Company Culture Reflects Your Brand—What Image Does the Public See?

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

What is a company brand? It seems like a straightforward question that should have a simple answer. As it turns out, there are multiple opinions about the subject.

In contrast to what many believe, brand expert Marty Neumeier makes the following claims:

  • A brand is not a logo.
  • A brand is not an identity.
  • A brand is not a product.

A brand, he says, is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization. He asserts that buyers, not companies, define brands.

“A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.”

In a marketplace teeming with competing products and services, most of which seem indistinguishable, customers tend to base buying choices on trust. Their trust develops when a company regularly meets or exceeds expectations.

When a business builds a reputation as a trusted provider, the impression they make on customers is their brand.

How Brands Are Born

Leaders launch companies because they perceive a market need. Keenly aware of the feeding frenzy in every industry, they work to create models that differentiate their business. To that end, marketing, R&D, and pricing strategies are usually put into full swing to establish a distinctive reputation—or what they want people to perceive as their brand.

But trying to build branding solely on logos, enhanced products, or value is an incomplete approach. While all these elements are important, they aren’t enough to create the trust needed to win the public over.

The most significant way to create a lasting, positive reputation is for leadership to concentrate on how the people within their organization operate. Ideally, this is the first part of the branding process.

As business leader and author Bill Taylor points out,

“Brand goes deeper than design and messaging. What matters for a business starts on the inside. You can’t be special, distinctive, and compelling in the marketplace unless you create something special, distinctive, and compelling in the workplace.”

Idris Mootee, author of 60-Minute Brand Strategist, also believes that a brand radiates from within an organization.

“It is the exposure of what a company really is. A few interactions with the company will quickly reveal if their marketing and branding is simply saying what they think will appeal rather than what they think and believe.”

In essence, an organization’s people drive the authenticity of its brand. Simply put, a company’s brand is rooted in its corporate culture.

Culture’s Role in a Company Brand

A company’s culture is defined by the behavioral norms of its workforce. People’s attitudes about how they approach their jobs, along with the way they interact with coworkers and the public, are the essence of an organization’s culture.

Ideally, a staff’s behaviors should consistently and cohesively demonstrate the company values and goals. When that happens, the culture becomes a beacon for the brand.

In a high-performing culture, these behaviors underscore a pursuit of excellence. Team members strive to deliver a high level of:

  • Quality
  • Service
  • Reliability
  • Enthusiasm
  • Collaboration
  • Accountability

Such characteristics demonstrate a commitment to fulfill customers’ needs and expectations. They form a solid core for an organization’s brand, but buyers want to put their trust in more than an ability to produce top-notch work and service. They want to trust the company’s moral code.

There are plenty of companies that offer great products but operate with less than stellar ethics. Others are heedless of their negative impact on the environment, society, or even their own employees.

A company earns customers’ loyalty and respect by providing what they need and doing it with integrity. An outstanding culture delivers that kind of brand.

Smith, Gambrell & Russell CMO Levitica Watts makes this observation:

“The success of your brand is about caring more than other companies — about customers, about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless opportunities to cut corners and compromise on values.”

When a company’s culture demonstrates a commitment to excellence and ethics, the brand becomes a priceless commodity. It becomes what Mootee calls “the intangible asset that resides in people’s hearts and minds.”

Negative Brands

Once a brand is established, a company can’t take that asset for granted. Leaders need to exercise careful stewardship of their company’s image. If the public detects any deviation from the standards they have come to expect, the brand is tarnished. Thanks to social media, that can happen with lightning speed.

An organization can usually survive poor behavior from a lone wolf who doesn’t adhere to the company model. In a business with a strong culture, such bad actors will be rooted out quickly.

But if a pattern of lower standards emerges, or if leadership falters, a company’s brand can become a negative image in the public eye. Righting the ship can take a long time, and damage control costs a lot of money.

Consider the travails of:

  • Uber
  • Wells Fargo
  • Facebook
  • Goldman Sachs

These companies spent millions to revive the public’s confidence. Small businesses don’t have such resources. Declining customer confidence can be devastating to moderately sized companies. Businesses often fail because leaders overlook the relevance of their staff’s everyday behavior in preserving their brand.

Former Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner understood that when he said:

“A brand is a living entity—and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”

How to Build a Culture that Becomes a Strong Brand

Companies that carefully plan the marketing “face” of their brand and the products or services it represents should be just as intentional about their organization’s culture. Doing so involves more than reflecting upon and formalizing company values.

For employees to live up to those principles and emblemize the brand, leaders must implement a process to build and sustain a strong corporate culture. Just as they took time to consider and assign their company’s values, they need to determine the behaviors that will not only enhance performance but propel their brand.

As brand expert Denise Lee Yohn explains:

“Building a unique culture goes beyond internal aspirations. Companies that do this well also identify a desired brand identity—how you want your organization to be perceived and experienced by customers and other external stakeholders.

If your company culture is aligned and integrated with that identity, your employees are more likely to make decisions and take actions that deliver on your brand promise.”

Selecting Brand-Strengthening Behaviors

Company values are meant to be inspirational. But they are abstract concepts that can mean many things to a group of employees. Behaviors, on the other hand, are concrete and measurable actions. For leaders to guide their staff to act in specific ways, they must define, explain, and teach the behaviors they want to see.

CultureWise Founder and CEO David Friedman says this is the primary step in creating an extraordinary culture. In Culture by Design, he explains how to choose the behaviors that will lead to successfully achieving leaders’ goals.

To make it easier for leaders to develop a list of preferred behaviors, he suggests thinking about them in the following four categories:

  1. How we work with customers
  2. How we work with each other
  3. How we do our own work
  4. Our attitude

After the behaviors have been identified, a brief description should be written about each one for clarification. Friedman provides this example:

HONOR COMMITMENTS. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. This includes being on time for all phone calls, appointments, and meetings. If a commitment can’t be fulfilled, notify others early and agree upon a new deliverable to be honored.

Notice there is no room for misinterpretation of this behavior, yet it is broad enough to apply to employees in any department. And it’s not philosophical. This behavior can be practiced effectively companywide.

By articulating, coaching, and reinforcing optimal behaviors, leaders can transform their company’s culture. Ultimately, their employees will become a brigade of brand ambassadors. Customers may never see the list of behaviors, but they will know when they are performed consistently.

A dynamic culture can turn customers into loyal fans whose endorsements and word-of-mouth praise are priceless brand ads.

As Idris Mootee says, “Your brand is your culture and your culture is your brand. An appropriate and well-aligned culture can provide a brand with a sustainable competitive advantage.”

Prioritize Your Culture

A company’s brand reflects the promise it is making to customers. Culture brings the brand to life and delivers on that promise. 

The implantation of a culture plan can’t be an afterthought in the pursuit of developing and sustaining a strong image in the market. Whether it’s created internally, achieved with the help of a consultant, or activated with a program like CultureWise, companies should engage in a culture initiative to power their brand.

Inspired by the method Friedman outlines in Culture by Design, CultureWise is a unique system that helps develop, improve, and operationalize company culture. A dynamic suite of resources and tools helps business leaders choose and teach the crucial behaviors that drive success—and can distinguish their company’s brand. Explore how it works by trying out the CultureWise app demo.

Learn more about developing corporate culture with a free two-chapter download of Culture by Design and subscribe to the weekly Culture Matters blog for the latest culture and business news.

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