Leadership strategy to connect culture and brand
Consider some of today’s most popular brands. Trader Joe’s for example. The Hawaiian grocer consistently ranks high in these annual “Best Places to Work” lists, and it’s easy to see why: TJ’s employees seem to love working there, and that translates into a great customer experience.
If you like to do your grocery shopping in bulk, consider Costco, another regular on the best places to work lists. It’s known for paying its employees well, offering one of the best benefits packages in retail, and having a top-notch company culture. Like Trader Joe, that happiness flows downstream and becomes incredible customer loyalty.
Everywhere we look, we find people who understand what brand building is all about. Take Chobani. Growing up, Hamdi Ulukaya – the Kurdish owner, founder, chairman and CEO – witnessed the fear of refugees. As Chobani became successful, he devoted himself to helping refugees. In 2016 he founded the Tent Partnership for Refugees, which helps refugees from all over the world, including Ukraine.
From the Fearless Fund, the first VC fund by women of color for women of color, of which Arian Simone is co-founder and general partner, to BatMe Cosmetics, led by Jayla Roxx, the first transgender woman of color to run a beauty brand that sells all products for around $9 so LGBTQ customers struggle to make a living as artists can afford them. The world is full of brands doing it right.
Wait a minuteContradict. I understand branding. I’m doing it right. No, you are not. Not if you’re still building your brand the old-fashioned way, top-down, or handing off your business strategy to the marketing department. For years, the traditional approach to building a brand has looked something like this:
- Identify your audience (our audience is…everyone!)
- Conduct market research on their likes, values, unmet needs, etc. (probably just a hunch, it must be a millennial).
- Stake out a position (add a cheesy slogan just to be safe).
- Develop your brand story (two people start an alpaca farm, cut out the middle man and bring you a better poncho).
- Develop your visualizations. (fingers crossed this looks good for as cheap as possible.)
- Throw lots of money into marketing. (Nothing like a lot of money to market a bad brand!)
We’ve been in the brand and business strategy industry for 17 years and have watched companies go through this algorithm more times than we can count. It works out . . . Until it is no longer possible. Well, it doesn’t anymore – not based on what’s happening in the offices from coast to coast: employees are crowding for the exits.
While the search for better pay and benefits is a big factor, a report by the MIT Sloan Management Review finds that the most important cause is the Great Resignation toxic culture. . . by a factor of three to one over everything else. Other surveys found that people are quitting because they feel it disrespectful or burned out at work.
Bottom Line: The people who serve customers, answer the phones, and keep the trains running feel unseen and disconnected from the organizations they work for. As companies in every sector scramble to retain their best employees, we’re here to ask you a bold, blasphemous, very rare race question:
what are you fighting for what are you fighting
Hold the pitchforks and torches. We explain. Your brand should represent what you stand for, the values that drive your business, right? Well, maybe that’s what the press kit says, but that’s not the reality. The reality is that for most businesses, your brand is defined by what your competitors are doing, what your clients say they want, and what your creative agency thinks is an award. It’s a prestige vehicle that people in the C-suite use in visions and mission statements. Do you know what that means for the assistants and new hires and cabin dwellers?
Activating your brand culture from the inside out is a success factor, although many companies forget one crucial element: the idea worth circling around them™. The bold, bold idea that merges culture and brand into one. The real work of transformation begins when you operationalize strategic thinking in the culture, so it’s not treated as a lipstick exercise or brand style guide.
At the heart of brand and culture is your flag, the idea around which your entire organization rallies. At Motto, we create for our clients what we call a bold, bold idea worth collecting™, which is the characteristic idea for which your organization will become famous. This signature idea has the ability to power the entire company, ignite the brand and move the people it was made for. Around them, leaders can forge the culture and gather the talents they need to take this idea to where it belongs. If your leadership doesn’t embody your brand, you either have the wrong brand or the wrong leadership.
What if we put market data and egos aside and built brands based on the ideas, values, and passions of the people who make our organizations work who are quitting in record numbers? What if, instead of building half-baked internal brands to reassure employees, we paid attention to what our teams care about and what makes sense to them, and then use that information as the basis for our image in the marketplace?
We claim that our businesses reflect what we value and what we stand for. But if we told you how many companies don’t actually If you do, you will be stunned. If the mission is to revitalize the customer experience, retain your best employees, and build a billion-dollar culture, then a brand should be something everyone cares about, not just the marketing and design departments. Something that represents the authentic values that everyone in the organization can stand behind. Something that people at the lowest levels of the organization believe speaks for them – that they can take responsibility and defend it. That means building a brand that is not only beautiful, but also has substance.
In the wake of the pandemic, we’re finding consumers and employees have lost their tolerance for flimsy brand identities, empty promises and hypocrisy. Genuine and heartfelt brands win hearts and minds organically, virally and without major ad buys. Client data and creative departments still matter, as accurate, intelligent storytelling and positioning will always be part of effective branding, but it’s time the process started at the bottom.
How does it look? No big brand starts with a committee, but that’s especially true here. Start with your team’s individual concerns, dreams, passions and characters, which you capture individually, preferably in private interviews, not in impersonal online surveys. Some questions you might ask:
- “What values would you like to reflect in the actions of this company?”
- “What do you think we should stand for and against?”
- “What impact do you think the company should have on the world?”
- “If you could transform the entire company in a way that would make you proud to work here, what would it be?”
Yes, we break brand building. But that makes this a rare breed approach – it’s bold and revolutionary. We’re talking about identifying the soul of your organization and forging meaning at the core of your business so culture and brand work together as one.
No great brand can be in business solely to make a profit for shareholders. These brands end up reductive and soul dead. Successful companies are out to change the world, promote equality, save the planet and create magic. Maybe you have a great brand and your employees are engaged and happy. If yes, well done. But if you see potential in your brand that stubbornly remains untapped, or if you’re losing people because they’re on a mission and don’t want to just leave at 5:01 p.m., maybe it’s time to down, not up look for inspiration.