A Strong Brand Culture Starts With The CMO

Peter Drucker once said, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” In today’s age of hyperconnectivity and transparency, that has never been more true.

The role of delivering the brand is now the job of many teams within the organization--not just marketing.

As a result, getting your organization to truly embody the brand has become a more substantive effort--one that starts and ends with your culture.

Many organizations believe this to be true, but only a select few actually have a distinct brand culture that comes through in their businesses. In fact, of the CMOs we speak with, fewer than one-third think employees understand their individual roles in delivering the brand. Why is this important? Well, if an employee doesn’t understand his role, then he can’t be free to perform and must be controlled to deliver results.

Without a sense of purpose and self-direction, employees find it challenging to stay engaged. A 2012 analysis by Gallup found that companies in the top quartile of employee engagement vs. the bottom quartile have a 22 percent higher profitability and 10 percent higher customer ratings.

What creates an internal brand culture? It starts with having a meaningfully differentiated, purpose-driven idea that the organization can rally around. Many founder-led companies demonstrate a brand culture. The cult-like status of a Jeff Bezos, James Dyson, or Larry Ellison imprint their personalities into the culture and can have a lasting impact well beyond their tenures. But what if you’re no longer founder-led? What if you’re an amalgam of many cultures merged together over time? Force-of-CEO personality is possible--just look at GE’s Jack Welch--but few CEOs have the force of character, tenure, or interest to drive this through an institution.

As CMO, you are uniquely positioned to positioned to establish, influence, and sustain brand culture. The brand, most likely, is your responsibility. Traditionally a customer-facing communications tool, it can be so much more if you’re willing to share control with your peers.

Here are four guiding principles to help build an environment that fosters brand culture:

1. Define the radically simple anchor: Most companies have a mission, vision, brand strategy, values, and operating principles even before we get to unit targets. Is it any surprise that employees struggle to know what to prioritize? Work with your executive peers to craft the single statement, and prefer simplicity to comprehensiveness. For Walmart it is, “Walmart helps people around the world save money and live better.” This is backed by three simple mantras: unbeatable prices, quality products, and easy shopping. The external marketing mirrors the internal call to action. Be ruthlessly customer-focused, and anchor in creative language that is emotionally moving to the front-line.

2. Hire the right talent: Most recruiting is capability-based, but it’s critically important to hire for personality alongside capability. How often is the “cultural fit” interview more an opportunity to sell to a promising candidate rather than a true test?

As CMO, use your knowledge of your brand voice as an input to guide talent recruitment. The InterContinental Hotels Group uses psychometric testing to identify desired personality traits. The NSA tweets coded messages to attract problem solvers. Soap-maker Method asks job candidates to demonstrate how they plan to keep Method "weird."

Post-job offer, invest in on-boarding to shape expectations of the newly recruited, and use their incoming passion to influence the established teams they will work within. Starbucks, for example, welcomes new baristas with “First Impressions,” a conversation designed to help people think about coffee and its flavor.

3. Create rituals: Develop rituals that define what makes your company special. Help employees not only see and hear the brand, but feel the brand. Delta employees continue a reverence for the customer-focused obsession of their founder, C.E.Woolman, extolled through regular quotations peppered throughout internal documents. Google lets many of its software engineers design their own desks and workstations. Walmart has its morning cheer. U.K. retailer John Lewis allows its shop-floor partners to make any decision on behalf of a customer andm as a peer group, they evaluate decisions at the end of the day. At TD Bank, it takes “one to say yes, two to say no.”

These companies ensure the brand mission is a part of their employees’ day-to-day experiences. Strong rituals reduce the need for lengthy rules and regulations that dehumanize and demotivate.

4. Embed processes and governance: Creating a brand culture takes patience, often beyond the tenure of individuals in specific roles. Plan beyond an individual and partner with HR to holistically embed on-brand behaviors in performance reviews and as part of the incentive processes. Create a governance structure that enables all interested parties (not just the executive team) to influence the future direction of the brand. MasterCard holds massive group strategy sessions, bringing together hundreds of employees for exercises and games that help them learn about the company’s strategy and contribute new ideas. Netflix did away with formal performance reviews in favor of an informal, ongoing 360-review system.

As the Gallup poll and other studies show, a brand culture isn’t just a nice-to-have--it’s a direct driver of business performance. CMOs are uniquely positioned to help instill a brand culture and be the brand conduit for all other departments. Once a distinct brand culture has been cultivated, employees become passionate advocates of the company and recognize that they, as employees, also have a responsibility to the brand--to be the brand.

Only when the leadership team and employees unite around a simple and motivating brand purpose, and embody that purpose in how the experience is delivered, does a brand have the foundation to connect with its consumers.

More From CMO.com

Data Should Always Be On TapLessons From The OKCupid And Facebook DebaclesHere Comes Big-Data-Enabled Multitouch AttributionI Took The Wrong Job