Company Culture: Your Brand’s Strongest Competitive Advantage
Company culture may be the most vague aspect of brand management but carefully controlled and nurtured it can provide your brand with a sustainable competitive advantage that even your strongest competitors cannot replicate.
Company culture is a culmination of the behaviors, attitudes, relationships, core brand values and environment within a business. Simply put, your company culture can be viewed as “the way we do things around here”. The manners in which these components are managed make your culture what it is.
How Does This Support Brand Development?
Many of the strongest brands have a product offering that is similar to that of competitors in the market. What gives them their greatest competitive advantage however is that while competitors can replicate the product, apply similar marketing techniques, and headhunt their staff, they can never fully duplicate their company culture. A company culture is the one truly unique sustainably competitive advantage a brand can have.
A winning culture can be a real point of differentiation, but it must be managed, driven, and reinforced in order to truly see results.
What is the Culture Within Your Company?
Many companies aim to strategically shape the culture that exists within their organisation, but even companies who have never heard of company culture already have one in place.
The question is, is your company culture strengthening your brand or holding it back or, worse still, undermining it? A good place to start when developing and understanding your corporate culture is asking your staff and customers what they think of the company; the good, the bad and the ugly. What you need to take from that exercise is what elements of the existing company culture that you like and your customers like, and what needs to be eliminated.
What You Do, Not What You Say!
The core values you identify for your brand will shape the behaviour of your employees and provide the guidelines they need to best serve the brand. If providing the best customer service possible is a core value of the brand then employees know that they are expected to do their best to achieve this value through all customer interactions.
Remember, it is not enough for your brand to have strong core values that are clearly articulated to stakeholders if they are not acted upon. It is what you do, not what you say that counts. It must be a fully integrated and intuitive part of your brand’s signature way of doing things.
What Is It That Your Company Values?
In order to create a corporate brand culture that yields results you must first identify what is it you value as a company? How to you live and authentically demonstrate the importance of these brand values to your stakeholders?
If you want to delight your customers then what is the reward for your employees when they achieve this? Think of it this way. If your company culture values customer service and your core value is to delight customers, then what happens if two supermarket employees each make sales of equal monetary value but one offers to carry the customer’s bags to the car. Does that employee receive a reward for going out of their way to delight the customer? Or more to the point, is the other employee penalized for not doing so?
Reward your staff for embracing your company’s culture. Don’t just review employees based on measuring results, measure their behaviour and what they try to bring to the work environment. Encourage, support and acknowledge those that not only promote but act on your core brand values.
If you want to create a sustainable corporate brand culture than staff recruitment should aim to find employees who fit within the existing brand culture and whose values are closely aligned with the brand.
Zappos famously offer potential employees $3000 to leave the company during their initial training to make sure those who choose to stay do so because they believe in the brand and not just the financial benefits of the job.
The Role of The Leader
The most critical influencer on the development of a corporate culture that supports strong brand development is the leader. Leaders understand that their brand’s identity is shaped through touch points between their customers and their organisation.
Leaders cannot possibly anticipate every possible touch point that could influence perceptions of the company’s brand, and advertising can only get you so far, but they can set the example as to the attitude and behavioral cues for the corporate brand culture.
Strong leaders understand that in a sustainable winning company culture, the behaviours of employees are intrinsically linked to relationships, informed by attitudes, built on a foundation of core brand values and suitable to their industry environment. By managing these cultural components a leader can create a company culture that supports strong brand development internally.
Southwest Airlines embrace a company culture that nurtures staff first and customers second. This may seem counter intuitive but by giving employees the tools to make decisions, by building a culture where people feel respected and valued, Southwest Airlines understood that these values would also be reflected in interactions with customers. Their corporate culture has created an environment where employees want to deliver the best customer service in the business.
As Zappo’s CEO Tony Hseih states; “company culture and company brand are two sides of the same coin. Your culture is your brand.”
• Does your corporate culture nurture your brand and provide a competitive advantage?
• How do your core brand values support your corporate culture?
• Do you as a company leader understand your role in the development of your company’s brand culture?
• Do you need to engage in a Brand Discovery Programme™ to re-evaluate your company culture and brand values so you can reinvigorate your brand’s offering to make it stronger, more relevant and more profitable?
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