Brand & Culture – who eats who for breakfast?

Recently I have been debating the subject of brand vs culture; ie which of these is the real driving force behind business growth? My learned and most fabulous friend/HR guru @lucyblack is convinced that culture eats brand for breakfast, but perhaps it’s a fait accomplis for a brand obsessive that I believe everything truly starts with brand.

No doubt, culture is key. Without a strong connected culture, your team will lack motivation and your business will probably fail but for me, I can’t imagine how any business can even begin deciding what their culture should look and feel like without a clear brand proposition to shape their thinking. 

The way that we define a brand is the unique way you respond to the needs of your customer.

So breaking that down, it firstly requires an understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve and then the definition of how you’re providing a solution to that problem in a way no-one else can claim to be doing. 

Once you’ve defined this golden nugget – mapped out this street that you want to own; it should become a lens for pretty much every decision you make in the business.

A fully fleshed out brand proposition will have a long term vision, a mission statement, purpose, values and positioning. This means you have the answer to every question the business needs to answer:

  • Who/how you recruit
  • How you behave
  • What products/services you offer
  • How you communicate
  • How you look and feel
  • How you want customers to feel with they connect with you
  • How you sell
  • Your price point
  • Your choice and treatment of suppliers
  • Your future growth strategy

I could go on. I honestly can’t think of anything that a brand doesn’t touch. 

Back in the days of Mad Men perhaps you could argue against this notion as you could get away with saying one thing and doing another with little risk of exposure, but today, with social media forcing transparency at every level, no brand can afford to simply say one thing and do another. 

My favourite analogy to use is the guy in finance whose job it might be to manage the cash flow. At first glance you might say that his job doesn’t get influenced by the brand but nothing could be further from the truth. If this person is responsible for payment terms with suppliers, the values in the brand should inform both the way they deal with suppliers and the ones they are choosing. No brand that (for example) that claims to be a champion of the people can do that by paying suppliers in 90 days or working with unethical suppliers.

The brand must inform how it feels to connect at every level and that includes any interaction with anyone in the company. This is particularly true for the customer experience as the brand will be reflective of your point of differentiation which should influence purchase decisions, so this needs to be amplified at every touch point.

The brand, therefore, is the thing that must define how your people behave, how it must feel to connect with them…  and that means defining your culture. 

So, Ms Black… as much as I am a massive fan of culture and a huge believer that the two must be fundamentally and intrinsically connected, my conclusion is 100% that brand does in fact eat culture for breakfast.