Brand as Culture

Mark Minelli

Achieving your objectives through a strong brand culture

Mark Minelli, President and CEO, Minelli, Inc.
Mark Ruckman, Research & Strategy, Minelli, Inc.

Since the birth of modern advertising and marketing in the middle of the last century, brand has been the critical asset for companies to create distinction and market recognition. And in the age of social media, with customers becoming more empowered and vocal, brand creates opportunities to engage, listen, learn, and adapt to a rapidly changing consumer landscape.

In response to these rapid changes in communications and our increasingly interconnected world, brand is also becoming a key driver in shaping an organization’s culture. Organizational culture generally refers to the shared set of values, beliefs, symbols, and behaviors that reflect the essence of the organization or company. Based on our work with clients over the past 20+ years, we have discovered that building a strong organizational culture requires uniting leaders, staff, and their communities of interest under a common purpose and providing tools to help them achieve it – in essence creating a unified brand identity.

Never has culture been a more mission-critical issue for business. Recent employee research conducted by Towers Watson identifies several differentiators that set financially successful companies apart from their competitors. The surveys were designed to uncover the cultural elements that influence employee behavior and help organizations achieve a specific set of business and financial results. These cultural elements were measured within a set of strategic priorities including efficiency, quality, innovation, customer service, and company image.

The cultural profile[1] that high-performing organizations manage to achieve and sustain as it relates to company image (brand) include:

• Embedded understanding and acceptance of brand promise
• Strong belief in product or service provided
• Deep pride in shared company values
• Integrity guiding all business practices
• Work environment explicitly reflects external brand
• Leadership that inspires confidence and respect

Similarly, two Harvard Business School professors, James Heskett and John Kotter, examined the impact that organizational culture has on financial performance. They were able to quantify the difference in financial results over an eleven-year period between twelve companies that did and twenty companies that did not have a strong corporate culture:[2]

Average Increase for Twelve Firms with Performance-Enhancing Cultures Average Increase for Twenty Firms without Performance-Enhancing Cultures
Revenue Growth 682% 166%
Employment Growth 282% 36%
Stock Price Growth 901% 74%
Net Income Growth 756% 1%

So clearly, it’s no secret that aligning your culture with your strategic objectives can help your organization achieve greater business success. But for many of organizations this is easier said than done. Often leadership struggles to even reach clear agreement on strategic priorities let alone align them with the necessary cultural traits to support the strategy. And strategic alignment is just one element in the toolkit for building a strong culture.

Your values and how they are modeled throughout the organization will be echoed and amplified in the marketplace whether you want them to or not. By tapping into emotions, beliefs, and ideas in ways that are relevant, inspirational, and actionable, brand works to shape perception and build engagement in the marketplace. Brand can be extremely effective in unleashing the potential of an organization’s most precious asset – the loyalty, passion, and creativity of the people who work for and with you.

We’ve identified the following five key drivers for engaging brand to strengthen culture:

  1. Tap the power of emotion. Unleash the power of emotional storytelling to engage people and shape behavior. Brand unites our hopes and aspirations behind our shared humanity.

  2. Marry vision and strategy. Tie organizational ambitions to a set of values that are an integral part of business strategy. Brand embodies values and provides the means to express them in real world applications.

  3. Build bridges. Transcend departmental silos and other barriers to create common ground and common goals. Brand gives voice to universal ideas and motivations through highly iconic language.

  4. Unlock hidden potential. Foster innovation across your entire organization by enabling freedom within a framework. Brand provides an open structure for ideas to be captured, filtered, and acted upon.

  5. Lead by design. Employ design thinking to develop simple, elegant solutions to difficult problems. Brand communicates complex ideas using the ultimate minimalistic visual and verbal vocabulary.

[1] Bringing Strategy to Life: Aligning your corporate culture with business goals. Towers Watson, 2010.

<p?[2] James Heskett and John Kotter, Corporate Culture and Performance. Free Press, 2011.