Design Your Culture, Not Your Brand

Why you’re looking at your brand wrong and how to fix it

Warning: there is some mildly explicit language within this article.

In 2015 we are looking at the age of the startup, the realm of the internet, and with these, major movements in digital design. This means that every user is exposed to hundreds of brands a day, and let’s be honest, most of them aren’t exceptionally unique. But some are. Let’s ask why.

Why are some brands so fantastic?

Some companies have brands that just kill it, like Coca-Cola.

All of the companies I’ve worked with, save for a small boutique in Eastern Canada, have approached their brand as an external image to appeal to their customers. The issue with this facade is that one fuck up internally and that brand approach will blow up in your face.

Let’s take a look at a shining example of an internal fuck up causing a brand to spontaneously combust. Queue Bank of America’s Twitter account, circa 2013. BoA’s Twitter appeared to be run by a bot, who would reply to concerned customers by telling them that their issues were a public forum up for discussion between themselves and the bank — all they had to do was call. When a frustrated citizen took to Twitter to mock BoA’s conduct in sending a parade of cops after him when he displayed an anti-forclosure message on a sidewalk, he was greeted with the same message that concerned customers received. The train didn’t stop rolling when other Twitter users got involved.

The clincher here is that BoA admitted that it wasn’t automated tweets causing this issue. It was a failure of culture. The employee on BoA’s side of the keyboard opted to act more like a robot than a human.

Form follows function, brand follows culture

The key here, is that no matter how well you design your brand to appear, it is really your company culture that defines this brand. That’s why, as Apple touts as much as possible, form follows function. In this case, brand follows culture.

How Do You Design Culture?

So this begs the question of, “how do I do it?” The truth is that it’s not that easy and there’s no quick fix. It means holding every employee responsible for the brand, and empowering them to be a part of the culture themselves.

Step 1: Figure out your company’s values

Before you can actually start designing your culture you have to first understand every part of it. To do so, ask yourself three important questions:

  1. Why does the company exist?
  2. What do you want your company to be remembered for?
  3. If you had unlimited resources, what would the company be doing?

The answers to these questions will unlock what the true purpose of the company is, why you’re trying to achieve that purpose, and who or what is required to achieve it.

Step 2: Figure out what kind of culture aligns with these values

It’s easy to say that all companies should have a fun, relaxed, familial culture, but that’s bullshit. In fact, a lot of companies would fail under that kind of culture. The trick is to assess the current culture of the company, and decide whether or not it is in need of some small changes or a complete change of direction in order to make your employees own your company values. For the purposes of this article, I’ll stay simple and offer you a starting point in the four types of organizational culture:

The familial culture, focused on mentoring, employee nurturing, and doing things together.

The entrepreneurial culture, focused on risk-taking, big ideas, and doing first, and asking questions later.

The hierarchal culture, focused on structure, efficiency, stability, and doing things right.

The results oriented culture, focused on competition, achievement, and doing things under the “get-it-done” mantra.

Figure out which culture aligns with your values, and if certain departments of your company fall into another, and find good solutions to bridge those gaps. Know that these solutions will be different for each department, and potentially for each individual and will have to be considered carefully.

Step 3: Let your brand and your culture meet in the middle

Now you know what your company’s goals are — there’s no pretending they’re something different—and you’ve prepared yourself or are already making the internal changes necessary to bring everyone in your company up to speed with these values. That’s what designing your culture is all about. Now that you’ve taken the time to really think about these values and have found the solutions to bring your employees in line with them, you have a fantastic baseplate for really defining your brand:

  • You know what your company exists to do
  • You know what you want the company to become
  • And you have the processes in place to ensure your employees do everything they can to meet todays needs, and tomorrows goals

Take these values, and your employees newfound understanding of them, and ask your entire company a final question…

How do we show all of this to our customers?

And now you can design a real brand.

Thanks for reading. The idea for this post came about after I came into the same dilemma with my own company. I started working at SimplyCast early last year and realized within a few months that we were suffering from an identity crisis. What had started as a small direct emarketing company had evolved into a marketing automation behemoth, yet the culture was still the same and didn’t reflect the new brand. The solution wasn’t to change the brand, it was to change the way the company thought about it, and it’s working. Take note, this process didn’t happen overnight, and it’s still happening. It will be the same way for you. But the end result is something so much better, and extremely gratifying. It will make you, and your company better.

About The Author

I’m Chris Macrae, creative at SimplyCast, writer for Think Design UX, Freelance Designer Online, and an idiot everywhere else.

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