Today’s brands offer a rich means of consumer self-expression. Like digital bumper stickers, the blogs and pages we follow and interact with on the Internet and social media are beginning to serve as a reflection of what culturally defines us as people. Whether or not we, as consumers, build a personal connection with the barrage of brands around us, can ultimately impact the fate of the brand itself. As former IBM chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner said in his interview with Spencer Stuart, “Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game.”
Since a brand’s authenticity and lifestyle fit is so important to today’s customers, we know that we have to fortify our brand’s promise, so it means much more than a set of two-dimensional, written benefits on our website, social media pages, and product packaging. There are two distinct ways we can achieve this:
Looking inward often helps us determine the best course of action outward. Organizations renowned for their customer service, like the nationally acclaimed chain of Publix grocery stores, have built itself on an inward-facing commitment to a culture. In Publix’s case, that translates as the promise that its stores are “where shopping is a pleasure.”
At Publix, company-wide employee rituals like automatic, complimentary offerings to walk groceries to a customer’s car; or, the expectation that each employee should personally guide a customer to an item they’re looking for, is wholly commonplace – and expected. In this case, the cultural norm of always going the “extra mile” has really made this grocery store chain stand out as one of the best in customer satisfaction nationwide.
Through the ceremonial actions of its people, companies like Publix have found success – and growth. After all, our employees really are the perfect prospects to help sell our brand socially, and make an example for the lifestyle through culture. Think about it – if our employees don’t have passion for the brand, how can we enthuse and excite people outside our organization?
The goal should be for our staff to feel as impassioned about our brand as a lifestyle just as much, if not more so, than we want your customers to be. This is where solid human resource initiatives are especially important; training, modernizing HR thinking, interviews for culture fit, and, of course, insights, are all part of the mission.
As the business owner, always remember that you can only establish your preferred employee culture when you can convince your people to buy into the values and beliefs that shape how your brand, and your business, works and grows. Organizations and leaders who understand that company culture affects everything they do are best positioned to deliver the strongest branding experiences.
The second distinct way to effectively deliver on our brand’s promise is to capitalize on the outcomes that result from its use. Today’s rapidly growing businesses are using authentic storytelling to make their brand a lifestyle, says Fast Company.
Techniques such as speaking to our audience like we would to a close friend; striving to create unique brand experiences; engaging with fresh and unexpected topics; and allowing our audience to become part of the experience (like Unilever did with its Foundry Project) are all valuable strategies we can now utilize in this final step.
Public relations and customer service through our website portal and social media pages can really come in handy; in fact, it matters much more than that. In today’s marketplace, it is now expected. Business 2 Community has found that people expect to hear back from the brands they interact with on Twitter and other social networks, regardless of whether their comment is positive or negative. And when they do report a problem or issue, they want to hear back from our brand quickly: In fact, more than 50 percent of consumers on Twitter want a representative of our brand to respond within an hour.
There’s no debate about it – becoming a true lifestyle brand really forces us to treat our brand as a 24/7 project. Not to worry; social media automation programs like Hootsuite or Sprout Social can really help with this.
Creating a solid strategy around Step 5 can make our brand strong inside and out; it truly is the icing on the proverbial business cake. Just don’t forget to remember Steps 1-4 – with the addition of the skills we’ve already built, including enhanced product innovation, an effectively organized communication strategy, a powerful brand message, and an emotional connection, we can keep the wheel turning by constantly evaluating if our vision is well married to the results and feedback we’re getting from our numbers – and our customers.
What if your vision, product, or brand changes in the future? No problem. Simply start over again with Step 1 and take yourself all the way through Step 5 of the process. Now, innovator, building a winning brand really is possible.