are sustaining and sustainable, authentic and grounded, brands that give the people of the organisation something to rally around and defend, brands that are nouns, not verbs!
And I know this isn’t the way most people think about brand. For the vast majority, brand is just a customer entity, little more than a campaign to be changed according to market direction – certainly not the result of company culture.
I could probably write a book highlighting all the ways brand is misunderstood and abused, but for today I will settle with sharing three ways your culture and your brand connect in hope that it gives you a glimpse of a different way to think about brand.
Brand, like culture, relies on the entire organisation getting in on the act. CEO to shipping clerk, the brand is only strong when the whole organisation believes it is true. I have yet to see a successful brand that wasn’t supported top to bottom. If you mention your brand to other stakeholders and they roll their eyes, then your brand is probably not an authentic representation of who you are.
The people in the organisation make the brand. Sounds obvious – but I am forever amazed by how little attention people give to “people” when brands are being discussed. Quite simply, they are the brand.
The favourite CEO quote that “the assets of the company walk out the door every night” is just as true for brand. Making sure you have the right people is important for lots of reasons – this is one of them.
The brand is felt in the nooks and crannies of the organisation. Great brands are not just outward marketing messages foisted on the customer, they are represented in every action, every day. And this is where the brand rubber really meets the road.
If your brand is treated as just a customer acquisition strategy, or a new product launch opportunity, or any of the myriad ways I see brand “used”, then that is all it is – and that isn’t brand.
Is your brand built around great customer service? Then make sure it is easy for your customers to get in touch with you. Sounds obvious, but as anyone who has tried calling customer service and reached one of those automated systems that pretend to be a person can tell you – we know the difference!
Is your brand built on product innovation? Then make sure the day-to-day operations include ways for people to come up with something new. Give everyone in the company an hour a day to blue sky ideas, hold a weekly idea-storming session, give a prize every month for the best idea – you get the picture.
Whatever your brand stands for needs to be represented in the fibre and being of your organisation – and the place where that starts is with your culture. So next time you start thinking about your brand, instead of looking out at the market place, go inwards and take a look around – what do you see?
Alignment is Michel’s passion. Through her work with Brand Alignment Group she helps organisations align who they are, with what they do and say to build more authentic and sustainable brands.
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