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Branding and culture are two separated dimensions often run by separated teams. This is problematic because many companies do not realise that branding and culture are part of the same process. So why are branding and culture part of the same process?
In most organisations branding is driven by the marketing department whereas cultural projects are driven by the People (HR) department. Often these two continuous projects (and participants) communicate little or not at all with one another, and that is because they are perceived as separate projects. This goes against our vision of what branding and culture is and how they can reinforce each other. We believe that a brand is determined by culture and that the correct display of a brand will reinforce internal culture. In this blog I will assess the two topics and show you how they intertwine.
Branding is an integral part of marketing. Branding is a way to steer how the outside world perceives your company and how they interact with your company. Brands can be very personal, very classy, very edgy, very transformative – you name it. The flavours of different brands are endless, which is not surprising as each company is trying to stick out from the crowd by creating their own unique identity. That is why it is not surprising that marketing departments focus on creating an own “brand identity” complete with own colours, values, story lines, slogans, and other components to make an own distinctive brand. While creating a distinctive brand is important, it is almost similarly important to communicate this brand to the outside world. You can have a beautiful brand identity, but if nobody knows about it, then it is practically useless. In other words, you need to make consumers/potential clients aware of your brand. This part of marketing is, not surprisingly, called “brand awareness” which basically focusses on all the different channels through which you are trying to inform the world out there about your brand identity. As you can imagine, these are enormous tasks, not only to define a strong brand which really stands out and persuades consumers/potential clients, but also to then get your message out there. It is up to your marketing department to properly formulate and distribute the message that your brand wants to convey.
Turning now to culture. In its core, culture is the combination of all individual values and behaviours of the people within your company. This is in part influenced by your organisational values, but also by individual beliefs. Culture is therefore not something that you can completely control, you can only partly steer it. With every new person that joins your team, or every person that leaves your team, your culture partly changes. So, in some sense culture is something you cannot control. However, you can stimulate certain behaviours and demotivate others. This way you can move culture in the right direction. Your culture determines a lot on how your employees communicate and behave internally, but also how they communicate and behave towards the outside world. In part, your culture therefore determines how the outside world perceives your company and your brand. This hints towards how culture and branding are very intertwined.
The same coin
So how are culture and branding part of the same process? Well, in simple terms branding is a process which determines how you are perceived in the outside world and culture determines how your employees interact with the outside world. In essence they are therefore both part of the same process: interactions with the outside world. An organisation is its people. I believe that branding should start with assessing your internal culture. You need to know first what your internal culture stands for before you can create a brand accordingly. Why? Simple: consistency. For example: you can create a beautiful brand identity talking about how customer-focussed your organisation is, but let’s assume that your employees are rather more focussed on creating the best products (product-focussed). If your customer interacts with your representatives, which have a different attitude than your brand advertises, this might disappoint or upset them, or even worse; it will make your brand identity questionable, unconvincing, or even unbelievable. On the flip side, having a brand identity which does not align with the internal culture also causes some problems. You will soon find that your employees do not believe anymore about the message you convey to your customers/clients and that they become unhappy about the fact that the company seems to become more and more out of touch with their own employees and the internal culture. This can lead to unhappiness, unproductivity and even with people calling in sick or ultimately leaving the company.
So, what to do?
- Find out what your culture is.
As with al cultural projects, the first step of assessing your current culture is key. Try to use employee surveys to question your employees what they value in their work, how they feel connected to their colleagues and what motivates them to come to work. Ask them how they communicate towards one-another, if they feel free to speak up during meetings, if they value creativity, how they experience the leadership; and many other questions. Try to find out how they work (together) and what motivates them to work (together).
(optional) 2. Motivate desired behaviours and demotivate undesired behaviours
In case you notice that there are many unwanted behaviours, then you should try and motivate desired behaviours and demotivate undesired behaviours. Use workshops, brainstorming sessions and early adopters to help people see how individual and group behaviour affect the brand in a positive (or negative) way. Bring out their desire to build a strong unique culture and brand. During these sessions you should get a better uniform image of what behaviours everybody wants to motivate. This is also the moment to take the leading role and move people in the right direction to start adopting the desired behaviours. From these sessions you should also be able to bring organisational values to life. Working bottom-up: individual behaviours can be generalized in a couple of shared attitudes, which in turn can be generalized and highlighted in organizational values.
- Create a brand identity that aligns with your culture and promote it.
Now that you have found out what your internal culture stands for, it is time to create a brand identity around it. This is the job of your marketing department, but they need to keep connecting their messaging with the internal culture. If that does not align, then you are saying one thing while doing another. Once your brand identity is established and aligned with your internal culture, feel free to promote it any way you see fit.
- Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!
I do not understand why companies keep forgetting this step. Once you have created the right culture, the right brand identity, and you have started promoting it, then celebrate this with everybody involved! Present the results, show of the new polished brand, and how you are promoting it towards the outside world. While you are presenting this to your employees, remind them of how essential their contribution was into the cultural assessment and how they too have created their brand. It is just as much their achievement as it is the achievement of your marketing department. After all, your brand is your company, and your company is your brand. Everyone contributes to that, so every individual is key. Make your employees feel part of this journey and make them feel that they have contributed to this process. This will improve your overall culture, internal atmosphere, and connectivity amongst your employees.
Branding and culture are part of the same process. Culture is an integral part of branding, and you cannot create a solid brand without understanding your culture first. Therefore, I would argue that every brand project should align itself with the internal culture. If your brand does not align with your culture, then it becomes unconvincing and uncredible in the long run. Do you want to change your brand? Or do you want to fine-tune your brand identity? Start looking towards your internal culture and you will find your guidance towards how to change your brand and the overall perception of your company for the better.