Connecting brand & culture

‘Brand and culture: two sides of the same coin’. I first heard this statement from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, the online shoe retailer acclaimed for building a business with people and culture as the DNA of its customer offering. Since then, it has often been used to show the correlation between the two forces and how, once connected, they can drive the success of an organisation and its customer experience.
We often speak of vision and values in connection with the brand, however when we explore culture we discuss this in relation to beliefs and behaviours. The brand lives in a virtual world and is driven by promise, while the other is humanistic and is driven by the actions of its people.
Is it that there are two sides of the same coin or the fact that once correctly fused together they seamlessly make-up the coin itself? With this in mind, each must bring an equal amount of influence and weight to the coin so that it stays perfectly balanced and has a 50-50 chance of landing on either side.
Like a coin, both sides are completely independent of each other, and much like yin and yang, they require each other for completion. Likewise, one is no more or less important than the other, and one cannot function correctly without the other. By first exploring what makes them different, we come one step closer to understanding just how they can live in harmony and create lasting positive outcomes.

Unleashing the power of your people

The brand is vertical with tiers of hierarchy and levels to give it the structure that is required to support its ever-reaching goals. It requires various levels of management, processes and procedures that allow it to function in an ever-changing and dynamic environment. Of the two sides, it adds consistency and direction to the union and acts as a guide for the business.

Culture is driven by the individuals within a structure; a collective of the power that each person brings with them. It requires freedom to be at its best, as we ask it among other things, to be innovative, empathetic and creative. Pure culture exists in a flat structure where one person is no more important than another. We may all have different jobs to do, but each stands independent and is equally required for the success of the collective.

Look through a microscope at a biological culture; it is a defined area with lots of moving parts moving within it. A culture is a culture no matter how you view it: dynamic and in constant flux. In organisational culture, however, it gets more complex as we request that the culture live the values of the brand. In some cases, this demand is on the company’s terms and does not take into account the voice of the culture and how its people see the world.

5 top tips: building your brand & culture

So how can we take opposing outward facing influences, and fuse them together to make one coin? I have looked to some of our recent clients for the answers and they have come up with these five top tips to ensure that brand and culture develop a mutual respect for each other and keep the coin spinning. Without this, it will be next to impossible to create harmony for these two powerful forces to exist in the same space.

  1. Walk the shop floor: Management needs to get out of their offices and spend more time engaging and talking to employees in their space. This is not a formal meeting; it is an opportunity to informally chat about the business in real time. To take this one step further, spend a day in an employee’s life and have the management team venture out and pick up the tools of the trade and work alongside them.
  2. Really listen to your people: If communication and active listening is key to our external customers’ experience, then it too must be the foundation of relationship building with our internal employees. By all means, continue with all the usual sources such as employee surveys, but be more creative with the questions that you ask. This needs to be complemented with live focus and working groups that allow opportunities for employees to give feedback and play a part in the solution-making process.
  3. Build an employee brand: The culture too needs to have structure and guidance to drive it forward. Create an internal brand that best reflects the employees as a personality and unites them as one team, one vision with one clear direction to the business. This need not be costly but can be creative, as this branded campaign will form the backdrop to all future development, internal communications and reflect the voice of the culture. It will become the bridge between the brand and culture, allowing the values of the brand to come alive in the actions of the culture.
  4. Give power to your people: Give employees more responsibility for the development of the culture and how best they would like to communicate with each other. Create a culture committee with representatives from all parts of the business. Give them the directive to create opportunities for employees to share time together; whether it’s fun, educational, supportive or just free time. Ensure that the business supports this with allocated time and even put a small budget aside for them to access.
  5. Create a brand story that gives rise to the culture: Allow your people to become part of your brand story. The brand journey must not only be understood by the people but also driven by them. Look at the story from both a historical and futuristic vantage point, pulling out great examples of how the people and the culture of the organisation have allowed it to overcome diversity and market challenges. Celebrate small successes and let the team bask in the success of the big stuff.

Final thought: creating your USP

As a final thought, invest in including your people in the brand journey and make them an integral part of your USP and customer offering.
The brand comes with a promise and sets the expectations for those who engage with it, however, it is the people and culture that delivers on that promise, with both their projected personality and the connection that they have to the brand, its values and the future vision.

“‘Innovation’ is not just a value word – it is a spirit and driving force that fuses two opposing forces together – making them two sides of the same coin.”


Dale Smith , Creative Director, Bridge


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