company culture

It’s a common thing, when speaking with clients, for them to articulate what they see as a distinction between company culture versus brand culture. I understand what they are trying to distinguish but would submit the idea that, when true alignment with the brand is present, the company culture and the brand culture are the same. In addition, any organization that desires alignment will start relating to them as the same. Every culture should inherently be a brand culture.

Many cultures are defined by very generic and anemic terms. How many times have we heard words like partnership, creativity, and integrity as components of how  culture is described? Now, all of those behaviors are desirable, but the focus is in the wrong place. On behavior rather than belief.

Brand culture is often defined as a sub-set of culture. How much do you know about when the company was founded, who founded it, what the first product was, etc. The focus of brand culture is often history and heritage rather than something actionable with daily relevance for employees.

A Brand is a Promise Made to Customers

Your brand represents a promise to customers. Think of some of your favorite brands. What is the promise you feel they are making to you? What can you count on them for?

Some brands communicate the promise in a very straight forward way as part of their marketing. BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine. That’s rather clear. Other brands are less obvious. But even in those cases, you as a consumer have a belief of what they are offering you and what you expect. In your mind, this is the promise they are making to you. When they keep their promise, you are pleased. When they don’t keep their promise, you feel let down. When they exceed their promise, you are delighted and impressed. All of these impressions contribute to your gut feeling about the organization, and that, in your mind, is their brand.

The culture of the organization is simply a shared set of beliefs that drive behavior. These behaviors ultimately have a very direct and cumulative impact on how the promise is kept, or broken. When your brand (your promise) is the center point of your culture, now you have true internal-external brand alignment.

Beliefs are the Foundation of Brand Culture

Powerful cultures are focused on powerful beliefs. These beliefs are the foundation of the brand – the secret sauce for what makes the brand special, relevant and of service to customers. When the focus is on beliefs, and the beliefs are focused on the brand, the desired behaviors will take care of themselves. The behaviors become a means to an end in keeping the brand promise.

I had a conversation a couple days ago with a senior executive of a large medical organization. We were talking about his desire, and the desire of the organization, to improve the patient experience. They were in the process of hiring a new executive to lead this work. I applaud this. Most of the conversation was focused on the new behaviors they wanted to see regarding how patients were served. However, what was missing in the conversation was any link or connection to the beliefs of the organization or the promise of the brand.

Imagine how much more effective it would be to focus first on the promise of the brand, then to explore the beliefs the organization holds about why this promise is important and relevant to patients. Now you have the proper context to transition to a conversation about behavior change. Without this context of “brand culture,” behavior shifts are often short lived. With the context of brand culture, behavior naturally begins to fall into place. The gaps become obvious and more easily addressed, and the alignment becomes clear, logical and inspiring to the team.

What are your observations about company culture vs. brand culture? How have you experienced these in your organization? We would love to hear your thoughts.


About Kurt Kennedy

Kurt founded Kennedy Communications in 1988 as a media production company. Since then, Kennedy Global has evolved into the leading internal-external brand alignment agency. Kurt and his team create strategic business solutions that align a company’s external customer promise with an engaged internal culture that generates tremendous results at every level of an organization. Kurt and his team have created strategic programs for some of the world’s most recognized brands including Intel, Nike, Office Depot, Starbucks, Albertsons, Adobe, Dell, LensCrafters, Target Optical, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Unilever and many others. In addition to consulting with clients, Kurt frequently serves as a speaker and facilitator at a variety of business events around the world including strategy sessions with executive leadership teams, interactive workshops and training sessions at corporate summits, and keynote presentations at industry events. Kurt earned his BA in Mass Communications from Walla Walla University. He enjoys traveling in his spare time.