When I had begun working on my first start up in 2012, I dreamed of building a super brand from scratch. I was quite young and inexperienced. I was caught up with the business model, the products and the ideas of how to develop the brand, sales and scaling up. I believed these were the core ingredients that would serve as the foundation to a great future brand.
But 7 years and a few failures later, I believe that building great brands is not just about that brilliant idea and superb marketing execution. It is about having a vision and building character towards it; it is about building the DNA structure of the entire organization that is going to support the brand like the skeletal system. I am talking about creating the organization culture.
If you study many of the great brands, and their organization culture, you will find a striking alignment of values to the characteristics of the brand. I have heard of numerous anecdotes of how Coca Cola drives its employees to behave in line with its brand image and follow values which strengthen the brand’s positioning of being refreshing to the body, mind and spirit. General Electric and Amazon are similar examples.
Even in my early experience with Indomie, which is the number 1 noodles brand in Nigeria, I was taught that Indomie is a loving and caring brand, and this did not stop with TV commercials, but extended to the way we treated everyone around us and were treated. The guiding principles that were followed taught us to genuinely care about all. The company values taught us to be the best, to strive for the best quality in everything. It made sense because the Indomie brand image was that of the best quality noodles in Nigeria. We never compromise on that. That was our motto and it reflected on each of the employee’s attitude while dealing with outsiders or internally.
Did it really matter that such emphasis was laid on the organization culture and does it really impact the brand building so much?
It strengthens the foundation for the vision of the company and the brand
Why do you want to do whatever you want to do? Is there a greater cause, or a particular need that you want to fulfill through your product and brand? What do you want your brand to be perceived as? What is the personality that you want to be known as?
Great companies start with a great vision. Without a vision, there is no direction. And in order to reach that vision, one must follow a certain strategic path. The organization culture nurtures the employees to behave in a certain way that facilitates organization’s progress in the direction of that particular strategic path.
For example, a customer facing service provider would probably have a vision related to being the best in some form of customer experience. Lets say, its a brand of hotels, whose vision says, “We will strive to be the best home experience away from home”. How do you think the employees should behave?
Lets say, the employees should be informal, warm and very caring and there would be features that would make every resident feel just as comfortable as he or she would be at home. If I were starting this brand, I would ensure that first, we fix the set of values that we must follow in order to make every employee understand what we stand for. On top of that all employees must learn to treat each other like family members, irrespective of their diverse backgrounds. Each member must understand what it is like to be a part of the family and how to welcome new members to the family.
Such culture building strengthens the vision for the brand. It will help employees extend the organization’s values to how they treat their guests and provide the same experience that they have every day at work.
It motivates teams with a sense of purpose
In Simon Sinek’s lesson about the Golden Circle, he teaches that great leaders have had great many followers because they believed in something and the followers believed in their purpose. It works the same way for brands.
Brands must have a reason for existence, a purpose. It has to adhere to some forms of ideals and values. When these values are incorporated to the organization culture, it gives the members a sense of belonging through association to the ideals that deserve admiration. They start believing in the “Why”.
A brand which values its quality and never compromises, like Indomie, would teach all its members to adhere to this characteristic and it is highly likely that the members would feel proud about it. They would go to great lengths to preserve this if the value is ingrained into the culture. Most human beings are motivated by this kind of a sense of purpose.
It creates Brand Ambassadors
Building a brand is not the job of only the marketing department. Building the brand is the responsibility of the entire organization.
If each member in the organization knows what the brand stands for then all your employees can be your brand ambassadors. For them to become that, it is required to create a strong foundation of values that reflect the brand values. This foundation needs to be created through the organization culture.
The values of the organisation should be in the DNA of every employee. So, when they go back home after work and meet other people outside, what they say about their work will weigh heavily on the impression that gets left behind about the brand.
Imagine, you have 5,000 employees in your company and each member is very clear about the brand values and they resonate with it. Now, imagine these 5,000 members go out daily, and talk to 10 people each, and in each conversation, whenever the brand or the company comes up, they speak proudly and very highly.
This results in 50,000 more people learning great information about your brand! And you don’t pay those employees to praise you. What you just did is to create a wonderful organization culture that you converted all your employees into brand ambassadors!
Culture is not about free food and coming to office in shorts
A good culture is not about putting up dart boards and bean bags and coffee machines and free food for employees. A good culture is where there is a sense of purpose and team cohesion, where people enjoy working together towards a common goal, that of establishing brands and becoming die-hard fans and brand ambassadors.
Culture is the entire set of values which we want the organization to be known for. It is what drives us internally to create the image to the external world. That is why it is extremely important that the HR function in the company understands this and works closely with those brand values. In fact, in an HBR article I read a while ago, there was a mention of some firm in the US which had its Chief Marketing Officer as the head of HR. Cool firm!
In conclusion, these points are crucial for any entrepreneur or organization leader to think in these terms:
- Align your organization values to the brand
- Talk more about the brand and the values to everyone old and new in the organization
- Don’t just pay lip-service to the values: Leaders must live those values; Set examples!
- Create a great working environment that imbibes the values
So, if you are starting your new venture, keep that in mind. Get the basics right!
Happy brand building!