By Katie Wignall
When there’s discord internally, it’s often difficult to connect with consumers
Customers can tell when your brand isn’t internally aligned.
If you walked into your office tomorrow and found that all the logos had been removed, would you still be able to see your brand there? What if all your products were taken off the shelves. Would customers still know the store was yours? Is your brand a tangible presence in your company’s day-to-day culture? Or is it just an image you present to the outside world?
For too long, companies have been taught to think of brand and culture as separate entities: one the external view of the company, the other internal. But when your employees and your brand values aren’t in harmony, your brand will always struggle to connect with your customers. In an age of radical transparency, when brands are called upon to show their true colors, companies can no longer afford to spend millions on their brand image and let the culture take care of itself. Each is half of a larger ecosystem, all of which requires alignment and upkeep.
Think this doesn’t matter for your company? Look at the news stories where companies’ employees are calling out their own employers for violating their brand values. In these now common moments, you can’t be caught flat-footed trying to locate your values. They need to be intrinsic and consistent with the image you present and the experience you deliver.
Starbucks is doing it right. One of their core values is “creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.” When a manager of a Starbucks store in Philadelphia called the police on two black men who were waiting inside for a meeting, it became a matter of racial profiling and a violation of Starbucks’ own values. In swift response, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson came to Philadelphia to apologize to the men. He also announced that more than 8,000 Starbucks stores in the U.S. would close on the afternoon of May 29 so nearly 175,000 employees could get training in unconscious bias, along with announcing new store policies to reinforce that value.
It all comes down to brand values. When companies build a culture rooted in the same values, they equip employees, right up to the CEO, to deliver what the brand is promising to its customers, whether it’s through a service, an experience or a product offering. But many companies still don’t grasp the vital role that their culture has to play in aligning its employees, business and brand. They put a ping-pong table in the office and call it a day. They pat themselves on the back for Taco Tuesdays or on-site gyms. But these are employee perks, not a company culture.
You’re probably asking, “But where do I start?” Here are six things to consider.
Take stock in what matters to employees and customers
Are your values clear? Does your company have a purpose that communicates why your company is in business beyond making money? Survey your employees to test whether they think your company is committed to its values in the way it makes decisions internally and externally. Ask them if the company’s purpose (if there is one) communicates why their work is meaningful and adds value to your customers. Does it make them want to get out of bed and go to work each morning?
Is your company’s leadership truly aligned?
Many companies’ leaders delegate the cultural foundation setting to HR or others. Enroll leadership in crafting the values and pressure testing them against real-world situations to ensure that the company can defend their decisions through using their values when challenged. Leaders must also model the values daily and continually espouse the company’s purpose.
Communicate the cultural vision
This must be done early and often, and not just during employee onboarding. Employees must not only understand the brand values and purpose of the company, but also be inspired to embody them and take action. They need to see their role within the culture and how its supports the brand’s purpose.
Engage employees around brand values
Behavior doesn’t just change through internal communications. You have to engage with your employees regularly. When your company demonstrates its values in action—whether large or small—take the opportunity to share these stories to your employees. This shows that they are real and reinforces that they matter.
Bake brand values into your company’s daily efforts
Make it real for your employees by rewarding them based on embodying the desired brand behaviors. Create easy-to-perform rituals for your employees that reinforce your culture’s beliefs. Be intentional when designing your workplace to foster cultural awareness, such as specific spaces designed to promote certain ways of working or providing clear messaging.
Measure and recognize progress
At the end of the day, your company has to be intentional and disciplined to ensure that the brand values are being lived and not just words on a wall. To do this, your company has to measure and recognize progress. This will enable you to make real-time changes in order to deliver on your brand’s promise.
A strong brand isn’t measured by its brand image. A strong brand expresses itself through your company’s culture and engaged employees who deliver on the brand’s promise to your customers. When the two are in alignment, customers can feel it and will recognize you as part of their organization. That’s when your company culture starts working for your brand.
Katie Wignall is VP of Employee and Customer Experience at Liquid Agency.