Bridge Talks: Hamish Pringle on Brand & Culture


On Tuesday, 14 April Hamish Pringle joined the BridgeTalk community at the Courthouse Hotel in Soho to present ‘Engaging Employees with Brand and Culture’.

To begin his talk, Hamish tackled the question: Why engage employees? He explained that with more points of contact available through social media and contact centres, these days more employees are at the front line of an organisation, and therefore employees are directly related to a leading factor in retaining loyal customers.

Exploring the relationship between brand and culture, Hamish defined brands as not being rigid; each person builds his or her own experience and perception around a brand. As such, a brand exists uniquely differently to each person and so is owned by people as an intangible promise in the customer’s mind.

“Very often employees are absolutely crucial in achieving that. They are crucial in conveying that promise and then in keeping it,” said Hamish.

Hamish used the example of Tesco’s ‘Every Little Helps’ campaign as a best practice brand promise. In the early days, all business decisions in Tesco were taken with the frame; ‘does this help the customer?’ However, as time went by, this promise was broken and 53% of its market cap was lost in a short period of time. Now, Tesco’s new Chief Executive, Dave Lewis (formerly of Unilever) is in search of Tesco’s DNA, to find what made it successful.
“We know what it is, it’s ‘Every Little Helps’. And unfortunately I suspect that they are going to come up with something else, which won’t be as good, and they will lose that enormous brand heritage they’ve invested millions and millions of pounds in, which all their employees, all their staff all understand deeply,” said Hamish.

Next, Hamish talked about culture; ‘the way we do things around here’. He said, at the heart of culture is brand story, and culture depends upon brands having a coherent, well-articulated story. A great story can orient all employees together, unifying them to one direction.

“The single most important thing [a leader] have to do, is they have to have a great story, and they have to tell it brilliantly, and they have to never tire of telling it. And if they are a walking, talking brand ambassador, and culture generator, that’s the most powerful thing that a company can have,” said Hamish.

It is by creating a self-confident organisation, which is confident in itself and in which its employees are self-confident, that an organisation can find success. Hamish stated that a brand promise needs to be crystalized in its mission, vision and values; and this needs to be embedded and lived within the organisation. Leadership needs to communicate the brand story to employees and internal and external values need to be aligned; which means recruiting on attitudes and values as well as skills in order for employees to fit into the culture of the organisation. Staff should be fluent in the brand story; good advertising can create a language helps engage employees. It is also important that defined powers of decision-making are given to brand ambassadors in order to make discretionary decisions in the customer’s favour. Doing all this creates a self-confident organisation, where brand and culture are brought together most successfully.

“If employees are given the information as to what counts as good service in their particular market, for their particular business, their particular brand; and if they understand why the expectations are less than 100% and where the areas of weakness are; and if they’re empowered to address those areas of weakness, and if they just simply know about them, I think there’s a much greater chance that they will then deliver and manage people’s expectations and over-deliver against good service. So that’s how you get a great customer experience. That’s how you get the customer delight that we keep hearing about,” Hamish said.

In summary, Hamish put it simply:
Why engage employees?
It makes for a better, more successful and profitable business.
What is a brand?
A promise that has to be created, conveyed and kept. What is a culture? A natural fit between the staff and the brand story, living in a narrative that is completely engrossing.
What is a self-confident organisation?
One where staff are aligned, and able to ad-lib, express themselves around the narrative that has been delivered by the leadership.

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