To brand or not to brand

To brand or not to brand

Recently we have been working with a number of businesses helping to drive their cultural change. 

One of the key things we’ve been supporting leadership teams in, is the launch of new performance charters, that set out their commitment to creating high performance cultures.  We love that. Our role has often been to help leaders connect and engage their teams into the change. 

Often, when we review surveys and internal feedback at businesses we work with, we spot red flags that indicate a disconnect between leaders and the rest of the business. Company Directors can often be seen as effective in their roles, but unapproachable to others outside of their remit and not connected together as a cohesive leadership team.

Getting personal

A huge part of our initial focus with a business, is often around getting director teams to do a thorough round of face to face meetings, to give them a chance to connect and create an open forum for discussion. For us, this personal element will always form the backbone to any internal comms plan – there is nothing more powerful for a team, than to see the whites of their leaders eyes and to be able to ask questions in a safe and positive environment.

To create this, leaders have to be able to show vulnerability and openness – admit that things aren’t perfect, have a loose agenda that enables people to discuss any subject they feel relevant and make it a conversation, instead of a time to talk AT people.

Often, when this personal open approach is practiced, team feedback is positive, and despite some natural resistance from leaders “we have enough to do without having to do all this leadership stuff as well” (that’s a whole blog in itself!) it often serves its purpose; to begin the journey of connecting leaders, teams and driving high performance cultures.

The next steps – comms plans

When we’re working with businesses, driving cultural change, the next stages of our brief often include building out the ongoing internal comms plans.

In order to be able to start building a brief, we naturally ask to see the brand proposition at a business, to make sure we are supporting not only the messaging around performance, but also the overall strategy of the business. 

“We don’t have one yet” can often be a reply.

We also search out a businesses’ values, to understand how they’re being used internally and externally.

We often hear “We’re working on them too, but they’ll come after the brand work”, or we receive a long list of values all overly verbose and none of them memorable. Which means no one is really living them at the brand. 


Well…when we get to this stage, you could knock us down with a feather!

For most marketers, the brand is the start point. It’s the lens that informs every decision, the barometer to sense whether strategy is on point. And to have no values or usable values either?

It’s probably a good thing we still get so shocked!

How can the team perform? How can they challenge each other on behaviours and ways of working without knowing the very ground upon which they walk? Surely a business cannot exist without a brand??!!!

Well, interestingly, they clearly can! We’ve seen many brands thriving financially, where the directors are achieving their goals within their respective areas and generally everyone feels like they are a success.

If we think about it, branding from a cultural point of view, is a relatively new concept. Externally the potential of creating strong brands were developed in the Mad Men days of the booming 50s. Internal branding and driving culture through brand is a relatively new concept, developed in the latter part of the last century. 

A missing brand

So what are the implications of a business that lacks a clear brand?

Well, the obvious cultural implications are the divisions. It’s no surprise to hear that the internal feedback speaks of a siloed mentality where leaders aren’t seen to work as a unit, because of course they drive against their own targets and ambitions and don’t have that unifying lens of a brand to work against.

Businesses can display a number of other classic symptoms when lacking brand positioning; an inability to agree exactly what the business core offering is, causing a disparity in where people view the current and future priorities of the business, the underlying sense of us and them and a general lack of energy and motivation amongst the team (thus the need to try and drive high performance). 

So yes, the answer is that you can operate and function without a clear brand but life is just so much harder!

A brand creates a single unifying point of focus and motivation for a team, a decision making lens for everything from recruitment to supply chain. It unites leaders with a unified ambition and purpose, driving the right kind of behaviours and culture, as well as driving marketing messages around points of differentiation in a market.

So if you’re reading this and thinking “blimey… that’s why life is so hard here”.. Maybe it’s time to get your brand clearly defined and then powerfully brought to life – both internally and externally.