5 Undeniable Reasons Brands Are a Reflection of Their Culture

By Adam Fridman Founder, MeetAdvisors

Imagine a brand with no purpose or values, no guiding beliefs or principles. A company that exists for no other purpose than to sell product. Imagine that this brand devalues its employees and treats them like cogs in a wheel. How happy do you suppose that brand's customers would be?

Now, imagine a brand with a culture of commitment to being the best at what they do. A company with a culture of innovation and solving customer problems. A company that hires the best people and provides the tools and environment they need to succeed. Imagine a company that focuses not just on creating a great product or service today, but doing the work necessary to build a great brand for tomorrow.

The difference is night and day. Without a strong culture, brands struggle to attract, retain and engage employees. This negatively impacts customers; lack of motivation to understand customer problems and improve the customer experience can only result in poor to mediocre solutions. When better opportunities present themselves, both customers and employees move on to greener pastures.

That's the impact culture has on your brand. Here are five undeniable reasons your brand is a reflection of your culture.

1) Culture is about purpose. As brands become established, they are at risk of becoming overly focused on growth. Yet, growth alone is not a substitute for purpose. To combat this risk, companies like building technology and energy storage brand Johnson Controls focus on the twin pillars of purpose: mission and culture. The company's mission is to delight customers with innovations that make the built environment more efficient. The company's culture is focused on bringing together the best people and giving them the tools they need to achieve that mission. This tandem focus on helping customers and empowering employees creates a culture that fosters innovation, delights customers, and is the foundation for the company's reported 14% income growth in 2015.

According to Kim Metcalf-Kupres, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Johnson Controls, "Our culture is deeply ingrained; it provides an enduring sense of purpose that results in long term relationships with our employees. Many Johnson Controls employees stay with the company throughout their entire careers. We believe this is because our employees feel they are contributing to something that is bigger than themselves as individuals; we believe we're actually working together towards making the world a better place."

2) Culture attracts and engages the right people. One of the biggest challenges for brands in the last few years has been attracting and retaining the right people. In a recovering economy, brands face more competition to hire and retain the best people; in today's highly mobile workforce, retaining employees over the long term is even more challenging. In this, companies with a strong culture emerge as the clear winners. Recent research by Gallup indicates that companies with a culture of engagement outperform their peers by 147%. E-commerce shoe retailer Zappos has formalized using cultural fit in all hiring and retention decisions. This has allowed Zappos to deliver a uniquely personal customer experience while becoming one of the fastest companies in history to reach a billion dollars in annual revenue.

3) Culture is a differentiator. Companies like Southwest look at cultural fit before looking at job fit for a very good reason: culture sets the company apart. Any airline can get you from here to there - not every airline can keep customers engaged and entertained through flight delays or leave customers feeling positive about a less than smooth landing. Southwest is known not just for cheap flights, but for their employee's sense of humor through the ins and outs of air travel. Southwest's focus on culture has taken them from an upstart in the early 80s, to carrying 20% of all US-based domestic air traffic in just less 40 years.

4) Culture creates a sense of shared values. Culture fosters a sense of teamwork between employees, leaders and customers that inspires employees to do their best work, to overcome difficult challenges and fight for your brand. It inspires loyalty in customers as well.

At General Motors, Chevrolet Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney says culture change has been an important component in the company's recent pivot to help customers "Find New Roads." According to Mahoney, "As a global brand with over 6,000 dealers operating in 115 countries, we have a lot of stakeholders. But our employees are arguably the most important. We have a great team that's fighting daily for the Chevy brand. There's a lot of things about our market that we can't control. Three things we can influence are the people we work with, the brand that we fight for and the products we produce. It all starts with people; they're making those brand and product decisions that directly impact the customer."

Customers need to know that what is important to them, is also important to your brand. When your culture encourages employees to focus on solving problems for the customer rather than making numbers, when they are looking not just at the big data but at "small data" - looking at how quality and innovation impact the actual customer experience - customers see your brand as an insightful partner that has earned the right to be a part of their lives.

5) Culture creates clarity. The idea of brand authenticity - being what you say you are - gets a lot of buzz these days. But, the challenge many brands face is on delivering. It's one thing to claim to be customer-focused and it's another to actually focus on the customer when the chips are down. That's where culture comes in. Employees have to make decisions every day that impact customers. Culture is a way to create clarity around how to solve those problems in a way that supports the promises your brand is making. Culture is what takes your brand from claiming authenticity, to actually being authentic.

"At Zappos.com, we believe that your culture and your brand are two sides of the same coin, and it makes a lot of sense; why would you work so hard to put out one brand image to the world if you aren't able (willing?) to really live it?" says Jon Wolske, Culture Evangelist at Zappos Insights. "By clearly defining your culture (as we have done with our 10 Core Values) you tell everyone what the expectations are. By living up to those expectations, customers, vendors, business partners and employees all who you are as a brand. If you want to have long-lasting relationships that are good for business, authenticity is key." Zappos's culture only works when everyone believes in the core values they have set, and it also serves as a reminder to employees that they stand for more than profit.

Focusing on culture means putting your brand's focus where it should be: on your people and your customers. By genuinely caring about people and creating an environment where they can thrive, your brand and its people are focused on doing the right things for each other and for customers.