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Tapping into the Power of Brand and Culture Alignment

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Why do more than 400 people apply for every Chick-fil-A job opening?

Why does Trader Joe’s boast some of the lowest turnover in retail?

How does Reverb empower employees to get customers to spend $10,000 on a guitar without even playing it? These are companies that have mastered alignment between brand and culture. And the results of getting it right pay off.

Chick-fil-A has the highest revenue per store of any fast-food chain in America. Trader Joe’s earns more per square foot than its much larger grocery competitors and consistently sits atop the list of Best Places to Work. Etsy bought Reverb for $275 million in 2019 to boost its already high-performing business and go toe-to-toe with eBay.

These companies understand that strong, differentiated cultures combined with strong, differentiated brands produce extraordinary results. Understanding how brand and culture work together, and strategies for developing them, can prove a game-changer for your business too.

Understanding Brand Vs. Culture

Brand is external as seen through the eyes of the consumer. A brand represents the sum of how a business and its products are perceived by those who experience it. A good brand is unique, easily understood, and consistently marketed in a way that evokes a feeling or thought among its target audience. Nike inspires anyone to be an athlete. Apple sparks innovation.

Culture is internal as experienced by employees. A company’s culture represents a collection of values, behaviors, goals, and practices that define the organization and how it operates. If brand is the story told outside the walls of the business, culture is the story employees experience inside the company.

According to Denise Lee Yohn, author of Fusion: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies, organizations that integrate the two experience better operational efficiency, accuracy, and quality. They improve their ability to compete for talent and customer loyalty with intangibles other companies can’t copy. And they move the organization closer to its strategic vision.

Misalignment creates dissatisfied customers, higher employee turnover, lower innovation, and subpar operational performance. The problem generally shows up in financial reports as well. When the brand and culture lack authenticity, they create a sense of mistrust.

Imagine how much less successful Travelocity would be if its time-off policies didn’t allow employees to vacation and travel. Consider the inauthenticity of Chewy’s brand if its employees didn’t love pets as much as its customers.
Think of brand and culture as two sides of the same coin.

Which Comes First: Brand or Culture?

When companies have work to do in both areas (don’t feel bad, most organizations do), we’re asked this question. The answer is, “It depends.” Both rely on the organization’s purpose—why the company exists.

The answer is not to make money. Profit is a byproduct of purpose. Any organization with staying power is solving a problem for consumers. The pursuit of fixing that challenge defines why the world needs your product or service. Kroger’s purpose is “feeding the human spirit.” Salesforce “builds bridges between companies and customers.”
Having a strong sense of purpose serves as the foundation for brand and culture. Differentiated brands with positive reputations more easily earn real estate in the minds of consumers and job seekers. However, if a bad culture exists inside, unhappy employees will create unhappy customers. Purpose is the hinge that unites the two by giving customers and employees the “why” for giving their time and money to your company.

Start with purpose first, then determine if brand or culture is the place that needs the most attention.

Tips for Aligning Brand and Culture

Brands and culture develop over time. They need consistent, strategic effort. Companies focused on both sides of the coin—an alignment of marketing and HR—will join an elite group of best-in-class companies wielding a huge market advantage. Here’s some tips for achieving their ranks.

1. Take a Holistic Approach. In most companies, separate departments that rarely interact own brand and culture. Rethink that by considering everyone an owner. Start in the c-suite to get buy-in and filter that communication and support throughout the company. The goal is a consistently positive experience across the organization both internally and externally.

2. Rethink “Customer.” Companies often think of customers as buyers, but that definition is outdated. Consumers, employees, channel partners, vendors, and suppliers should all be considered “customers.” The broader definition serves as a good litmus test for the brand and culture to assess people’s true experience and where things can improve.

3. Bring the Brand Life. A beautiful logo and memorable messaging are great for defining a brand. But employees—and their experience inside the organization—decide if they will care for or kill it. Empower them as extensions of the brand and what it stands for. Allow staff to make decisions in the best interests of the brand and all its customers. If a great culture defines the company, translate that to the brand. This is when the alignment truly starts working its magic.

4. Give Everything the Brand Treatment. Think of everything inside the organization in terms of brand alignment—hires, business goals, accountability, promotions, training, and values. What you communicate about the brand and what people experience through the culture should be the same. Every action the organization takes must reinforce the united values of the brand and culture.

David Salyers, former vice president of marketing, growth, and hospitality for Chick-fil-A describes the importance of brand and culture alignment. “For a business to power itself on more than a paycheck is a strong culture. For a business to power itself on more than price is a great brand.”

Ready to give your brand and culture the extra power they need? Check out these resources from Boldthink’s brand experts:
Brand Audit 101: Assessing a Company’s Most Valuable Asset
Building a Strong Employer Brand

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