Creating a strong Brand Culture in times of change

Brook Calverley , Dec 12,2018

Last Tuesday evening we kicked off the party season with the third in our series of Brand Culture Sessions. Inspired by the classic chat show format, we gathered a few of our experts on a comfy sofa in The Library at Shoreditch House and, in front of a 60-strong audience, chatted around all things Brand Culture.

First up, our co-founder Doug kicked off the conversation with Wagamama’s Ed Austin (Head of Internal Communications) and Nicole Lippi (Talent Acquisition Manager). Coming from France and New Zealand respectively, Ed and Nic perfectly encompass the truly international team at Wagamama. We were fascinated to hear about how people are so passionate about the company and how the brand inspires such affection. It gets strong engagement survey results with many staff recommending friends and family to come and work for Wagamama and a very popular internal Facebook group. What we wanted to know was why….

As Ed explained, everyone’s got each other’s back and Wagamama genuinely feels like a family atmosphere. In fact, as Nic pointed out, there have even been Wagamama babies! It’s always been a company that encourages people to be themselves and celebrates their interests and skills outside work: opera singers, karate champions and former pop stars all work at Wagamama.

It’s not common in the restaurant industry to see front and back-of-house working this well as a united team. We explored how that’s aided by the open kitchens and the fact that everyone shares the tips.

On the practical side, with around 140 UK restaurants plus 60 franchises globally, creativity is a key part of Wagamama but this has to be underpinned with rigour and a smooth, slick operational process to how the kitchens are run.

Ed described how Wagamama embraces ‘Kaizen’ (the Japanese philosophy of ‘change for good’) as part of its culture and we learned that despite three successful decades on the high street it’s not complacent. Nic and her team are continually working hard on internal development ideas, secession and how to make  Wagamama a place people want to stay, and targeting potential female chefs, returners and the long-term unemployed. And initiatives such as ‘Wok Stars’ encourage food discovery and team-bonding. As Doug pointed out there’s a real belief in the fresh food and sustainability with a dedicated ‘Midori’ (Japanese for ‘green’) team.

Next up was Caroline Collins, senior HR business partner at Burberry, who segued into the conversation nicely by talking about food and especially regaling the audience with her job in a fish and chip shop!

Caroline then described Burberry’s commitment to creating new experiences for customers and internal teams that help the brand stay relevant and connected to people. Naturally this led to a discussion about Burberry’s exceptional heritage and the depth this adds to the stories it can tell.

A maxim that Caroline returns to is the 3 H’s:

Honour the past
Be honest about the present
Be hopeful about the future

Which is so pertinent to Burberry. But it’s not without challenges; keeping customers excited from the time they see a new collection on the catwalk to the moment of purchase isn’t always easy. Perhaps, Caroline mused, that’s because luxury fashion is no longer the fortress it once was, which makes Burberry’s desire to be a brand that feels inclusive and collaborative all the more relevant.

The group discussion turned to creating a strong brand culture in times of change; Burberry has recently gained a new creative director and Wagamama a new owner, The Restaurant Group, not to mention Brexit looming on the horizon. Nic emphasised the importance of transparency and communications and Ed reflected that change can be a positive, the essential thing is to reassure teams and make them feel included and looked after.

As Doug and Brook said on the night, we could have talked all evening to these brilliant people about Brand Culture…. But we wanted everyone in the room to have a chance to get to know each other and make a dent in our bar tab!

We’ll be back in 2019 with our Brand Culture evening and breakfast sessions, stay tuned for details.