Five steps to a world class Brand Culture

Doug Hewett, Nov 13,2018

The best brands in the world all have one thing in common – they live and breathe their purpose and brand promise, inside and out. This is their ‘brand culture’. Much more than just a great company culture, a true brand culture connects your employee experience with your customer experience, and ensures that it’s all pointing towards your purpose as a north star – to accelerate growth, or drive change.

We’ve been lucky enough to define and shape brand cultures for the likes of Virgin, Selfridges, Wagamama, Allen & Overy, AstraZeneca, Citi, Stella McCartney, Farfetch and Alexander McQueen. Each one is different, each one is unique, but they all share the same five steps to get there.

Step 1. Sharpen up your Purpose

In the words of Simon Sinek, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Researchers found that 58% of companies with a clearly articulated and understood purpose experienced growth of +10%. Millennials continue to accelerate change too – these purpose-savvy, belief buyers don’t just expect organisations to stand for something, they want them to practice what they preach.

Every great brand culture begins here – sharpening your purpose into something authentic, believable and measurable. You need to think about the change you want to see in the world and the change that you can bring about, but it’s about striking the right balance between aspiration and reality – something you can truly deliver against. For a purpose to truly resonate it needs to be your north star.

Step 2. Define your Target Culture and Mindset

Next up, define the kind of behaviours that will deliver on your purpose – the mindset that guides you every day. Crucial to this is really understanding your current ‘as is’ culture. Immersive, real and informal qualitative research can help you unlock key insights – from understanding whether your values are lived or outdated, to diagnosing the key building blocks of your culture and what makes you so special. It’s a tribal study, and once you have a picture of today, you can design a target culture for tomorrow. Only then can you really understand the distance you have to travel.

Step 3. Craft your People Promise

Some call it an EVP (Employee Value Proposition) but we call it a People Promise. This is the next step – taking your target culture and using it to shape your talent story. You’ll need to prioritise your talent segments – really pinpoint where you’ll make the biggest impact in terms of your target culture. For example, if you need brave thinkers to succeed, then your People Promise needs to repel anyone that can’t operate in that environment. The stronger your flavour, the clearer your promise will be. Look for what really differentiates you, and be honest about the way it really is – that’s what makes you unique.

Step 4. Embed across your Employee Experience

To truly activate and embed all of this you’ll need to do some ‘rewiring’– changing the experiences, policies and processes to ensure that things happen in the real world, not just on PowerPoint slides. Map out your current employee experience, from application and interview, onboarding, leaving and everything in-between. Highlight the five key moments that will have the biggest impact (if you want to get really serious you can do this by each talent segment) – these are the ones that will make or break your brand. Then align your performance management, learning and development, and more. Step by step, re-wire each aspect in-line with your people promise and target culture. Map out a change programme and really commit.

Step 5. Connect it to your Customer Experience

Lastly, but where many fail to make it count, connect your employee experience with your customer experience. Now (slight disclaimer here) some instances call for starting by defining your customer experience, but that’s a whole other article! In most scenarios you’re looking to take the customer proposition and service approach that you have, and to ensure that your target culture and people promise deliver on it. It’s not just for retail and customer-facing brands either, this applies just as much to a B2B organisation where values and behaviours can radically impact product innovation or client outcomes.

To finish off, a few learnings that might help you along the way:
1) Map out all your stakeholders from the start and engage them at the right times, it will make it a lot easier to gain momentum and activate change later down the line.
2) Build a clear business case around delivering results, with a measurement dashboard and key milestones, because that keeps you focused.
3) See it as a bigger platform to connect and upskill your Brand team in culture, and your People team in brand – the success of your brand culture rests on bringing those two worlds together as one. That’s when you know you’re really world class.

This article first appeared in HR Grapevine, November issue.