The ten keys to building a brand-driven culture.
A 7-minute read for anyone looking to accelerate performance and grow equity value.
It’s A Way Of Thinking
How your brand is perceived on the outside is shaped by who you are on the inside. Success always starts on the inside. Companies with strong internal brand cultures enjoy better market performance and higher customer loyalty and advocacy. They enjoy substantially higher employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention. And for PE/VC, strong brand cultures drive higher enterprise and equity value, improving multiples and investment outcomes. These are just a few among a wealth of benefits of a strong brand culture.
These benefits are driven by the intangible brand equity created by the experiences your brand delivers across all engagement touch-points. How your employees deliver your brand’s experiences directly impacts the love, preference, and advocacy needed to build high-performing and high-value brands. These intangibles lead to loyalty, sustainable success, and increased return on investment.
Having a brand-driven culture is not a thing you turn on or turn off; there is no switch. It is a philosophy, a belief set, and for the most successful companies, an always-on proposition. For increasing financial value, it is a best practice. Brand-driven companies are motivated by the positive impact of strong brand equity and all its intangible drivers on performance and financial results. It is your people and your culture that are the front line in building your brand.
Baking Brand Into Your Organization
Being brand-driven can only be ingrained in a culture when it is fundamentally hardwired into your company’s DNA. Great leaders instinctively do this. They build brands from the top-down and the inside out. They know that management and employees are their most important target audience, their first core constituent in building brand. Your employees are the people directly responsible for every experience delivered by your brand and the fulfillment of your brand’s values, personality, and promise. They are your relationship builders, evangelists, and brand ambassadors.
Every action and interaction in the act of commerce is a point of brand experience, expression, and touch delivered by your employees. Without clear and consistently aligned internal brand understanding, each point of contact has the potential to derail the directive of building brand equity. Recognize that strong relationships take time and care to build and often a single misstep to break. The experience with a call center has equal potential to build or diminish brand equity as bad communications, a clumsy UX, or poor design. Brand equity is fragile. There can be no weak links.
How To Get There
Single-minded positioning and well-defined brand attributes are, of course, critical in creating alignment and consistency around communications, benefits & messaging, values, and purpose. But differentiated positioning with salient brand values also has a remarkable ability to align and unify an organization around a shared understanding and passion. Your people want to be involved, to understand the “why”. Through a strategic positioning development process, your people will know who they are, to whom they must appeal, and how they must act to appeal to them.
In high-performing organizations, everyone knows the drill; everyone’s in lockstep. The benefits grow exponentially when everyone rallies around the same cause, the same reason to believe, sharing the same values, purpose, and motivation. Everyone with the same brand understanding. To be self-fulfilling, imbue your brand into your culture at all levels and across all roles. Consistent brand understanding ensures messaging and experiences with the right tone and manner are always on-brand. What you consistently say you are to the world, reinforced by every brand experience you deliver, is what you will become. No one other than BMW will ever be The Ultimate Driving Machine. (Since 1973, btw.) Over time, this brand consistency is the path to growing significant equity, and achieving it depends first and foremost on your people and their embodiment of your brand values and purpose.
Here are ten things to keep in mind when building a brand-driven culture and inspiring your most important target audience.
1. Positioning is the strategic foundation for any business; it is the driver of business success. It is also critical for building a brand-driven culture. A brand-driven culture needs a defensible value proposition, an ownable competitive differentiation, and clearly defined personality, values, and purpose. Employees at all levels want to know “who am I” and “why am I.” Get this part right first.
2. Align and define your culture around this core positioning, the one aligned with business objectives and market opportunity. With clear positioning comes a clear translation of goals across the enterprise. It gives your employees an understanding of what they are championing, their role in your company’s success, and how your brand’s position impacts how they do their job.
3. Make the process of defining and extending brand positioning a collaborative process between stakeholders, leadership, and management. This builds consensus, ownership, and commitment. While participation is essential to encourage shared ownership, there must be balance. Be careful to limit decision-makers, everyone can’t have a voice. In most cases, strategic decisions are best not done by committee.
