We often think of the brand as a communication asset, outward-facing and not really related to what happens inside the company. But a misaligned company culture can frustrate all of our efforts.
Few relate company culture to branding. While the importance of a strong and consistent brand is – or at least should be – clear to companies of all sizes, what’s often misunderstood is what makes a brand. Some associate it with the bare visual identity, while others – better informed – remember that a brand is defined by all the moments of interaction with the audience.
What is often overlooked, though, is the company’s internal culture. That’s because we think that – being the brand an “external” tool – what happens inside the company is not so important after all.
But yet, if a company’s internal culture is not aligned with the brand values (and vice versa) it will be difficult to build a truly solid brand.
Company culture matters because the company’s people are a touchpoint
The first question is: how do you come into contact with a brand? Through communication, of course: this is – almost – completely under our control.
Then, through the usage of products and services: this is partly out of our control since it depends on many external factors (if my friends make fun of me for a t-shirt, even if it’s of great quality, my feelings for the brand will suffer).
Finally, there is another important moment: the interaction with people from the company. Traditionally, this could have happened only with front office staff: shop assistants, desk clerks, customer care, who all had – and have – a script prepared for them, that forcibly aligned them to the brand values.
Today, though, the chances to interact with a company’s employees are far greater, and many of these cannot be defined by script: just think about LinkedIn or Twitter, where people communicate continuously but at the same time convey an image of the company they work for. Even more trivially, direct interactions with a friend or relative working for a company are “out of control” branding moments.
These circumstances can’t be fixed with micromanagement, they have to be the result of a good company culture.
To build a company culture, a script is not enough
When company culture is strong and shared, everyone working there will reflect it even without realizing it: be it a shop assistant or an employee posting on LinkedIn.
This kind of culture, though, eludes the top-down approach. It’s quite useless to write scripts that will be played unwillingly or to publish a manifesto that will just fade on the wall.
You don’t build company culture like you build a home, you help it grow like you would with a tree. Rather than defining “rules”, it is important to set up the conditions for the brand values to take root and develop. And this happens by setting the right expectations.
It’s hard to create an “irreverent” brand if employees know they can’t really question their managers. Or a “transparent” brand, if the information doesn’t circulate within the company.
Onboarding guides are of little use if facts prove them wrong. It’s much more important to involve the company’s management in order to create the right climate.
For example, for the rebranding of the innovation company nesea, Sublimio involved all people within the organization.
Company culture in products and services
Beyond influencing what people say about the company and the way they interact with clients and stakeholders, company culture seeps out through products and services.
Shared values influence the way they are conceived, designed, and developed.
When we are holding the product from a brand, this silently showcases its values: perfectionism, energy, and tradition are examples of values that can translate into features of design or making.
Assuming to control all this in a centralized way is unrealistic or at least very costly. On the other hand, a good company culture makes everything move in the same direction.
How do you work on company culture?
Developing the right company culture is only possible with wide participation. If branding is usually the prerogative of Comms, company culture requires involving both the company management and HR.
A branding agency or studio can help the company on this path, by marking the critical points and suggesting some interventions, but it will not be able to cover the last mile: making the values tangible depends on the company itself.
It’s the hardest task, but it’s also the one that will reward you with the greatest satisfaction.
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