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Brand culture is the New Black: How to create a climate that drives business.


With Covid-19 shining a spotlight on corporate culture like never before, leaders and business owners increasingly understand the need to work on their company culture. If you aren’t quite sure where to start, you are not alone. Brand culture is the New Black. I was recently featured in Gulf News about the topic.

In times of crisis, culture is the ‘North Star’ for an organisation: something you rely on to navigate through uncertainty. Throughout the Covid-19, pandemic, organisations with clear purpose and strong cultures demonstrated that they can stay connected and become stronger. But these traits don’t come down to great hires or good luck, they are the natural outcome of a strong and well-designed culture.

In Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends, 9 out of 10 executives cited culture as important, yet only 12% of companies believed they understood how to develop a performance-driving culture.

To thrive in the ‘Next Normal’, leaders need to acknowledge that in order to achieve positive results, they need to build from the inside out. Building the right culture and prioritizing employee experience are strategies that will not only get companies through this crisis, but allow them to thrive into the future.

Demystifying the problem

There is a saying that I like very much: “We cannot change what we don’t see”.

While leaders readily discuss strategy, business models and bottom line, culture remains an intangible topic, anchored in unconscious behaviours, mind-sets and patterns that aren’t so easily defined.

Every leader’s key challenge remains to populate their organization with the right people and then empower them to bring their full potential to work. According to the Global Human Capital Trends Report, retention and engagement have risen to No. 2 in the minds of leaders and there is a wealth of research that asserts that culture drives performance, productivity and engagement.

A Corporate Culture and Performance study by John Kotter and James Heskett found that companies that manage culture demonstrate revenue growth over a 10-year period that’s 516 percent higher than those that don’t. Another study found companies that manage their culture have 30 percent higher levels of innovation and 40 percent higher levels of retention.

Those percentages speak volumes but in the majority of businesses, culture remains an area addressed predominantly and insufficiently by HR initiatives, such as team building activities or communication training. Some companies allocate budgets to stylish recreation areas or office yoga, only to ultimately recognise that these do not impact on the sense of belonging or motivation of their employees. There is nothing wrong with providing great perks for your employees. But these alone will not build a culture that cultivates the specific behaviours that a company needs to succeed.

What is brand culture?

Brand culture is the inter-dependence of culture and the brand. Whether you have a consumer-facing product, a service, or a B2B business, your culture needs to be designed with the same focus as your strategy and products. Take for example the TechnoGym headquarters.

Fans of this global wellness brand won’t be surprised to learn that inside its exquisitely designed building, offices feature fitness balls instead of chairs, healthy food and snacks are subsidized and there is a state-of-the-art gym for employees, as well as a host of benefits and policies that consider employee lives in a holistic, integrated manner. No wonder it’s the fasted growing luxury wellness brand in the world.

However, when there is a mismatch between brand and culture, success can be jeopardized. Too often, leaders focus on building the business and miss the importance of what it is being built. You build a great brand by using your brand purpose, values and positioning to develop strategy and guide operations, so that your brand isn’t just what you say, it’s what you do.

The climate model

Brand positioning is your promise to the world. In this model, an ‘apple’ is what you are delivering as your end product or service. The goal is to produce as many perfect apples as you can, grow your business and get better results. To get there, you need a thriving apple tree – your organisation. This is typically the HR function of your organisation. You need nourishing soil, which is leadership. And you need healthy roots: this is the processes of your organisation.

You need the right amount of sun and rain for an apple tree. This is the climate – the brand culture. It’s transparent, complex and  critical as this is what everyone in your organisation lives and breathes. In short, the climate is how you keep your brand promise. It is about what is really happening within, it is the manifestation of the true nature of your brand.

5 things to remember

1. Culture is transparent

When we don’t design culture, it’s still there, and likely not working to your benefit. Having an awareness of your current climate is the first step to designing the right one for your brand and organisation. 

2. No ‘one size fits all’ solution

A culture that works perfectly for another organization might cause a disaster in another. This is the reason climate needs to be bespoke to your brand.

3. It’s not an ‘HR only’ topic

A true brand culture design or transformation requires involvement and contribution across the business. While HR remains a key stakeholder, key department involvement, contribution and ownership is critical.

4. It’s a journey not a destination.

Brand cultures are not created or transformed overnight. It takes time and requires continuous focus. And leaders need to understand that culture will be impacted by climate and is a living mechanism that should always evolve.

5. Top down and bottom up

The CEO or executive board have to clearly define the purpose, actionable values, tone and experience, desired attributes and the principles of the culture. That being said, the executors of the culture are the “many others” of the organization. Without their awareness, buy-in and behaviour, all the design efforts will be just a mental exercise and will not lead to the desired shift. Hence, the implementation phase need to create programs and opportunities that engage the company’s key influencers.