Updated: Apr 23
Your brand guides your culture. Your culture strengthens your brand. At the intersection of the two are your purpose and your values.
As Denise Lee Yohn explains it in her book Fusion, rooting your customer and employee experience in your purpose and values sets you leaps and bounds apart from the competition and gives you access to optimal performance.
Think about it: if your employees are asked to deliver a customer experience guided by a different set of principles than the principles that are guiding the management team’s way of operating, there is a disconnect. There is a loss of power and authenticity that bleeds into the customer’s experience, and it will show in your numbers. When your culture doesn’t align with your brand, your team and your customers don’t exist in the same reality, and your business is out of integrity.
By crafting a powerful overarching purpose statement (your WHY) and by deliberately creating Ways of Working and Brand Touch Points that are shaped by your values (your HOW), you can create extraordinary employee and customer experiences that result in outstanding business performance and reputation.
Do you have a brand-led culture or a culture-led brand?
Example of a culture-led brand: Patagonia
In his memoir Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard explains how the “image” of Patagonia emerged from the beliefs and values of the people who created it:
“What’s at the heart of Patagonia’s image? How are we perceived by the public? Foremost, certainly, is our origin as a blacksmith shop that made the best climbing hardware in the world. The beliefs, attitudes, and values of those free-thinking, independent climbers and surfers who worked there became the basis for Patagonia’s culture, and from that culture evolved an image: authentic, hardcore, quality products made by the same people who used them.”
The founding members of Patagonia weren’t thinking about their brand strategy. They simply, authentically “were” their brand. It was in their way of being that their brand came to be. And as they continued to exist and operate authentically, creating policies and Ways of Working that were reflective of their values, Patagonia was increasingly recognized as a brand lead by its culture. But it’s been about the culture all along. The “image”, as he calls it, is an authentic expression of who the people at Patagonia are, and how they operate. At Patagonia, the culture is the brand.
Example of a brand-led culture: Virgin
Richard Branson explains his appreciation for the relationship between purpose and brand in his book Like a Virgin:
The Virgin brand came into existence gradually, with each forward step reflecting what I was fundamentally interested in. And, to my own surprise, it wasn’t publishing magazines, as I’d originally thought; it wasn’t even music. My driving force, I realize now, was finding new ways to help people have a good time — ideally in places where they least expect it, such as airports […] our customers and investors relate to us more as an idea or philosophy than a company. It’s all about the Virgin experience and the ongoing challenge is to make sure that this experience is consistent with its expectation levels across all sectors. It’s all about the brand.
Much of the Virgin Group’s culture and approach to service is an extension of Branson’s personal purpose, which he now recognizes as “brand”. On Virgin’s corporate website, the employer brand positioning is “adventure as culture” which is reflective of Branson’s life as an entrepreneur and is also aligned with what the brand communicates to its customers. His unconventional way of doing business is in part why partners wanted to work with him. The culture at Virgin reflects Branson’s casual nature, his dislike for authority and hierarchy. Customers around the globe know about Virgin’s philosophy and “way of being”, and it’s why they choose it. At Virgin, the brand is the culture.
Brand ≠ graphic design. Culture ≠ free beer.
You should be able to measure the effectiveness of your brand and your culture in reality through various key touch points.
When it comes to branding, many people think about logos and colors. While a strong visual identity system is an important aspect of a brand, strong CEOs understand that a brand is a much broader concept than this. A brand is a story at the core of the business strategy. It is carried through to the customers and prospective employees. It comes to life through a personality and a voice that is expressed in key messaging, in the elements of the visual language, and in the product or service experience.
When it comes to culture, a lot of management teams are at a loss. When they sit around the executive table and hear phrases like “culture eats strategy for breakfast” they reach for the plate of pastries and hope that someone changes the topic soon. Take two organizations with the exact same employee benefits package and the same free beer Friday event, and observe how differently people act on a Friday afternoon depending on the effectiveness of the culture. You see, culture isn’t free beer, and it’s not your work from home policy, nor is it a combination of those things. Culture lives in the behaviours of individuals and in the group processes. And it can be observed and measured in how people communicate, make decisions, solve problems and handle their conflicts.
How to go about aligning your brand and your culture to your purpose?
To align your culture and brand to your purpose and values, you must first of all be clear on your organization’s overarching purpose beyond making money. But the most important consideration that is missed by many organizations who have their purpose and their values defined, is finding ways to operationalize them. In order to have a brand that inspires your culture and a culture that strengthens your brand, you have to be prepared to map out the Ways of Working and the Dimensions of Brand and design them to become an expression of the company’s purpose and values. And you can get very creative with this:
If you value “Learning” how can you deliberately create a practice to leverage conflict as an opportunity to develop your people?
If you value “Innovation” how can you implement a customer feedback system that engages them in idea generation?
If you value “Adventure”, how can you systematically bring adventure to the
way in which your managers conduct important meetings?
If you value “Passion” how can you leverage colour and typography to communicate this through your visual identity system?
If you value “Freedom” how can you bring forward a flexible subscription model to your customers?
So whose job is it to orchestrate this? Is this in the scope of responsibility of the CHRO and the CMO? It could be, but they have to be prepared to think differently about their job — this isn’t about marketing, and it isn’t about human resource management. It’s about experience design, it’s about developing people, and it’s about transformation.
When to bring a Chief Experience Officer?
A deliberately designed customer and employee experience that is aligned to purpose and value is the access to long term organizational success. The challenge for a lot of CEO’s is to make sure that this stays a constant truth through time, as the workforce evolves and as the services grow. Most likely, the CMO has their handful with leading the marketing strategy, and the CHRO is immersed in managing the workforce. Bringing on a Chief Experience Officer is the way to bring a powerful viewpoint and bring visibility and power over the “intangible” aspect of culture and brand experience that an NPS survey won’t give you strategic insights on. The job of a CXO is to keep the business aligned to its purpose and its values, and for those to be carried at every brand touchpoint, and throughout the employee’s journey. And if they do their job well, the ROI will be observed in every number on your executive dashboard — you will see your organization reach performance by realizing its potential.
Attend a Workshop on Brand & Culture
You are invited to join Hyperminds on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, for an interactive workshop built to help CEO’s, HR and Marketing leaders discover ways to grow business by weaving brand and culture into a single guiding force.