First of all, what are brands, what is branding? What is culture, and then we should also ask, where is the meeting point of these words, is it possible for a culture to be branded? Just how do we achieve this? When do we know if the culture is well branded, how do we know when it is not? I personally fear that this edition will take us a number of months to conclude, but it’s going to be quite an interesting ride. Please, follow me!
First I’ll like to start with what I call “the tale of two cities”, this is my adaptation of a story I heard recently.
Once upon a time, a man from a city A goes to visit a friend from city B. On getting to city B, the man from City A finds out that his friend is really prosperous. He lived in a nice decent see facing apartment in a lush part of town. These were men who had been childhood friends. Out of curiosity, the man from city B asks his friend how he came about such wealth. The man smiled, and rather than answer the question, the other man removes his car keys and leads his friend to his flashy BMW X5, 4.4Litre engine, asks him to enter and takes him for a ride. After about 25 minutes of driving, they arrive at a sensational park; the friend parks the car, ahead of them is a state of the art bridge, the bridge was properly constructed and transversed a gigantic river. The man in City B, proudly points at the bridge, and says, “see that bridge?” he points to himself and says “I constructed that, 40% of the deal, was mine!” The friend gazes in thought and latches on with an inspired smile, ah, that is the answer to the question on how he came about such wealth.
5 years down the line, the man from city B, goes to city A to also greet his friend. He was also pleasantly surprised to discover that his friend had not only become affluent, but glaringly so. He lived in a proper mansion in the heart of “Government Reserved Areas”, he had attendants in the dozens, answering to his beck and call, and the front of his house was littered with branded cars. “My friend must have hit a jackpot”, he probably wondered. Well, in other to put his curiosity to an end, he decided to ask his friend how he also came about his wealth. The man in City A laughs hysterically in the fashion of “I thought you would never ask”. He repeats a similar ritual to that of his friend 5yrs ago. He ushers his friend to a Homer Jeep, gets in line with a convoy and they travel for another 45 mins. After a while they arrive at a deserted joint. The man from city A points into the savannah, and says, “see that bridge?”. The friend wonders, thinking it’s a joke, what bridge, I can’t see any bridge. Yes the man from city A answered, I constructed that, 100% of the deal is mine!
For those who know to interpret, those are two different cultures!
Lay man’s explanation of terminologies
Brands: Brands exist in the minds of customers; they have the power to begin, maintain or terminate a relationship with an organization. Successful brands thrive on the power of imagination. Great brands promise consumers things that they value.
Branding: This is the process of making a product a brand. Flavored water is a product, coke is a brand. Canvas is a product, Nike is a brand
Culture: This is the way of life of a people. Culture is not an excursion, it’s a journey
Brand Culture: This is a new concept that involves creating alignment between the culture of an organization and the brand it produces. It also involves making the company itself a brand that attracts great people brands.
Branded Culture: These are companies where the culture is as well known as their products and services. Where the HR managers are as good as Brand managers! They represent the kind of companies we all want to work for!
Because the power and truth of a brand is judged by how frequently it delivers its promise, it becomes more and more important for the organization to live the brand. Every employee becomes a brand manager by virtue of their behaviours.
It is also becoming increasingly clearer, that no matter how much a company spends on advertising and product design, the behavior of its employees can completely destroy the brand. Employee behavior which has colossal effect on the brand is a function of the culture (motivation, quality, attitude e.t.c) of the employees. Brands are defined by people, it is the people who determine how an organization is seen, and this influences the customer to start, maintain or terminate a relationship with the organization.
It is grossly important to get your brand culture right!
Let’s drive this point a little further in. First we all agree that the customer is king! One school of thought even says that the customer is Queen, that’s the respect of the king added to the caution and modesty in relating to a lady. If the customer is Queen, then the soul of business must be to deliver service, or get our product (branded) into the hand of our customers. How do we do this efficiently and effectively? Easy, by improving product quality, process efficiency, reducing overheads e.t.c. These are all strategies for achieving customer acquisition, retention and fulfillment.
While all this is good and sounds nice, the reality at the base of getting the product across, is – what interaction or experience will convince our customers to allow us service them? In between the divide of marketing and the delivery process is people. People are the fulcrum, it is where the customer makes contact and it’s where relationships are made. In fact Southwest airline ( an airline I will definitely talk about in details in subsequent editions) is quoted as saying “Customers come second – because you can always replace the people who buy your product, but you can’t always replace the great people who embody your culture and deliver what you do.” Now don’t quote me on this one just yet!
If the people know what is required of them and are fired up to achieve it, then you have your culture rightly branded! The unfortunate thing that happens in many cases is that the employees don’t know what the customer expects. The marketing communication that makes the promise to the customers and the culture and processes that bring it to live and deliver it are not aligned.
In many companies employees do not believe in their culture, it doesn’t give them anything to believe in. There is no cause or purpose, they merely come to work. It’s a sad fact that most of the people responsible for convincing the customer to buy the brand they work for have no idea themselves why they come to work.
Why does this happen?
This happens because – there is no compelling, singular, riveting idea driving their work. They are not on a mission. They are merely there to take up a seat, meet a job description or earn a salary. They are not emotionally involved; they are motivated by where they are on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
It also happens because many companies pay lip service to organization culture. These days the word company culture has become a really sexy term, people love to just say it. Every executive wants to tell you that they’re committed to living their brand from the inside, that they want to be the employer of choice, that their people really are their greatest asset and they’re not just saying that … yeah right!, but words are cheap. A company to saying it is committed to its people costs that company nothing. It looks nice, it sounds nice, it’s even reassuring to a point, but it’s one thing for a company to say it’s committed to its people, and quite another for it to commit and act in ways that the people themselves believe. Mark my words; one key symptom of a company with an unbranded culture is financial and emotional turmoil.
How do we create the right brand culture?
First let me be clear in saying that it is not about
Creating the right brand culture involves applying the concept of branding to the people. There are quite a number of ways to look at this.
Great brands represent a lot more than the product. Brands embody an idea. Imagine a Coke advert, it shows you successful people, people at different stages of life, flashy cars, good houses, the brand coke ignites imagination and subtly represents more than quenching your thirst, or lets look at the presently popular Maclean. It promises you to be successful, important and to restore you confidence! I have heard that so much, that these days when I brush I feel my confidence coming back (Maclean ought to pay for this) Great and exciting brands represent more than just the product. Let’s apply that to culture branding, making people’s work represent mere crunching numbers, selling products e.t.c. In order to do this, we must first of all be able to identify people’s generic needs. People love to have something to commit to; a cause that they believe will make a difference. They need to represent beyond the product. You cannot get the best from someone whose emotional deposit in what he does is nil. Let’s take some examples, a company like Walt Disney defines its mission as making people happy, Procter and Gamble defines its as improving lives everyday, Wal-mart defines its as to give ordinary people the chance to buy things as rich people, you can imagine how the employees of these company worked! The idea lights them up and helps justify the many hours they spend at work. They know that they are working to make a difference. Their culture is aligned with the brand they are selling. This is not all about a good by line that is just a mere charade. This is about developing an idea that matches with the deep emotional needs of people and drives the business strategy for the organization.
An organization with a cause is an organization with focus. A culture with purpose creates unity. It bonds the individuals within an organization behind a single idea/brand. It defines the role and expectations for every person within the culture. It keeps the company faithful to its customers by ensuring everyone understands what they are there to do. And it does all this against the backdrop of the company’s business strategy, its market positioning and the factors and mindsets that make the enterprise unique.
A cleaner at NASA was once asked. “What are you doing here?” “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
Question: what does your cleaner say?