Strategy and culture

For many years, like so many other brand strategists, I tried to avoid the inclination to want to differentiate a brand based on the attributes of its people. It has, however, become virtually impossible to decouple a brand’s strategy from its people, and by default, its culture.

If you talk to executives from the world’s top-performing organizations, you will regularly hear endorsements like:

“We have the best people—everyone here genuinely cares about our clients.”

“We only hire the most experienced people with exceptional references.”

“Our team goes above and beyond for our customers. They become like family to us.”

“We personalize every customer experience by providing best-in-the-industry customer service.”

Conventional thinking said that positioning your brand around your people could prove risky, especially in certain industries. If you are a consulting firm brand and you position your brand around the people who deliver the service, you risk not forming a brand-client relationship. It becomes more of a consultant-client relationship, and then, nothing stands between that client leaving your firm to follow your consultant when they move on to their next career opportunity.

If you’re a consumer brand, what’s the point of focusing on the strength of your people, right? The customer journey has typically focused simply on the quality of the product, its price, where it was distributed and how you marketed it. The marketing mix’s four P’s.

Today, I am adding the fifth P. People.

Welcome to the team, fifth P. Of course, I still believe in delivering the best possible product—especially, one that solves a problem in a superior or unique way for your customers.

Price? Sure, that’s important, too, but you don’t want to play the price game. Someone can always come up with a way to deliver a similar product in a more affordable way.

Place is a constantly evolving target. Distribution has morphed over the years from brick and mortar to online retailers to direct-to-consumer. Defining an optimized distribution strategy can be a difficult formula to master.

And promotion—your marketing department; they need to be more savvy than ever. Today, your marketing department must deliver an ROI and ROAS (return on ad spend) like never before. They have to know how to create an inbound, content marketing program that builds credibility (and sales pipeline), be masters of social media, and of course, stay on top of always-evolving digital marketing tactics.

This is where people come in.

Development of a compelling brand campaign is important. Designing a website that generates qualified leads while sharing product and brand-related information is required. Having an incredible retail environment is also important. But people are what really create distinct brand experiences. Your people deliver the personalized, customer service touchpoints that keep customers coming back.

In order to truly deliver on your differentiated positioning and to effectively operationalize it, it must permeate the entire fabric of the organization. Your brand strategy must be embraced by your people and it must become the cornerstone of your corporate culture.

This is the critical intersection of brand strategy and culture.

When creating your brand strategy, identifying the value drivers that are important to your customers and prospects are central to defining it, but taking your stakeholders along for the journey—making them feel vested—will make it successful. The best strategies are operationalized and executed by a fully-engaged brand culture.

From you customer service experience to merchandising/ buying to product design to delivery of services—every step in the customer’s experience with your brand is delivered by people. Your team has to fully understand your brand’s hierarchy, the pillars of your brand and their role in delivering an on-brand customer experience.

As you consider your brand and its unique value proposition for your customers, ask yourself these two questions: 1. How important are our people and what is their role in delivering an exceptional brand experience? 2. Are there synergies between our brand strategy and how it manifests in our corporate culture?

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