Many executives often believe that an organization’s trademark and logotype not only represents their brand, but is the brand.
However, while a brand may be powerfully represented by its graphic identity, an organization’s brand is far more than a logo. A brand is a promise to the consumer, a promise to fulfill a need by providing either a good or service.
But because many different brands offer the same products and services, it is the unique mix of an organization’s tangible and intangible values that a customer will consider when selecting a product or service.
These values make up the cornerstone of a company’s brand and set an organization apart. Think for a moment: though many retailers sell food or coffee or clothing, you probably have a place that you visit most often. Maybe it’s because the coffee house uses a secret recipe, or maybe it’s because the clothing is inexpensive but trendy, or because the food is locally sourced, but we all let a company’s values guide our purchasing habits.
For this reason, it is important to recognize your company’s own values and communicate them to your associates, your stakeholders, and your customers every opportunity that you get. Doing so will not only clarify and amplify the culture that your customers experience, but will carve out a deeper niche for your company within the market. By aligning your values with your customer, you will get their buy-in.
Aligning Your Values with the Customer
Values play a ubiquitous role in everyday life for any brand, and are the crux for any customer decision. In an essay included within Understanding Human Values, sociologist Robin M. Williams, Jr. explains accordingly, “Values serve as criteria for selection and action. When most explicit and fully conceptualized, values become criteria for judgment, preference, and choice.”
So whether a customer returns to your store, chooses your brand, and spends their money with you, is a matter of aligning your values with theirs. To do this successfully, however, requires that you make the most of all opportunities to share your company’s values, especially with your associates. As Lisa Huetteman, author of The Value of Core Values, shares, “To have a positive impact day after day, year after year, core values must be woven in the fabric of the organization.”
This means your company must not separate its values and view them as being distinct, but integrate them into a person’s experience of the company. However, as Huetteman continues, “Institutionalizing core values doesn't require bureaucracy, but it does demand creativity and intentionality.” You can be innovative with how you mesh your company’s values into its brand, and by taking an active, intentional approach to sew these core values into all aspects of your company, you will be much more successful at being able to align those core values with your customers.
Taking a more active approach will also allow you to ask other even more important questions about your company and its brand. After all, according to Jim Collins, author of Built to Last, “The crucial variable is not the content of a company’s ideology, but how deeply it believes its ideology and how consistently it lives, breathes, and expresses it in all that it does. Visionary companies do not ask, ‘What should we value?.’ They ask, ‘What do we actually value deep down to our toes.”
Successful entrepreneurs understand this implicitly. They discover a problem or opportunity in the marketplace, clarify it, and address it by aligning their efforts with laser focus. They learn by trial and error, growing along the way. But, as great organizations grow, they often fail to consistently communicate their brand’s core values in a way that inspires their employees.
A Problem with Organizational Learning
One way to effectively share your company’s brand with your employees is by having them experience these core values through their on-boarding and continued learning. Peter M. Senge, author of the national bestseller The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, acknowledges the importance of this learning, saying, “Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it, no organizational learning occurs.”
Ultimately, then, successfully communicating your brand to your customers comes down to your employees’ individual learning. However, much of the organizational learning that encourages this individual learning has an under-reaching, uninspiring curriculum. Rather than taking the time to integrate their core values into their associates’ training, many organizations simply scrape together a cookie-cutter program that tells their employees how to complete their basic duties or how to comply with the law and follow company policies.
While this information is important and especially necessary for particular industries, only telling someone how to do something is less inspiring than explaining why a particular behavior or skill is important and how it fits into the company’s brand and values. And since training has the power to shift and maintain corporate culture when individuals are engaged and inspired, your company should always aim to include the “why.”
The Importance of Why
Real organizational learning involves learning and reinforcing the principles and values that define a company and differentiate it from competitors, differentiate and matter most to key stakeholders. To most powerfully and consistently communicate your brand’s values, everyone within your company from top to bottom must know why the organization does what does.
If you doubt the importance of understanding the “whys” of your organization, look no further than the largest and arguably the most innovative company in the world—Apple.
In 2008, Apple hired Joel Podolny, the dean of Yale University's School of Management, to develop "Apple University”, a program that the company uses to teach executives to emulate and perpetuate the successful strategies of Steve Jobs. According to Daniel Eran Dilger of AppleInsider, “Apple University intends to codify and preserve the culture Jobs established at Apple, training its executive team to adopt ‘tenets that he believes unleash innovation and sustain success at Apple — accountability, attention to detail, perfectionism, simplicity, secrecy.’"
More than merely launching the next product, Jobs wanted the means to preserve the very thinking and values that enabled Apple to produce its hit products over the past several years, and to continue to maintain that competency well into the future. By institutionalizing these values and making them part of all employees’ learning experience, Apple is able to maintain, clarify, and amplify the culture that has made it successful for decades.
Consistently Share Your Vision
However, our actions are directed by the beliefs, attitudes and values that we maintain, so you cannot have a successful organization that will continue to grow and learn without a shared vision. “Vision establishes an overarching goal,” Peter Senge reminds us. “The loftiness of the target compels new ways of thinking and acting."
Successful organizations with strong brands know the vision, mission and values of their organization can and should always be expressed in teaching moments. And often their employees are the best source of these learning opportunities. Not only are their employees the innovators who help add to and enrich the company culture, but by having their employees consistently understand and promote their core values, they strengthen their brand message.
These successful companies have also realized that a Learning Management System, filled with rich, relevant and relatable custom content can go much further than a logo emblazoned on a tee shirt, helping them a long way towards sharing their values with their associates and their customers. But while a company’s brand is more than its trademark or logo, that trademark or logo reminds the customer of the promises that are at the core of their brand. And by consistently sharing with their associates the core values of the company and the promises they make to every customer, these organizations are creating value for themselves and their brand in today’s marketplace.