Building a Strong Brand Culture

One of the most powerful ways to get clarity and engagement about your brand is co-creating it with your team.

At ZeBrand, we believe your vision deserves to be seen and realized. In this content series, we help you use brand as a tool to power up your business and jumpstart your growth.

Welcome to Part 4 of A to Ze of Brand Building -- 'Building a Strong Brand Culture'. (Read Part 3 here if you missed it!)

Strong Brand Culture: Employees = Your Brand Promoters

When people think of brands, the first thing that comes to mind are beautiful products, seamless services, and compelling advertising. But what people don’t often give thought to is that behind it all are the people who make it happen, motivated and inspired to make a difference.

Without a company’s employees, a brand is left without spirit or direction. And in a world where products are getting more and more similar and abundant, it’s often the employees’ ideas and efforts that differentiate a strong brand from a weaker one. For example, it was an employee who found the perfect application for a new adhesive by 3M: for keeping bookmarks in place. Today, they’re known as Post-its. And it was also 3M’s leaders who decided to give their colleague’s idea a shot, even when they had their risks and doubts.

These kinds of ideas are often thought of as simple bursts of inspiration. But they can be cultivated by creating the right company culture and work environment that encourages it. When it comes to startups, where there’s an imperative to survive and thrive, it could be a challenge to keep employees constantly energized and motivated without burning them out. And even if they are, it’s another set of challenges to keep highly skilled and creative people feel that they’re heard and appreciated.

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Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of all innovation. But it only works if there’s unity and alignment around what you’re trying to achieve—and brand culture plays an important role in providing this glue. So how can you use brand culture to ensure that your people continue to live and promote your brand from the inside out? Here are a few tips:

Co-Create Your Brand With Your People

Workout class led on a stage

Photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash

You might have a solid logo, name, and purpose statement, but sometimes it’s unclear to employees what it all means or how to act on it. Or, you could find yourself in the opposite situation: people understand the culture but can’t define it in words, meaning that as the company grows, you lose this implicit knowledge.

One of the most powerful ways to get clarity and engagement about your brand is co-creating it with your team. Run a three-hour workshop, and encourage people to prepare for it beforehand with these five questions:

1 . Ten years into the future, how will our customers’ lives be different because of us?

2 . How are we different to anyone in the market and who comes close?

3 . What brands do we look up to?

4 . How do our products and services fit in the context of our customers’ daily lives?

5 . How is that context changing?

Ask people to come to the workshop with images, examples, words, and articles that answer these five questions. Put everything on the wall and encourage people to explain their contributions. Having tangible examples in front of them encourages people to detach from individual opinions and expectations and instead focus on ideas in an impartial way.

Together, make sense of it all. Group the information into themes, find the common thread that brings it all together, and agree on the problem you’re trying to solve and how your brand solves it. Not only will you have people excited in thinking about the brand again, you’ll have them brimming with ideas as to where to take it into the future.

Establish Your Values Together

An important part of building your brand is establishing your values together. The everyday of running a business is full of critical decisions. Sometimes they’re trade-offs between product features, ethical dilemmas about customer privacy, or weighing the effect of environmental impact. These decisions aren’t easy to make. Moreover, people in your organization may each have a different view on the same problem.

This is where your brand values become key. Values are statements of belief that are a source of pride and alignment within a team, but also practical pointers to guide the company when the going gets tough. Values like ‘Integrity’ and ‘Innovation’ are a good start, but go a step beyond and take a moment to truly understand what these words mean for your organization. Codify these understandings and get specific. Beyond just ‘Transparency’, make it clear that you believe that ‘Information is there to be shared for the good of all’. ‘Seamless’ sets a good foundation, but perhaps what you really mean is, ‘We strive our hardest to make our customers’ lives even one bit easier.’

Ask your teammates to individually answer these two questions: ‘What does success look like for us?’ and ‘How do we need to think, feel and do to achieve that ideal?’ From there, you can discuss and agree on what your priorities and values are.

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Unite the Team Around the Customer, Not Their Jobs

In high-performing teams, it’s not rare for people to get so caught up in their day-to-day roles that they forget how their work fits into the bigger picture of the company’s mission. And oftentimes, these individual goals aren’t completely compatible. For example, what one might believe is the ideal user interface might not work with another’s plans for the physical design of the product.

In these cases, unite the team around the customer. A useful way to empathize with the customer is by constructing a persona. Who is your ideal customer and what problems are you trying to solve for them? Don’t focus too much on demographics like age or life stage, but rather focus on emotional needs and the things that may inspire or disappoint them. Then, map the customer’s journey around the use of your product. When might they feel the need for it? In what situations do you want them to use it? What aspects of the experience are near invisible versus bring a new source of delight to their day? Are there unnecessary frustrations that can be removed?

When you paint a vivid picture of your customer, your employees are more likely to see customer satisfaction as the ultimate compass towards brand success, rather than their own individual interests.

Bring the Brand to Life from Within the Company, Not Just Outside It

As human beings, we are primed to feel and think in certain ways by our environment. That’s the essence of creating great retail experiences that blend the right music, furniture, and scents. There’s no reason why your work environment shouldn’t be the same. In fact, it’s an integral part of keeping your brand on everyone’s minds and in everyone’s hearts.

Could you apply branded wall graphics or murals to keep your brand visible throughout the work day? Could you have your brand’s manifesto displayed near the entrance? How about having your values up on the walls? Or some posters with customer testimonials? Think further than the office environment too—how about branded swag for them to wear to feel a sense of pride and belonging? Software companies from Dropbox to Google excel at creating this sense of unity through apparel, also because it saves time deciding what to wear to work!

Brands aren’t just about creating unforgettable experiences for your customers. Just as all great brands focus on people, they’re delivered by employees too. Spend as much time inspiring your teammates with your brand as much as you do engaging your customers, because visions don’t become reality by themselves!

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A to Ze of Brand Building is a 10-part series about all things branding, with an eye to using branding to engage your customers and grow your business. Continue on to Part 5: Brand Positioning for Customer Connection.