Corporate branding and organizational culture: are you maximizing these two crucial business drivers?

Commonly corporate brands are looked upon as vehicles for communicating with key external constituents including prospective and existing customers, investors and targeted media. Harnessed correctly, the corporate brand can also serve as the foundation for establishing and sustaining a vibrant organizational culture. Companies are comprised of individuals with distinct backgrounds, capabilities, aspirations and expectations. A well-formed organizational culture can play a pivotal role in motivating employees to do their very best because they feel valued and part of a team with a clear and common direction.

Entrepreneur Richard Branson once stated “there’s no magic formula for great company culture, the key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” The companies that Branson has created, although spanning a diverse range of industries, are united by his approach to business, his great appreciation for organizational culture and his agility in applying the corporate brand in ways that are simultaneously aspirational and pragmatic.

What makes your corporate brand different and why does that point of differentiation matter?

The heart of all brands (corporate, product or service) is what makes them meaningful. When employees share a common understanding of what makes the organization they are a part of relevant, it can be a significant source of pride and satisfaction. Every employee should have the ability to articulate the brand in words and behaviors consistently and compellingly. When employees who are integrated into the very fabric of the brand epitomize it favorably, it fuels success. Momentum can be contagious and have a profound effect on customers and other key stakeholders.

Does your company’s management team lead by example?

The leadership team of a company has not only the opportunity, but also the responsibility to embrace the corporate brand and bring it to life – not just in words, but much more importantly – through day-to-day actions. Leadership is hollow if it rests titles and hierarchy. The challenge at hand is to lead by example and demonstrate why everyone within the company has the same chance to find personal fulfilment by contributing to the common brand goals. It’s simply not enough for the management team to support the corporate brand (which is essential). They must embrace it, display it, provide tools to empower it, motivate others to adopt and personalize it and recognize colleagues who do likewise. Another famous Branson quote: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Studies have shown that compensation is only one of several motivational dynamics to employees and often not the one that is most compelling. Treating people well extends beyond compensation to the company’s culture and mission, and to people knowing that they are valued. Management has the unique ability to foster the environment they think best for the brand. It also has the responsibility to be mindful of this task and understand the ramifications. Branson believes that by placing employees first, customers second and shareholders third, that his companies are able to succeed and deliver upon each audience’s expectations. He also has stated that when it comes to this approach to branding and management, the type of business or industry is irrelevant.

Is your corporate brand being exercised every day?

Done correctly, your corporate brand should be like fresh air. We all need oxygen to survive, but organizational culture should never be about survival. It should be about flourishing. Fresh air is appreciated. It motivates. It leaves room for experimentation. It propels people forward. And it advances brands. Words matter. But actions matter even more. Are your employee recognition and sales programs wrapped in the corporate brand? Is living the brand part of how employees get evaluated? Can you think of three things in the past week, however little or large, that are examples of your corporate culture in action?

Are corporate branding and a vibrant organizational culture optional or essential?

Shrewd businesspeople, who care about the bottom line, who care about providing robust returns for shareholders, who care about their own financial security, widely recognize that corporate branding and vibrant organizational culture are crucial to meeting these objectives. These are powerful tools to meaningfully differentiate, attract and retain the best talent, cultivate an environment where people are empowered to succeed and reap financial reward.

If your company has a mission statement, vision statement and corporate values, take a look at them closely. Are they distinct to your company or do they apply to any organization? Part of the challenge of strong corporate branding is to credibly look at what you are trying to accomplish and determine what makes your approach different and better. This is done by balancing the needs of the markets you serve with what you have to offer (and how your customers want it offered). How does your company innovate? Not just with its products and services, but with how it goes about conducting business?

Unless you are just starting a business enterprise, it may not seem like the right time to assess corporate branding and organizational culture. But the reality is that the longer you wait, patterns of behavior only become further entrenched and any course correction more challenging. Because leadership (and frequently the egos that accompany these roles) can be intimidating or stifling, raising the importance of this issue if it is not already appreciated, can be challenging. It is important to remember, however, that this is not about appearances. It is about business and profitability. It is a road to success. This road, however, can only be traveled with the the support, guidance, inspiration and true leadership of management.

by Jonathan D. Katz