Five Tips for Branding Your Culture

A company’s brand and culture influence each other in powerful ways. It serves you well to understand the impact of culture on the branding process, as your culture shapes your brand, and your brand reflects your culture. So how do you leverage your internal culture for an external payoff?

Culture is the core of any business – it encapsulates what you stand for and believe in, the values you uphold, how you treat and nurture people, your style of doing business, and how you behave when no one’s looking. Your culture manifests itself everywhere, in everything, as does your brand. Leveraging these essential truths, and delivering them to consumers, shapes your brand in the minds of your customers. Think about when you deal with a company whose employees truly embody the values and purpose of the company – you can feel the difference. It translates to a better and more consistent service experience, which in turn builds trust, loyalty and business. Then think about a time where you were treated poorly as a customer and how much you want to tell the world about your bad experience. It is in the human interactions that customers experience with your company that determine your brand’s reputation. In those critical moments, your brand either strengthens or weakens itself. And that is why culture is so important.

How Do You Shape Your Culture?

Your company’s internal culture has a powerful influence on your brand. Whether you have knowingly defined and shaped your internal culture or not, it is influencing your brand right now. In the perfect brand and culture symbiosis, each would support the other to create a unified internal-external brand experience, where what you say, how you act and what you do all align. Success depends on how authentically your culture and brand mirror each other. Consumers are more likely to connect with your brand if they have a good understanding of what you are all about. If all you chalk it up to be is not reinforced by the experience you deliver, you fail. Easier said than done, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be.

Start with these 5 tips for branding your culture:

1. Define your brand.

Who are you? What do you stand for? What is your customer service philosophy? What are your core values? How do you treat customers? What is your reason for being? In a world with endless opportunities to cut corners and compromise values, it is important for employees to see themselves as part of the brand promise your company is marketing. Everyone needs to believe in and feel connected to the brand for the company to deliver on its promise. Everyone needs to have the same understanding of the ideals your brand embodies.Nick Sarillo is founder, CEO and “Primary Keeper” of the Purpose and Operational Values of Nick’s Pizza & Pub – the sixth busiest independent pizza company in per-store sales in the United States. Nick’s is dedicated to providing an unforgettable place for its customers to connect with their family and friends, to have fun and to feel at home. Nick’s is a model for how a great culture can transform an ordinary business into something extraordinary. This allows them to maintain extremely low team turnover, provide profit-sharing for every member of the team, and create a fun, open-work environment. When employees are authentic and passionate about their work, it shows. If your employees believe in your brand, they’ll take care of your customers. Get the culture right and building a great brand will fall into place.

2. Create a brand identity that echoes culture and values.

It’s important that the visual representation of your brand tells the story of who you are, what you do, and why you matter. Designers are responsible for your brand’s look and feel. Designing your brand identity, brand personality, brand images and brand elements should be executed in accordance to your strategy. When you understand your brand — its mission, its vision, its values, its reason for being — and bring it to life with design, your audience will see a more authentic reflection of your true self.

3. Hire employees who embody your brand.

Put the right people in place based on shared vision, purpose, values and beliefs, not just skill set. Your employees are the backbone of your company — the human manifestation of your brand. Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, NY is a pioneer in social enterprise working to make a positive impact in the world. The bakery trains and provides jobs for hard-to-employ individuals in the community to lift them out of poverty, regardless of education, work history or past social barriers, such as incarceration, homelessness or drug use. Greyston’s open door hiring practice is a roadmap to assist individuals and families in visualizing and realizing paths to self-sufficiency. Their spiritually rooted philosophy fuels community development and a commitment to human growth and potential. This mission permeates everything they do – it is what makes Greyston the force of socially conscious purpose, personal transformation and community economic renewal it is today. Here’s how it works: anyone that comes to the front door of the bakery is given the chance to work, no questions asked. When a job becomes available, they take the next person off the waiting list and give them a job. Once an individual starts at Greyston, they become a part of their apprenticeship program, and are provided with resources, personal development tools and training in professional skills to give them the greatest chance for success in their new job. Over the course of 30 successful years, Greyston’s programs and services have transformed the lives of thousands of residents in Yonkers.

4. Write a manifesto.

Most business have a mission and vision statement. The words are there — maybe posted on a wall or published on their website — but they don’t really commit to them. What’s worse is that they typically sound like something you’d read in a press release. Don’t do that. Instead facilitate a team-building exercise to develop a bold statement of beliefs, thoughts and principles for the company to embody and all the world to see. Unified in purpose and passion, it will give people reason to stand behind your brand—making it more compelling, coherent and rewarding for customers. You might even try involving your team in a Brand Workshop. Brand Workshops can help you achieve brand clarity in one day and unify your team. Call-Em-All is an automated group messaging service that allows you to automatically send voice or text messages to every phone number on your list. After 8 years in business, they wanted to take the brand from commodity to lovemark. They wanted a brand that better reflected the people and culture behind Call-Em-All. They wanted their customers to know that they’re real people who care passionately about the work they do. They knew they had something special, but had never sat down to define and document it. They needed help articulating the deeper purpose behind their brand, and bringing it to life. We worked with them to define who they are as a company, what makes them different from their competitors, and what message to convey to customers. The result was an amazing brand manifesto that they refer to for anything from guiding daily decisions to recruiting (and filtering) new employees.<

5. Tell a great story.

Brand stories provoke engagement and emotion. Stories are important because they are inherent to the human experience. It is through storytelling that we pass on our wisdom, beliefs and values, and explain the world around us, and our role and purpose in it. Audiences have always known this and asked for it—they’ve never asked for content. UK based Hiut Denim Company is a company that makes jeans. No bobble caps. No sweatshirts. No mugs. No perfumes. No distractions from the main thing. Jeans are the only thing. Cardigan is a small town in the UK with 4,000 people. 400 of them used to make jeans. They made 35,000 pairs a week for three decades. One day the factory closed, but all that skill and knowhow remained. The Hiut Denim Company was started to bring jean manufacturing back and to breathe new life into their town. “I know a big part of the jeans business is about how you tell your story. We will have to tell our story every bit as well as we make our jeans. The good thing is we have a great story to tell: A town that stopped making jeans after 30 years. Then one day started making them again.” Simple, compelling, and emotional. Don’t you want a pair?

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Ashleigh Hansberger

Ashleigh Hansberger is Co-founder & Director of Brand Strategy at Motto. Inc. 30 under 30 alum. Born and raised in Chicago. Shows up to do work that shakes the world. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.