Culture is Your Brand (How to make them work together)

Posted by Mark Kinsley on

The event was called “Puppy Picasso.” They dipped Buster’s paws in paint and he was supposed to walk around on a canvas, creating his masterpiece.


It was a Saturday afternoon and my wife and I had taken our dog to a business called Treats Unleashed. As I had a good laugh at the situation we’d found ourselves in, Buster strategically avoided the canvas while a twenty-something lady with curly brown hair tried to entice him with treats. Except she wasn’t calling them treats. She kept asking Buster if he wanted a snack. A snack, I thought? Isn’t the name of your business TREATS Unleashed? Why is she calling it a snack? Every time a dog wants a small piece of food, the employees of this company had a chance to brand their business by simply saying the word treat. As a marketing guy I cringed every time she offered Buster another nibble.


You can spend millions of dollars building a marketing campaign but there’s one thing that can make or break the whole shebang: People. That’s because your people are the brand. Employees (and customers) define what a brand becomes and how it lives. Company culture is brand.


One process I use in the brand building business is called a discovery session. It’s all about who you are, where you’re going, and how you’ll get there. When I take clients through a discovery session, we define elements in this exact order:


  1. Mission

  2. Vision

  3. Values

  4. Culture

  5. Brand


Look at number four. Why do you think a consideration for culture comes before brand? It’s because your people pay-off, support, and spread your brand. This means you have to hire good people and give them proper training. Somebody at Treats Unleashed should develop a language guide for new hires, explaining the terminology and the branding opportunity it represents. Get the internal climate correct, and then go to work on a brand that fits with your culture.


If your business is full of happy people, make happiness a focal point of your brand. Trying to build a serious brand will seem disingenuous. Customers will come to your store, see Jovial John and Smiling Sally frolicking around the showroom and at that point cognitive dissonance will kick in, which leaves them asking, “I thought this was a serious place. It’s nothing like their TV commercials.” When something doesn’t make sense, people move on to another thing that clicks.


Are your employees saying “snacks” instead of “treats?” Are you missing branding opportunities because your staff isn’t properly trained? It’s time to fix the flaw, or clean house.


On a side note, don’t be afraid to take your dog to a puppy painting day. Laugh at yourself. Have some fun. You never know when an off-the-beaten path activity will inspire you to think about your business in a new way.


As you can see, Buster had been guarding an affinity for abstract expressionism. I call this one Jackson Paw-llock.

About Mark

Mark Kinsley is Leggett & Platt's Staff Vice President of Marketing for the Bedding Group. Outside the office he enjoys spending time with family, mountain biking, hiking, and snow skiing. Connect with Mark on Twitter via @markkinsley. View all articles by Mark
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