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Branding opinion

Cultivating culture

The only thing warm and fuzzy about corporate culture should be how it makes customers feel. Rather, there should be a conscious and deliberate effort from the leadership to shape and direct the company's way of life in a particular way. Leaving culture to chance is taking a chance on the future of the business.
I'm not talking about culture in terms of opera or OppiKoppi, putu or pate, suits or sandals. It isn't about individual tastes, heritage or what people wear to work. Corporate culture has to do with shared attitudes, values and feelings. It defines the working environment, it shapes what employees say, how they think and what they do. It's real. Get it right and it's the holy grail of competitive advantage.

The internal brand

When leaders put culture and values at the top of their management agenda, it shows. Steve Jobs' legacy is way more than awesome technology. The Apple culture - the brand - the way of life - is consistent from the products to the performance to the people.

Think of culture as the internal brand of a company. It's behaviour. And when that behaviour, those values and those attitudes are aligned with what the marketing campaigns are saying, that's a powerful package.

The flipside is when culture is left alone - when there's no stewardship. Then it takes on a life of its own and the consequent disconnect between the external brand promise and the internal behaviours can be very damaging.

Innovation can be copied. Look at all the Wakkaberry wannabes popping up all over the place. But you can't replicate culture. And that's the competitive advantage. Starbucks. They've 'brandified' coffee by being in the people business, selling coffee and they're roasting the competition.

Getting on the same page

Imagine you're the CEO. If you asked 10 employees to describe your corporate culture and you got 10 different responses - you should be worried, very worried. If people who work together under a common brand umbrella don't share the same view of their corporate culture - the internal brand - that's bad news.

The good news is that culture can be created. Nedbank's turnaround strategy to become a vision-led, values-driven organisation is a case in point - but achieving cultural clarity has to be an ongoing management priority.

"Future sustainability will be dependent on a motivated, productive and engaged workforce" (Deloitte Best Company to Work For Survey application 2013). My point exactly.

When you have energetic and committed leadership driving a value system that is shared by everyone and that is engineered to give the customer what they've been promised - then you have an engaged workforce that will deliver a sustainable competitive edge. And of course, your customers will feel warm and fuzzy too!

About Sean McCoy

DR Sean McCoy, MD and founding member of HKLM, is a prominent figure in the branding arena with his expertise centred on client service, brand strategy and business development. Sean has been chairperson for the Brand Council of South Africa for this past year. He is a regular contributor of branding related opinion pieces in the industry media and speaker at various conferences and universities.
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