To paraphrase Shakespeare, “what’s in a brand?” Like a rose, a brand isn’t just a name. A brand is a set of perceptions – from customers or from within – that distinguish your from your competition, whether it’s competition for customers or the resources you need to grow. So what is it that sets one brand apart from another? What is the intangible something that makes a customer or a potential employee choose your brand over any other?
I’d argue its culture – the beliefs, values and attitudes that shape your brand. Culture is the story we tell ourselves about who we are, why we do what we do, and why that’s important. As companies grow, culture becomes the touchstone and benchmark for employee and customer experience.
Why does culture matter so much, and how does it shape your brand?
- Culture Provides a Map – Culture is like a map that takes you from where you are today, to where you want to end up in the future. Whether you’re a one person startup or a multinational corporation, brands need to make decisions about directions and strategy on a near daily basis. From an employee working with a customer on a sales call, to an executive making decisions about a new product or service, a strong and consistent culture makes choosing the right direction much easier. Decision making is guided by answering a simple question: is this action consistent with the culture of our brand?
- Culture Establishes Trust – Letting culture guide decisions instills trust. After all, it’s hard to trust someone who isn’t what they say they are. If you say you’re a company that treats people fairly and does the right thing (two important positions to occupy in the minds of your customers and employees) but you lack a culture of integrity, your actions won’t align with your words. According to one Chicago-based branding agency, trust is critical to your brand. Building a genuine brand based upon your beliefs is the difference between a transactional brand – one that’s only interested in making the next sale – and an inspired one.
- Culture Promotes Growth – One of the most important challenges any entrepreneur faces is attracting talent that can help your business grow. After all, you may not have the ability to pay the highest wages, or be able to fund big marketing campaigns to grow your business. In the absence of these, word of mouth is your friend. And nothing promotes positive word of mouth like a great company culture. As your company grows, customers and employees are likely to be some of your company’s best advocates. Is your culture one that they’ll want to share?
- Culture Creates Partnership – There’s a reason companies like Starbucks use the term “partners” rather than “employees.” It’s to instill in every person working for the company, from the barista all the way up to the executive ranks that they are part of the company’s success and conversely, the company is part of theirs as well. Starbucks built its brand with employees first, instilling in them a sense of passion, partnership and engagement in the business that played a huge role in the company’s explosive growth over the last two decades.
- Culture Stays the Course – As you grow, culture becomes even more important since it is culture, not the founder’s personal direction, that determines whether the next generation of hires – those hired by people that are not company founders – will continue to reflect the values and attitudes your culture seeks to embody.
Culture encompasses many things. It’s embodied in your brand – it may even be the answer to the question of “why” your company exists. If you’re looking to shape a brand that matters, consider culture first.