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Among the brands you admire most, there are probably some kick-ass logos and color palettes. Visual identity is important — but visual identity isn’t what turns would-be customers into raving fans. The secret to building loyal brand advocates is employee behavior.
Many people think that a brand is simply a matter of having a logo and a website. But you don’t have a brand. You are a brand. Visual elements are undoubtedly critical to your brand, but they make up only one part of it. Your brand is much more comprehensive. It’s the collective sum of everything you and your employees say and do — how your team makes decisions and behaves.
The power of an aligned culture
How your brand operates on the inside is more important than how it looks on the outside. Your internal culture — the way your employees communicate and act — is what defines your brand. Culture matters because it’s what guides whether or not your people behave on-brand.
Out of the hundreds of rebrands I’ve led with my team at Historic Agency, those who struggled all followed the same pattern: Their leaders ignored their internal culture until it sabotaged their brand. Meanwhile, those clients who sail through the rebranding process with success do so with a culture that lines up to support the brand and drive it forward.
How misalignment compromises your brand promise
Let’s look at your most important asset: your employees. Your people are the embodiment of your brand. Employee behavior speaks far more loudly than your visual identity and logo. When they’re engaged and motivated, they produce results that are meaningful, consistent and innovative.
But when their daily decisions and actions are at odds with your brand, you begin to see problems that trickle down to adversely affect product delivery. Off-brand employee behaviors create customer experiences that don’t line up with what you’ve promised them. These are called brand gaps — the misalignment between your brand promise and what the internal culture truly supports employees to deliver.
The result of brand gaps? Your organization loses credibility and engagement, and followers abandon your brand for one that’s more authentic. Let’s say your brand promises excellent customer service. If your culture incentivizes employees to hit sales targets instead of rewarding them for adding value to people’s lives, then you’ll fail to delight customers. Your audience will lose trust and stop buying into what you say about your brand. You can’t blame your employees for focusing on the rewarded behavior. They’re simply guided by your internal culture — not by what you say about your brand.
Before you invest in your logo…
My team has helped several businesses and nonprofits recover their brand after handing over hefty sums of money to someone who built them a misaligned visual identity that didn’t match how their internal teams operated or what employees delivered. By the time they called us in to intervene, these leaders realized they had a bigger problem on their hands: a promise their brand couldn’t execute, which widened the brand gaps and tanked customer confidence.
Keep this in mind: No organization has failed because of its logo. But many have failed because of their internal culture. If you neglect your culture, it can turn into your biggest internal barrier, blocking performance and disintegrating your brand.
3 steps to promoting employee behaviors that drive results
The success of your brand hinges on your organization’s ability to shape how your employees behave and inform the decisions they make. Follow these three steps to build the internal clarity your culture needs to set your people up to embody your brand and contribute to its success:
Workshop your values: Every organization needs about 5-7 carefully crafted values guiding employee behavior. Work through each of your values, and turn them into clear, specific, and actionable behavior-based principles that you can hold employees accountable to.
Go big on modeling your values: Once you’ve added clarity to your values and tied them to actionable behaviors, you’ve got to model them. Choose one of the behavior-based principles you came up with, and model it in some big, jaw-dropping way. For example, Patagonia shows how it prioritizes employees and their families by providing subsidized on-site childcare. At Historic, we model our value for fun by offering employees an annual vacation stipend designated to help cover the cost of fun activities.
Reward on-brand behavior: Incentivize the employee behaviors your brand needs to accelerate performance. Cultivate an environment that rewards innovation and on-brand risk-taking. Rewards don’t have to be extravagant or costly; think gift cards, free coffee or even an offbeat prize that rotates to other team members every week. Rewards simply need to reinforce the decisions and actions that shape the culture you’re trying to build.
Any marketing agency worth its salt can design a beautiful website, a stunning logo and an engaging advertising campaign. But these one-time efforts don’t create a big lift for your brand. To awaken your audience to your promise, you need the strength of an internally aligned culture. Such a culture will equip your people to take on-brand risks, drive results and showcase your brand at its best.