At Emberson we believe that great brands are built from the inside out. This makes people, and the culture they foster, two of a brand’s most powerful assets. Unfortunately, for many brands, people and culture often play second fiddle to strategy and visual identity. By default, rather than design, people and culture simply become the responsibility of HR teams or line managers, or worse still they’re left to develop in isolation without the strategic intent of the brand to help position or guide them. HR professionals, who typically don’t have the marketing skills to communicate successfully, share information through email, memos or infrequent newsletters, missing vital opportunities to help support the organisation’s brand culture.
Just as a brand’s strategy and visual identity need developing and nurturing, so too do a brand’s people and culture. When your employees are involved in the brand’s purpose, share in its history and are shown how it functions, they ultimately understand the role they can play in its success. The power of this approach has the ability to capture the hearts and minds of the workforce, inspiring and galvanising their resolve.
When every employee understands the value of their role in the brand and sees how their contribution can make a difference, the brand becomes strengthened.
When the value of their role is shared or communicated with customers or other external stakeholders, the brand experience feels more connected and authentic.
In 1961, while touring NASA’s headquarters for the first time, John F. Kennedy introduced himself to a janitor mopping the floors. The President asked him what he did at NASA and the janitor responded ‘Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.’1 Although engaged in a low-level task, the janitor felt pride in sharing a common purpose with the men who would eventually walk on the moon.
Culture is everything
Brands with strong, internal cultures can help drive innovation and build greater competitive differentiation. They are also inherently happier places to work, helping to attract new talent and encourage employees to stay for longer.2
Millennials are also helping to drive corporate attitudes towards company culture. With ‘strong culture’ featuring highly amongst factors contributing to their decisions regarding places they want to work. Those organisations lacking a strong or appealing company culture will soon begin to lose out to those who do.3
Hire with culture in mind
We recently spoke with Jay (Middleton) James, ex-Head of Communications at Pret A Manger. She told us “We never drummed our values into employees. Instead we took time to hire the right people, those who inherently held similar values to us. We then just empowered and encouraged our teams to let their personalities shine through! You can teach most people to make a sandwich but not everyone has it in them to deliver top-class customer service, Pret-style!”4
At Emberson we know if a project’s scope only covers strategy and design, then the work is only halfway there. People and culture are vital components of a strong brand. Getting brands to engage in a conversation about their culture early in the process is a vital step in enabling them to realise the value of a unique and authentic brand culture.
Top tips on building a strong brand culture
1. Communicate your strategy
It may sound obvious but communicating with employees how the brand’s strategy works is vital to employees feeling included in the process. Simply telling them your values and expecting them to understand how to fulfil them won’t work. You must demonstrate how they can be used day-to-day and then allow employees to own them in their own style.
2. Turn values into behaviours
Translating your brand values into a set of behaviours for each and every employee can help unlock the strategic intent behind the brand. However, values and behaviours must link directly to individual roles and responsibilities with a direct correlation to their own personal development and job descriptions. This doesn’t mean dictating how everyone behaves per se, but it does mean that your people need to understand how their role directly contributes to the wider value of the brand.
3. Encourage opportunities for brand culture to thrive
Brand culture has to be owned by employees not management. If you demand employees participate in cultural events or activities, they’ll soon feel contrived or forced. Instead try to encourage participation by linking participation to rewards that employees truly value, like shared experiences, or time to follow passion projects. Google famously allowed employees to devote 20% of their time to working on projects they believed would most benefit the brand. Whilst this may not be feasible for every organisation there are ways to find your own cultural projects.
4. Hire the right people
Hiring the right talent can be costly, time consuming and competitively challenging. It’s easy for these constraints to be the cause of mediocre hires. However, if you make brand culture (especially values and behaviour) a key aspect of your new hiring process, then hiring new recruits not only becomes easier but also your culture becomes a beacon for like-minded individuals to join you. Ask candidates to demonstrate occasions in their life where they’ve embodied your brand’s core attributes. Look for concrete examples from the past, not hypothetical wishes and you’ll soon begin to hone your approach and identify great employees in the process.
If you would like to talk about brand culture or find ways to strengthen yours then why not get in touch today, email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Extract from Interview with Jay (Middleton) James former Head of Communications at Pret a Manger