Friday, October 01, 2010

Sitting at the intersection of brand and culture

Sitting at the intersection of brand and culture

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There's a great new blog post up this week on the Harvard Business Review blog site by Bill Taylor, founder of Fast Company magazine and author of the book Mavericks at Work, entitled Brand is Culture, Culture is Brand.

As I read the post, I couldn't help but smile, as the primary point of the article is one about which I feel strongly. From the article:

The new "power couple" inside the best companies... was an iron-clad partnership between marketing leadership and HR leadership. Your brand is your culture, your culture is your brand.

Bill goes on to describe a speech he gave recently, where a bank executive who was in the audience came up afterward "with a Cheshire cat grin" and handed him a business card. Her title? Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing. Again from the article:

Forget a "partnership" between HR and marketing. At Corner Bank, the two functions report to the same executive. It's a title I'd never seen before, and I asked Jana how her fellow bankers tended to react to it. "They're usually kind of shocked," she admitted, "because at most companies the head of marketing and the head of HR have very different personalities."

I must admit if I had been at Bill's talk, I would have probably gone up and shown him my business card as well, because my title here at Red Hat is Senior Vice President of People & Brand.

This is no accident. At Red Hat we believe the culture you create internally is a powerful tool for driving brand perception externally.  As a company that grew up quickly, without the benefit of a huge advertising budget to grow our brand, Red Hat found creating a strong, distinctive culture not only an effective way to build brand, but an inexpensive way as well.

I've been in this position spanning HR and brand functions for almost two years, and the connection points between the traditional HR and brand roles have never been more clear for me. By working closely together, HR and brand professionals have a unique opportunity to mold the external perception of the brand by impacting internal practices.

A few examples:

  • Employer value proposition: What is the company "story" you use to attract the best and brightest employees to the company?
  • Hiring: How can you change the hiring process so you ensure you are recruiting and employing people who are a good fit for the brand and culture?
  • Orientation: How can you ensure employees have a common vision of what the company is trying to achieve (and can tell that story to others)?
  • Performance management: How can you set up a system that rewards those who live the brand, both internally and in their interactions with customers and partners?
  • Internal communications: How can you consistently tell and teach the story of the company through company meetings, announcements, and events?
  • Celebrations of brand and culture: How can you reinforce the brand and culture by showcasing it (we host a "We are Red Hat week" every year)?
  • Brand ambassadors: How can you identify and support the most enthusiastic proponents of the brand and culture within the employee ranks?

Do I think HR and brand need to be combined into one function in order to work well together? Of course not.

But my experience running People & Brand at Red Hat has shown me there are endless opportunities to better connect HR and brand efforts within organizations. If making an organizational change is out of the question, I'd definitely recommend getting the HR and brand groups together to look for additional opportunities to collaborate.

My belief is that a company living a common brand story internally is going to be more more effective at showing a passionate, differentiated, and consistent face to the outside world.

Bill sums it up well at the end of his post:

You can't be special, distinctive, and compelling in the marketplace unless you create something special, distinctive, and compelling in the workplace.

When you translate from business-speak the essential message here boils down to this: Companies make money by establishing ongoing relationships with their customers. An important aspect of an ongoing relationship is what has come to be called "branding". This involves cultivating a level of consistency and quality in the company's offerings to the public -- not just in the product itself but in all your interactions with the public, in advertising, service and support. The best way to accomplish this to fashion an "ethos", a set of ideas, principles, conventions and attitudes which embody the values of the company and which insure that all its employees are likely to reflect the company's values. Such an "ethos" (and the effort it entails) is designed to insure that customers will find value beyond merely the value of the product itself in their dealings with the company.

It seems to me that this is pretty much what artists have to do in the digital age, when so many of the rules are changing.

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