When you hear the words ‘brand culture’, it’s not uncommon to conjure images of wacky campuses, team-building events and pictures of smiling teams. Over the last five years, particularly as Silicon Valley firms expanded like never before, there has been this unwritten rule that if you don’t have a physical representation of your brand, it’s not strong enough. But then COVID-19 hit, and that physical element was removed. So how do you manage brand culture when everyone is working remotely?
Well today I want to break down two barriers for you. Firstly, that brand culture is more than just a shiny workplace and branded goodies. And secondly, that you can manifest a strong culture regardless of where employees are located and how dispersed they are.
What is brand culture?
Let’s start at the beginning. A brand today is more than just a company or products with recognizable logos. The term has come to signify purpose, personality, and a commitment to shared values. Brand culture then is the culture that a company cultivates internally to deliver the brand consistently to the market, via these clear values and guidance upheld by the entire organization. Put simply – it’s how people work together to bring the brand alive.
Not only does a good brand culture grow an environment where employees are motivated and passionate about what they do, it also builds a brand identity that is authentic and more likely to retain customers. In today’s digital society, where we’re able to search for information at the click of a button, brands have to be more transparent than ever before. If a business proclaims certain brand values but their actions don’t match up, consumers are quick to catch on – and then share it wider. And unfortunately, that kind of thing can do huge amounts of damage to a brand.
So whilst the likes of Google, Coca-Cola and Nike stand out for their slick slogans, quirky offices and freebies galore, their success comes from having a strong workplace culture throughout their teams, which is synonymous with their outward facing brand.
Building brand culture
When a new brand is defined, or a classic one given a refresh, there are certain steps to take to ensure that it is adopted throughout your business, as well as externally.
Most important is the clear definition of what your brand represents – in terms of your mission, vision and values. By making these easy to understand, as well as demonstrating how they align to your brand, you are laying the foundations for your employees to embrace. This is just as important as the visual identity in terms of exemplifying your strategic direction.
At Konica Minolta, our brand proposition ‘Giving Shape to Ideas’ is our pledge to bring the ideas of society to life through innovation, and is reflected in a culture that constantly pivots to face new challenges and come up with solutions that support our customers. With 147 years’ history of striving to create new value, our brand values are to be open and honest; customer-centric; innovative; passionate; inclusive and collaborative; and accountable.
Secondly, you must spend time on education. Brand building starts from the inside, and you shouldn’t just expect employees to understand your vision without clear guidance. To really thrive and have workers personify your brand in a positive way, ensure that time is spent on explaining what the brand and its values means to the business, employees, and to customers, and how its essence can be ingrained in daily work.
Finally, it’s time for some storytelling. Once you have a brand and engaged employees, you need to carefully consider how to bring it alive. With a well-defined story, not only do workers have something to passionately share on your behalf, but you now have a means to captivate and convince consumers that they cannot live without your products or services.
How to manage brand culture with a distributed workforce
So hopefully by now it’s clear that brand culture is an intrinsic force cultivated from within, rather than delivered by clever PR and campaigns. But the reality is that for most businesses, that culture still comes together at its best in person. When employees can see the way the values are brought to life, and serendipitous moments reinforce collective behavior, it’s much easier to create a brand culture that has tangibility.
However, throughout the rest of 2020, and potentially further into the future, workforces will be distributed, with many experiencing remote work as their new normal. With this, no longer are teams spending at least eight hours a day, five days a week, collaborating, bonding and working side by side. How do you manage brand culture from afar then? It’s all about trust and communication.
Organizations need to understand that without physical cues working alongside digital, there is a need to double down on sharing information to ensure it penetrates through all departments and functions. Continual reinforcement is required to keep it top-of-mind. For example, instead of sharing the latest updates simply via the company intranet, consider a communications roll-out plan that includes a virtual town-hall, follow-up emails, a post on the intranet, and the opportunity for a live Q&A. This way employees feel informed and involved, and there’s more time spent engaging on an item together, rather than in silos.
For us at Konica Minolta, this approach of reinforcement didn’t feel like anything new. With a nationwide network of offices and a secure cloud infrastructure, we’ve long embraced the idea that work is not where you are, it’s what you get done. So there have always been teams with members in different time zones and offices, or those who commute to the office only once in a while. However, our leadership team was great at recognizing that in a pandemic it doesn’t hurt to strengthen the connection further, and came up with great ways to make us feel bonded. These methods include the regular videos we get from our CEO, Rick Taylor, sharing strategic updates alongside personal jokes, the virtual department happy hours (including one with special farmyard guests), and the release of new email signatures to have a synchronous moment where everyone updates together.
Speaking of releasing assets, it’s important to ensure your brand values and identity are easily found and reiterated regularly. Whether it’s through screensavers, internal communications, or leadership taking the opportunity to give regular updates, build that foundation of consistency to help employees feel empowered regardless of their role or location. During the shelter-in-place restrictions we released our new corporate video, and the communications were so clear in making sure we engaged with it internally first that it created a sense of company-wide pride, instead of just pushing it out on external channels.
Another great tip is to increase transparency. Team morale is closely linked to the overall respect given to brand values, and relies on all levels of seniority being open with both their wins and losses as they adapt to change. It will help to ensure that the brand purpose and values align with expectations of these new working practices, and so be prepared to rewrite them if they don’t. In fact, you should definitely be looking at updating your communication guidelines and strategy to reflect remote work activities. After all, if the values are inconsistent with the needs of your now predominantly remote workforce, there’s bound to be confusion.
For Konica Minolta, it was really impressive to see how quickly management pivoted to the change in working practices, and used their positions to listen and take action. All employees suddenly had visibility of the values of being innovative, open and inclusive being lived out on a day-to-day basis as the amount of check-in calls, internal bulletins and guidance protocols increased to support us in the time of uncertainty. And not to mention the ingenuity of the amount of branded virtual backgrounds that were suddenly created!
So there we have it: managing your brand culture wherever you are, and most importantly wherever your employees are, can be simple if you start from the basics. Find out more on how to rethink your workplace practices at rethinkthefutureofwork.com