· 2 min read · Features

Cultivate your culture, grow your brand

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For many employers, ‘branding’ has meant the management of tangible assets like logotypes, typefaces, corporate colours, digital interactions, advertising, corporate and promotional collateral and, more recently, events and brand experiences. As a result, ‘brand strategy’ has tended to sit in the corporate communications and marketing departments, promoting external engagement with customers and clients and driving sales. But that is only part of the story.

Like it or not, a positive brand reputation - for that is the ultimate goal - is equally dependent on 'brand culture', those less tangible, harder to manage, people-based assets. And that puts HR firmly on the front line with 'branding' and 'brand strategy' their responsibility too.

Brand culture is a unique blend of psychology, ideas, attitudes and beliefs informing brand behaviour, influencing brand experience, and ultimately shaping brand reputation. It is the spirit of an organisation lived and disseminated by everyone throughout the organisation.

HR provides the ideal forum for investigating, defining and influencing brand culture. By involving employees in the process, not only can HR create the essential traction for vibrant, strategically adept brand expressions, it can also reduce the 'not invented here' resistance that is the downfall of many a new branding initiative.

The positive outcomes of HR involvement need not stop there. As Bill Taylor, co-founder of US business innovation magazine Fast Company, says: "You can't be special, distinctive and compelling in the marketplace unless you create something special, distinctive, and compelling in the workplace." Interfacing with all staff, and with a powerful arsenal of tools and advisers, HR is in a unique position to mould and influence the internal culture of an organisation.

By using workshops, training, internal communications, motivational experiences and benchmarking to inspire, lead and measure brand success, HR can generate a virtuous circle of brand advocates, brand performance and brand reputation. Experience also shows that by taking on the mantel of internal brand experts, the status of the HR department itself can be enhanced.

So, here are 10 tips for creating a dynamic brand culture from within:

  • Use HR's pivotal position to engage the organisation, top to bottom, in the branding process.
  • Be authentic; don't attempt to retro fit a 'canned' brand culture programme.
  • Make sure processes are 'human': simple, practical and energising.
  • Make learning and living the brand engaging, experiential and interactive.
  • Within the guidelines, leave room for personal interpretation; the culture will be richer for it.
  • Encourage creative thinking, innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit at every level of your organisation. A workforce with a dynamic and agile culture is better equipped to solve problems and navigate future challenges.
  • Find ways to recognise and reward employees who 'live the brand', both internally and in their interactions with clients and customers.
  • Put brand culture at the heart of recruitment to reinforce the brand and ensure its longevity.
  • Manage change sensitively. Reduce anxiety and resistance by communicating credible reasons for change frequently and keeping it clear, simple and realistic.
  • Work with consultants that are a good cultural fit.

Rob Howsam is creative director of consultancy firm Purpose