As you consider your answer, let me be a bit more specific: Do you believe that your internal culture is any of your marketing agency’s business.
It is understandable that when most organizations engage the services of a marketing or advertising agency, they are typically more concerned with optimizing their external image and messaging to garner more consumer engagement and increase sales. While this expectation makes a lot of sense, another reasonable expectation is that the external value proposition that you offer through your marketing can and will be delivered by your most important internal resource: your people.
As our agency continues to engage with clients in a variety of industries, we have become even more conscious of the correlation between an organization’s external brand and its consistency with their internal culture. It started to feel almost an “incomplete relationship” to focus on brand and campaign development without considering the human factor responsible for delivering the organizational promise that we were developing and marketing.
While we felt that integrating attention to an organization’s internal culture in conjunction with their branding and marketing strategy seemed like a feasible proposition, there was still a concern: Are we overstepping our role by even bringing up internal culture?
Internal culture can be a very personal function in even the most professional organizations. While our customary Discovery process involves a series of interviews and focus groups with staff and executive teams to assist in brand development, actively addressing internal culture issues could be considered a bridge too far for some.
Curiosity got the best of me, and I did a little research. Just how important was it to align internal organizational culture with the values promised in their brand identity?
The Harvard Business Review offered this assertive stance; “If your culture and your brand are driven by the same purpose and values, and if you weave them together into a single guiding force for your company, you will win the competitive battle for customers and employees, future-proof your business from failures and downturns, and produce an organization that operates with integrity and authenticity.”
OK, so there is some definite value to this approach. In fact, Amazon and General Electric were just two companies that were referenced as examples of this external/internal brand alignment. It became clearer as I explored this concept further that the human resources that drive the brand promise are not just facilitators, but also the catalysts for its construction.
“Brand must be created from the inside out. Employees need to have a stake in creating the brand itself and must be rewarded for embodying the brand through their daily actions. If a company is not set up internally to deliver on its external brand promise, no amount of savvy marketing will help it achieve sustainable, lasting success.” This, according to an article in Entrepreneur magazine aptly titled 5 Ways to Authentically Connect Your Employees to the Brand.
While the need to ensure consistency between the outward facing brand of company and the culture that exists within the organization initially seemed instinctual, its critical importance became more apparent as we reviewed opportunities for client growth more closely.
Changing your employees into enthusiastic brand ambassadors can take an organization from good to great. The effort must be far more intentional than just the “feel good” perks of company lunches or incentive-based rewards. While these benefits certainly have value in a comprehensive culture/brand alignment, to transform your teams into brand ambassadors requires a much more substantial level of internal culture refinement.
Involve your teams in defining your purpose: If you have ever read, Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why” you are intimately aware of the Golden Circle and the power of an organizational “Why” as the foundation for organizational purpose. As Sinek points out, in most organizations, employees are fully aware of what you do and how you do it. Why your organization does what it does is a concept that is often undiscovered, unexplored, and undefined. I would challenge any executive or leadership team to ask their employees to offer their perception of their organizational why to see just how the people charged with delivering your brand promise view the purpose behind their efforts. Purpose-driven organizations thrive by establishing a collectively focused direction, fueled by a fully invested internal culture, inspired by an organizational mission that matters.
Involve your teams in developing your brand: Your brand is so much more than a tagline. An authentic brand is a promise. Who better to involve in constructing an achievable brand than the people on the front line whose work and ideas are responsible for delivering the promise proposed in your brand identity? While those who occupy the C-suite and positions of executive leadership have a vision and an operational perspective of the organization, it is often those in the organization that have daily and consistent interaction with your customers and other stakeholders that lend practical insights that can serve as impactful considerations in the brand development process.
Involve your teams in creating a brand ambassador culture: While most organizations place a premium on ensuring a culture that fosters customer and client loyalty, the focus on creating an internal culture that fosters consistent employee loyalty is often minimal or lacking altogether. Organizations can slip into the mindset of “Well, we pay very well” or “Our benefits package is second to none” as their only examples of employee commitment. While the practical value of these rewards has merit, they may keep your employees interested in working, but not necessarily invested in promoting your purpose and optimizing productivity with the elevated mindset of a brand ambassador.
In summary, I think the article from Entrepreneur states it best. “Employees are the company’s most important brand assets. They serve as brand ambassadors through the products they create, the services they deliver, and the interactions they have with customers.”
Effective marketing and advertising are driven by data. When it comes to crafting a truly productive brand development and marketing strategy, the data is pretty clear: Every organization should be focused on aligning their external and internal brand as part of their overall marketing strategy.
As organizations and their marketing agencies strategize on maximizing brand strength, optimizing digital campaigns, and analyzing marketing spends, the importance of internal culture can not be marginalized into an afterthought if they intend to achieve a sustainable competitive edge in their markets. An inspired workforce is an invested workforce, and an invested workforce evolves into a focused team of brand ambassadors enthusiastically committed to delivering the brand promise that they have been involved in defining.
Richard McCulloch is the Chief Experience Officer at the PINK Collective, a full-service marketing and advertising agency focused on empowering positive brands.