This is the fifth post in a new series on how to build a strong culture in your promotional products business.Culture and brand form a perfect symbiosis. They fuse together to create one distinct personality. In an interview about how to integrate your brand and culture, author Denise Lee Yohn made it clear that the need for “brand culture fusion” is stronger for B2B than B2C, “especially B2B organizations that are services.” Why? “So much of the value you're delivering to your customer is going through your people,” continues Denise. “In many cases, your people are your product, so they need to be the ultimate embodiment of your brand.”If your people are your product, then it stands to reason that you should fashion, form, and articulate your brand+culture in a memorable way that will attract the right talent and inspire your team to embody your brand. If you do this effectively, you can create a flywheel effect in your growth, the momentum of which will astonish you. But first, we must make sure your brand+culture is distinguishable, individual as a personality. Here are three character traits your brand+culture personality should inhabit to act as a magnet for both clients and talent:
Your brand+culture should express a distinct voice. The strongest brands in the world have an opinion about the world they inhabit. They have a strong opinion about who they are and who they are not. twelveNYC has a distinct voice, “We are storytellers,” proclaims the voice on their website, “Our passion is custom and private label merchandise. With a finger on the pulse of global retail, our eyes tracking market trends ... we help brands speak the truth.” The voice of twelveNYC is colorful, stylistic, and bold. Distinct voices are evocative. Most companies with a strong brand use their voice to create a cultural mandate for their clients and their team. twelveNYC helps “brands speak the truth,” which is both a declarative statement and a promise.Juice Marketing states “we create interactive marketing experiences that evoke emotional connections with brands.” By declaring “interactive marketing experiences,” they attract experiential marketing companies and retail-focused prospects. Fairware is a market leader in on-trend, sustainable, and ethically sourced products. Their clients and their potential employees never have to wonder about their values, their voice is purpose-driven, and they have a clear vision about their place in the world. All three voices express a strong opinion with authority, their opinion differentiates their identity. It cuts through the clutter and offers a sharp contrast to the milieu of average voices in the industry. Compare the tone of their authority to statements like the mass of competitors in the industry who states, “We can put your logo on over 750,000 products.” One voice is boring, uninteresting, and a commodity; the other is compelling, edgy, and full of daring. The statements are more than marketing speak, they are north stars for everyone in their ecosystem and help align the culture of the business toward the right outcome. A clear voice is a clarion call for the right fit of clients and talent. A clear voice amplifies your message, but not because of the volume, because the voice is different. The clients and talent who are attracted by Fairware’s message are different than the talent and clients who are attracted to twelveNYC’s message. By focusing on the right mission and fine-tuning the message to fit, you will attract the right tribe.
Your brand+culture should possess a unique aesthetic. With one look, through the visual play of colors and images, your brand+culture should evoke emotion. We sell tactile products that create an experience for the end-user. Everything about our branding, particularly the look and feel, should convey an experience. Distributor RIGHTSLEEVE has a fun and quirky-cool aesthetic. Creative Boulevard is a fashion-forward brand who is curious. And it’s not all about play and fun. Some brands should exude different emotions. At ROBYN, we were in the business of branded materials management. It was logistics and reporting and fulfillment, and a serious part of the customer’s distribution channel. While we provided promotional products and print, our real purpose was to alleviate the administrative burden of handling materials, and we had to show that we made things simple and easy, and that we were competent enough, even for a Fortune 100 company, so our brand reflected a slightly serious aesthetic. What is the emotional connection to your brand? What does your brand make people FEEL? Can you list the emotional touchpoints that a customer feels when they experience your brand? If you can, you are closer to defining your culture. A clearer example is to look at well-known brands and not ask questions about their value, but to ask the question: how do they make me -as a customer- feel?Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, once wrote that “Starbucks coffee is exceptional, yes, but emotional connection is our true value proposition … this is a subtle concept, often too subtle for many business people to replicate or cynics to appreciate.” When your brand possesses a unique aesthetic that sparks an emotional connection, it will intrigue and entice an audience, and build into your culture the essential values you espouse.
Your brand+culture should be a peculiar personality. An exercise: If your culture could walk and talk, what would it look like? Say? Eat? Wear? Where would it go? What would it do? If you’re still learning how to create your brand personality, here’s a secret to some of the most successful brands: the personality of a brand can often be mapped back to the founders. Origaudio is a freestyling, loose, and carefree company who is serious about business, so are the founders, Jason Lucash and his biz partner Mike Szymczak. Rustico features a rugged and adventurous aesthetic with a passion for craftsmanship, and it’s no surprise that their founder, Isaac Childs, chases sunsets through the mountains and desert on his motorcycle. Kathy Cheng, a leader in fashion-forward sustainability through Redwood Classics, exemplifies these traits in her own personality and passion, there’s a clear connection between Redwood’s beautiful products and Kathy’s passion for style.But most brands go through a metamorphosis, being shaped by the very talent they attract. A good example is our friends at SnugzUSA. Behind the helm, you have the seriousness of a Six Sigma-driven production facility through founder Brandon Mackay’s influence, but the brand exudes a joyful and playful aesthetic. Why? Their leadership team creates a tao of tension between fun and work that eventually comes through their aesthetic and their finished product. Southwest Airlines is a great example of this, the airline who gets more people to their destination on time than any other airline exudes a warm, friendly, and fun vibe but they are backed by serious success in their mission. Your brand+culture lives through your voice, your aesthetic, and the peculiarities of your personality.And like attracts like.To paraphrase Robert Henri, those who excel at creating a bespoke culture are those who dared to be themselves. And because they dared to be uniquely themselves, they are interesting to us. If your brand+culture exudes a unique identity, it acts as a filtering device for potential clients and future team members. It defines who you work for, and who you work with. It also filters away the wrong type of client and team member (equally as important!), creating less friction and obstacles to your goals. Onboarding is easier. Community building is easier. Client engagement is easier. Collaboration with supplier-partners is easier. When you get brand+culture fusion right it becomes an immersive environment that you have created, and this unique ecosystem defines, inspires, and ignites future growth.Former CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner once stated that “Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization's makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like... I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn't just one aspect of the game, it is the game."