Culture-led brands represent the sweet-spot where a strong brand meets a clear purpose and a healthy culture. As customers and employees become more and more demanding – seeking employers with a purpose, brands with a conscience and above all customer or career experiences that raise the bar – finding this sweet-spot becomes increasingly important.
In the simplest of terms, a brand is a promise. It is more than a logo, a product or an identity. Through careful crafting of language, imagery, stories and experiences, brands tell people what to expect from companies and encourage them to buy. The same process can also be used to attract the skills and talent a business needs to grow and thrive.
Purpose defines a company’s reason for being beyond making a profit. For employees and customers alike, a clear purpose offers a reason to do business with one organisation instead of its competition. It’s no longer a nice-to-have but a major factor in choosing an employer, and makes a big difference when choosing service providers or products. This is true for both the B2C and B2B space.
Culture is how you do what you do – the accepted behaviour that customers encounter when they engage with people from your company. Culture can support a company’s brand and purpose, or completely undermine it. Companies that have found the sweet spot actively guide and shape their culture to make sure it’s not the latter.
Together, these three can take a business from surviving to leading the market through excellent customer experience. In short: the most successful companies deliver on their brand promise. It sounds pretty simple but many companies don’t quite manage to deliver all three.
Culture-led brands make promises they can keep
The quality of customer service is one of the best ways to gauge whether or not a company has found the culture-led brand sweet spot. According to Chris Cancialosi in a recent contribution to Forbes: “The primary reason for bad customer experience is a company’s inability to deliver on its brand promise.” If the customer experience is bad, the promise is being broken in some way.
And bad customer experience persists, costing companies as much as a quarter of their customers after just one bad experience, and almost 60% after several bad experiences. Customers rate speed, convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service as the most important elements of positive customer experience. Those last two are particularly telling. For employees to be knowledgable and friendly, they must know their product or service. They must also understand their company’s purpose and its brand promise and believe in those messages so that they can deliver them confidently.
Keeping your brand’s promise, and giving customers the great experience they are led to expect, therefore boils down to the people that provide that experience. Even with ever-better customer service technology human interaction matters. According to a recent PwC study, “82% of U.S. and 74% of non-U.S. consumers want more of it in the future.” This means a company’s culture must be entwined with its brand promise, and its purpose, so that its people know how to deliver on both. This is where the opportunity lies for companies to differentiate and distinguish themselves through brand, purpose, and culture.
Culture-led brands understand this opportunity and work to connect the dots every day, for their employees and their customers.
Culture-led brand or brand-led culture?
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario – what comes first: the culture or the brand? Usually, it’s the brand that comes first. A lot of time, investment and expertise go into understanding the company’s target market and crafting a brand that captures its purpose, uniqueness and value consistently. When this is done well, the brand attracts customers and potential employees that identify with the message and want to be a part of the purpose.
But how often do companies take all that hard work into their business to proactively create a matching culture? Unfortunately, not very often. Company cultures are often left to develop organically. And even when companies decide to manage their culture towards greatness, they often focus on fairly surface-level interventions like generous rewards, revised dress codes or core work hours. But when these interventions aren’t linked to the company’s brand promise or its purpose, they can fall very flat. When so much effort and investment has gone into developing a brand in the first place, it seems a waste not to leverage all that work to create an authentic culture.
Great companies – such as Zappos – actively drive the behaviour they want from their people to meet their brand’s promises. They focus on creating a culture their employees identify with, enable their people to deliver on their brand promises, and make sure their messaging to the market aligns with both their customers’ needs and what they can deliver. They are culture-led brands.
How to create culture-led brands
To retrofit a culture to match a brand involves changing human behaviour. Depending on how ingrained negative behaviours have become, this can be a very painful exercise. But often it’s not necessary to change a culture completely to deliver on a brand and serve a purpose. It can be about understanding the great behaviours that make a company special and bringing these through in the brand.
To become a culture-led brand, it’s important to understand what your people bring to your customer experience and use their strengths to attract clients and improve engagement. From here, brand management and great marketing practices can be incorporated to create your business’ sweet spot.