Culture… Meet Brand
February 09, 2016

Culture... Meet Brand


We often are called upon to describe the relationship between culture and brand. People wonder why we ask about values before we even start thinking about logo design, process improvement or marketing strategy.

First, let’s make sure that we’re all on the same page — that we all agree that the idea of being able to define and build a brand from the top down is no longer realistic or feasible.

Building a brand today is very different from building a brand 50 years ago. It used to be that a few people got together in a room, decided what the brand positioning was going to be, and then spent a lot of money buying advertising telling people what their brand was. And if you were able to spend enough money, then you were able to build your brand.”  – Tony Hsieh

Today, audiences are better connected than ever before. Consumers enjoy (and have become accustomed to) the ability to self-select — to tune out, turn off or click away from anything that is not deemed relevant. Not exactly the best news for brand marketers.

Add to this the pervasiveness and swiftness that the internet has enabled word-of-mouth consumer experiences to travel — from online reviews to social media rants to product issues and recalls — and it’s easy to see how consumers have a much more active voice when it comes to building (or harming) a modern brand.

So where does that leave organizations? In a world where consumers are in control, how do you build strong brands and loyal brand followers? We believe the answer lies in being able to create genuine and meaningful experiences for audiences.

You’ve probably heard that the unique, personal experiences of your audiences are what can make or break your brand’s reputation. But what drives those experiences? Hint: it’s not just your product or service. It starts with your organization’s beliefs, your core values, and the behaviors and actions you and your employees exhibit in all aspects of your work — your organizational culture.

Successful brands require a defined and shared organizational culture that is intentionally cultivated. A culture that is supported, fueled, and lived out by its employees in a way that those employees, in turn, create and deliver genuine audience experiences. Essentially, great brands stem from organizations who “walk their talk.”

Mapping the Relationship

Consider that your organization is like an iceberg. There are elements of your organization that audiences can readily see (brand) and others they cannot (culture). Those aspects that sit above the surface — experience, offerings, behaviors — are easy to recognize. The other aspects, the ones that sit below the surface — purpose, mission, vision, values — may be less visible, but no less important.

The Brand Culture Connection, Visualized

Let’s explore some definitions:

  • Experience – how audiences perceive you and interact with your brand
  • Offerings – the products and/or services you provide
  • Behaviors – the actions and language you employ
  • Values – the innate beliefs that drive your behavior
  • Mission – how you work to achieve your vision
  • Vision – what you ultimately seek to achieve
  • Purpose – the underlying reason why you do what you do

This might look like:

XYZ AIDS Nonprofit 
Purpose – to stop AIDS
Vision – a world without AIDS
Mission – to find a cure for AIDS
Values – empathy, courage, persistence
Behaviors – advocacy, investment in new treatments, public awareness building
Offerings – cutting-edge treatment programs, innovative trial programs, research
Experience – heroic, innovative, life-altering advancements in treatment

ABC Dog Products Co.
Purpose –to serve dogs
Vision – a world where all dogs are happy & healthy
Mission – to enhance the connection between owners and dogs
Values – empathy, commitment, fun, joy
Behaviors – giving dogs a voice (dog-POV language), research on dog health/behavior, providing education for dog owners, etc.
Offerings – dog-centric toys & treats, adoption groups,
Experience – fun, dog-obsessed products to make dog-owning delightful
How It All Connects
Now, think about how all of these aspects affect one another. To put it another way, if the base of your iceberg (vision/purpose) were to weaken, or a large chunk of the middle (values/behaviors) were to break apart, how might your brand be affected? Reversely, how might building a stronger base or more functional middle work to support and grow your brand?

Essentially, this is what we mean when we talk about the relationship between culture and brand.

Today, too many organizations continue to focus solely on the ‘tip’ of the iceberg without giving much attention to those aspects that fall beneath the surface — their culture.

We’ve seen what can happen when organizations begin to recognize and make this connection between culture and brand. When organizations start to focus on the “why” and “how” of their existence, and their culture, the effect it can have on their audiences’ experiences is pretty amazing, and frankly a heck of a lot more rewarding and fun.