Your Culture is Your Brand: Aligning Culture and Brand (part 2)
This is the second in a two-part introductory series on the relationship between culture and brand. Last month, we discussed the importance of culture and how to hone it. This month, we discuss how to integrate your culture and your brand and create unity between the internal and external image of your organization.
Today, you can’t just tell people who you are. You have to show them. Actions speak louder than words, and why you do what you do is often more important than what it is or how you do it. Thriving in this environment requires a more authentic approach to marketing and branding, one that fully aligns your purpose, behaviour, and the experience you offer with your external image. The boundaries between internal and external must disappear as the two become one. Brands cannot be faked. They must be authentically lived.
As we covered in our previous article Building A Strong Culture, defining your culture will give you a strong sense of your organization’s purpose, the type of world you want to help create, and the values that will allow you to cultivate the experience you want to offer all who interact with you.
Once your culture is in place and your team is aligned with it, you will find it becomes a powerful competitive advantage and a key differentiator for your organization. Those are foundational elements of an authentic, compelling and differentiated brand – that is, the hallmarks of a great brand. The next step is to integrate that internal way of being with your external identity to create a unified image.
A brand is more than a name, a logo, a tagline, fonts, or colours. It is a company’s purpose, all it believes in, what it values, its reputation, the stories it tells, and the shared experience of all who encounter it. Brand is something you live, and you must live it consistently across all touchpoints and in all interactions. If brand and culture are out of alignment, stakeholders will doubt your authenticity and credibility. Furthermore, if you don’t integrate and communicate culture, your brand is only telling part of your story and giving a shallow impression.
Integration between brand and culture requires three main steps:
- Define your culture (as we explained in the first part of this series)
- Infusing culture at the core
- Telling an integrated, consistent story across all channels and touchpoints
Infusing Culture at the Core
Integrating your culture with your brand likely requires a significant brand evolution. We believe the purpose and the experience you offer should be at the core of your brand, so any brand developed without that core won’t fully fit the culture of your organization.
Our approach to creating a new integrated brand or evolving an existing one places the Why at the core.
The why, a concept popularized by Simon Sinek, operates as a guiding principle for your organization that can unify and motivate your team but also goes beyond that. The why should actually determine an organization’s actions and act as a check and balance for organizational decision-making.
Apple: A Consistent, Powerful Brand Story
As an example, Apple shows how a powerful why can drive unprecedented success and create powerful brand loyalty and engagement with all stakeholders. Their why is to challenge the status quo, and its mission under Jobs’ tenure was to contribute to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind. Throughout the Jobs era, Apple exhibited a deep alignment between the trinity of strategy, culture, and brand: their culture was founded on a drive to think differently and push past the status quo; they created products that enabled people to integrate technology into their lives in unprecedented ways; and, they built a powerful brand that inspired others to unleash their rebellious, creative, and individualistic spirit towards creating a new status quo.
From early on, Apple told us to “Think Different” and made us believe owning a computer or portable music device could be revolutionary. Their products were “for the colourful”, would put our lives in our pockets, and give us “the power to be our best.” Their visual style was simple, trendsetting, and vibrant. They even ran contests for “the most original use of an Apple since Adam.” Look back over the many landmark campaigns Apple has run over the last few decades. Be it ‘Think Different’, ‘I’m a Mac’, or the iPod silhouettes, Apple was often pushing freedom of expression, thought, and identity. Their culture and strategy were the foundations of their success, but the consistent sharing of their purpose and values drove it.
Apple, Jay Chiat, and Ridley Scott’s infamous 1984 Apple Macintosh Computer ad perfectly illustrate this. Apple was rebelling against a system dominated by inaccessible, hard-to-use computers that, from Apple’s perspective, were leading people on a path to control and restriction. It was a system that held back creativity and potential. Apple wouldn’t stand for it, so they fought against it. That campaign is just one example, but it’s that rebellious spirit and desire to challenge the status quo at its core that enabled Apple to not only disrupt computing, but the music industry, communications, and ultimately the relationship between man and computer.
Not only did Apple live and express its culture well, but the company inspired others to join it. We came to think differently and challenge the status quo. Many reading this may think it a stretch to say Apple empowered its customers – it’s a profit-driven company, after all – but Apple loyalists and even many of the masses were empowered and inspired. We’re different people and live in a different world because of Apple.
Culture, Brand, and Moving Forward
Not every change has to be that big. Even a small impact on the world matters. Whether you work at a local hairstyling chain or for a national property manager, you stand for something and are making a difference for people, communities, and industry. Like Apple, ensure your brand and marketing share that part of your story. Unity between internal and external will drive your ultimate outcome, so bring it all together. Enjoy the way they reinforce one another. Strategy, culture, and brand are equal pillars of your success.