Thinking 'right' is not about 'correctly' or 'incorrectly', but more about 'inwardly' or 'outwardly'.

Your Culture is your Brand!

The method of building a brand today is very different from what it was 10 years ago. Gone are the days when a few people got together in a room, decided what the brand positioning was going to be, and then spent a lot of money buying advertising telling people what their brand was. Their spending capabilities decided their success in building their brand. The market space was not crowded with products and so an adequate level of noise was enough to promote a product or a service. Organizations were not transparent in their activities and the lack of media tools like the internet allowed them to pursue multiple images in existence.

It’s a very different world today. With the internet connecting everyone together, companies are becoming more and more transparent whether they like it or not.

An unhappy customer or a disgruntled employee can blog about bad experience with a product or a service and the story can spread like wildfire by email or through Facebook or twitter. Organizations have to pull up their socks – not only on the quality of their deliverable, but also in the way they deal with their employees and their value chains.

The good news is that the reverse is true as well. A great experience with a company can be read by billions of people almost instantaneously as well and can give a boost to the company’s fortune that no previous efforts could possibly do.

The company’s brand is influenced by many touch points in the market. But it is difficult to anticipate every possible touch point that could influence the perception of the company’s brand. It could be an ex-employee or your customer’s neighbor or even your own retail partner. Their comments on their experience with your company could be a positive influence, or a negative influence. Every employee can affect your company’s brand, not just the front line employees that are paid to talk to your customers.

Brands today are not only about your products or services, but also about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience. Advertising can only get your brand so far. If you ask most people what the “brand” of the airline industry as a whole is (not any specific airline, but the entire industry), they will usually say something about bad customer service or bad customer experience. If you ask people what their perception of the Indian banking services is today, chances are the responses you get won’t be in line with what the bankers project in their advertising.

So what’s the best way to build a brand for the long term? Simple answer: Culture.  Your Culture is your brand!

Cutting-edge organizations today believe that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen more easily on its own.

Company’s culture and it’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up.

So how does one build and maintain the culture that is necessary to create a brand?

The cultural nurture starts right from the hiring process. The hiring manager and his/her team has to do separate set of interviews, looking purely for culture fitwill besides the standard set of interviews looking for relevant experience, technical ability etc. A lot of very talented people could make an immediate impact on the top or bottom line may have to be declined if they weren’t culture fits. Firms should sacrifice their short term benefits in order to protect their culture (and therefore their brand) for the long term. Remember: Your culture is your brand!

The next step to building the culture is training. Everyone that is hired has to undergo the same training that the customer facing team go through, regardless of department, function or the title. This training should cover company history, the importance of customer service, the long term vision of the company, the philosophy about company culture — and then actual mock customer interaction. This will imbibe a sense of togetherness within the organization and make each one of them aware that they are part of customer service or sales. The organization will appear uniform in it’s sensitivity to customers across ranks and files.

During the training, the organization should be willing to further assess the suitability of the appointees and take extra efforts if required to bring them to terms with the expectation of the company. They should believe in the long term vision and should want to be a part of the culture.

One of the great advantages of focusing on culture is when customers or partners visit the offices. Having a uniform cultural bonding encourages the company to be transparent with their visitors by allowing them to wander around and talk to whoever they want.

Your company’s culture can be formally defined in terms of some core values:

– Embrace and drive change
– Deliver excellence through service
– Create fun and some weirdness
– Be creative, and open-minded and innovative.
– Encourage growth and learning
– Build open and honest communication
– Build a vibrant and positive team and family spirit
– Do more with less in a simplified way
– Be passionate, determined and humble

Many companies have core values, which you’d read in a press release, but the companies don’t really commit to them.

It is really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build. You can let all of your employees be your brand ambassadors, not just the marketing or PR department. And they can be brand ambassadors both inside and outside the office.

In my recent months, I have been offering advice on ‘Branding’ to a few FMCG and IT firms and though that this article was necessary even if it touches the basics of ‘branding’.

I look forward towards writing more on product quadrants, positioning, pricing and communications as we look at branding more deeply in time to come…


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Milind Wagh

Milind has been providing P&L leadership to MNCs, mid-stage businesses and new ventures over the last two decades and is credited for nurturing great teams for driving new self-funded initiatives from portfolio of ideas. 'Think Inward' attempts to explore matters of the mind that spur individuals and teams in addressing challenging situations and markets. It advocates the need to 'Think Inward' within ourselves. An Organization is all about human behaviour at work. The people; their mind-sets; their motivation and their emotions determine the nature of their 'emotional hooks' in that organization. 'Think Inward' attempts to decode these hooks and understand human behaviour at work.

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