4. Be aware of the dangers of confirmation bias and being “too close.” Positioning and brand extension requires objectivity and domain expertise in branding and brand strategy and as a compliment your industry expertise. This invites fresh perspectives and challenges the status quo often leading to innovation.
5. Consider employees a core target audience requiring the same communications, transparency, and maintenance as an external audience. Communicate regularly how the company’s cause, purpose, mission, and values contribute to strong corporate social responsibility and support business objectives. Share core messaging, so everyone uses the same language. Encourage employee engagement in causes and activities that support the brand’s values. Share performance data, successes, and failures.
6. Deliver, encourage and engage from the top-down, lead by example. Demonstrate. Participate. Be what you say you are. Align leadership and management and evaluate performance against this directive. Be inclusive in communicating the challenge and goals of the organization. Does each area of your organization have what they need to fulfill your brand promise? From staffing to resources?
7. Empower human resources. Create an environment of openness and support cognizant of your employees’ well-being. Recruit like-minded people, find people with personal goals and values aligned with your company’s, people who want to be engaged in your vision. Build an inclusive, diverse, and personalized employee engagement experience around the brand and its positioning. Maintain the effort consistently over time, just as you would a target audience. Encourage feedback and open dialog. These are the people who deliver your brand promise. They better be believers.
8. Show appreciation. Incentivize, reward, and recognize. Evaluate employees based on understood and communicated brand-building success criteria. Celebrate around this criteria and demonstrate its return on investment, both tangible and intangible. Empower management to make decisions that align with the larger brand goals and are in the interest of staff. Lean towards a flatter organization and let employees know they are the first and most important constituent and the importance of their role. And that you are grateful for their commitment.
9. Communicate regularly. Better still, over-communicate. Be honest. Share the good and the bad. If a brand needs to pivot and shift positioning, the stronger the internal organization understands where the brand was and what has changed, the easier it is to pivot. Be consistent and have the brand touch all functional areas within the company. Build community through a collaboration and sharing platform integrating leadership, management, and employees. Have scheduled engagements, be expected.
10. Invest in nurturing and maintaining the culture. Invest in team building, invest in discovery, failure, and continuous learning. Take some risks, be willing to spend. This is a cost of doing business, not a discretionary line item to be killed with cash flow is tight. Invest in your people’s needs and in the time it takes to imbue the brand and culture into their DNA. Build relationships.
Is This All Worth It?
Given your employees’ role in delivering your brand experiences and contribution to growing intangible value, yes, it’s worth it. If you are building a high-performing and high-value brand, it absolutely matters.
Below is what Mr. Jarzebowski has to say about the importance of building intangible brand equity, the kind of value your employees build:
“Over the past half-century, we have witnessed a somewhat silent revolution in terms of what factors are really driving business valuations. As the global economy has gradually shifted away from an industrial base and focuses more on services and knowledge, enter the age of intangible asset, as an increasingly vital component of corporate worth.”
Martin Jarzebowski, Forbes Finance Council
According to the long-time purveyor of intangible asset trends, Ocean Tomo, intangible brand equity now comprises 90% of the value of S&P 500 companies. This is a staggering number. As found in Edeling & Fischer’s meta-analysis, on average, improving brand equity by 10% can grow firm value by 3.3%. In the last half-century, we have witnessed this shift from tangible to intangible factors as drivers of financial value. And success increasingly depends on your employees and the brand experience they deliver.
So yes, you should do this, and it is more than worth it. Building high-performing and high-value brands is a holistic, 360˚ effort, and it starts internally with your people. Align your organization with the same strategy, the same brand values, everyone singing from the same song sheet, and good things will undoubtedly happen.
Rant, pontificate, agree, or disagree, but please do opine. Love to hear your thoughts. If you found the read-worthy, please pay it forward.
About the Author: Lysle C. Wickersham leverages his background in both advertising/branding and investment banking as co-founder of BRANDThink, LLC, a strategic brand consulting firm supporting general businesses, agencies, and PE & VC in amplifying value creation and brand strategies to improve outcomes. Lysle on LinkedIn. BRANDThink on LinkedIn.