The need for businesses to live the brand has become something of a mantra for marketers, and for good reason. In a world where brands are increasingly defined by customer experience, a brand needs to feel coherent whenever a customer encounters it.
The usual approach starts with defining the brand, and then communicating it internally. This assumes that if employees understand the brand, they’ll behave accordingly. In effect, they’ll walk the talk.
This fits very nicely with the marketing world, an evolution from the days when marketers decided on the positioning of a brand, and then created a brand image to support it.
However, employee behaviors are not driven by marketing plans, however well communicated. Rather, they reflect the culture of the business. As HBR put it, “Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.” For a business to really live the brand, the brand needs to be embedded in the culture of the business.
Every business has its own culture, a complex mix of shared values, attitudes, rituals and beliefs that has developed over time. Culture can be changed, but this tends to be a long term process. So I’ve always found it easier to start with the culture of the business, and build the brand from there. In effect, to talk the walk of the business, so that the brand is aligned with the behaviors.
To do this, I use this simple framework:
- Define a shared purpose. While reflecting the culture of the business, the brand also has to be meaningful to customers. Look deep inside the business, to rediscover its heritage, uncover what it means to the employees, and what aspirations they have for it. Then, look deep into the lives of the most loyal customers, to understand what the brand means to them, how it helps them, and what their aspirations are for it. The key is to find elements in the culture that also resonate with customers, to create a shared agenda.
- Hardwire the Operating Model. While the purpose creates a shared agenda, it still needs to be delivered by the business each and every day. Ensure that it is hardwired into the core policies and processes of the business, and supported by the reward systems and training.
- Shape the Brand Identity. Flow the shared purpose through everything the brand produces or owns. The products, online properties, physical environments, and brand communications should all feel part of the same story.
Of course, once the brand is aligned with the culture, a regular program of internal communication is essential, to engage employees in the brand. Indeed, they can become powerful voices in telling the brand story.
However, underlying this has to be a leadership committed to keeping the brand fresh and vibrant. Culture is not something that can be delegated to the CMO, it's the responsibility of every leader from the CEO down. The brand may have been embedded in the culture of the business, but if the leadership is not walking and talking the brand everyday, it will struggle to survive...