Culture and Brand Building Q&A – Webinar with AZO

With workforce shortages hampering many companies’ growth and changing customer expectations, culture and brand are more important than ever. Strong brands ring true internally and externally, so you can’t effectively address brand without addressing culture.

Michele Nichols, President of Launch Team, sat down with the AZO Network to bring insights from the latest research on company culture, brand building, and creating an authentic competitive advantage. During the webinar, Michele discussed actionable ways to attract and retain employees and customers and answered audience questions. You can also watch the full recorded webinar here.

Q1: How can you demonstrate brand culture and business values in ways other than a page on your website and a marketing tagline?

There are a few things you can do!

  1. Publish your service commitment and expectations. Be specific about what customers can expect and follow through.
  2. Map your values to your $. If the local community is important, give employees flex-time or PTO for volunteer work. Also, be clear with your team about how much and to whom your company donates.
  3. Create a contest internally AND externally. One year we did a referral contest, and every referral earned another Thanksgiving basket for the local food cupboard. We formed employee teams for fierce but fun competition.
  4. Crowd-source ideas for where and how to spend your resources. All of our employees promote our pro bono program, and we agreed on the selection criteria together.

Q2: How can a company know when brand-recognition marketing vs. product marketing makes sense?

You’ll need to balance both long-term opportunity and loyalty and near-term lead gen and sales. Brand building can be particularly important when you’re entering a new market, gearing up for a product launch, and post-launch when there is an opportunity to move from product purchase to long-term customer relationship. Branding, when done well, helps turn initial customers into fans.

Q3: What are some practical examples of activities that are effective in communicating a refreshed purpose externally to customers and the industry?

Be specific and action-focused in telling the story of your purpose. What are you going to do about it? Once you have a story and a plan, you can roll it out in a number of ways. Go live on social with your announcement at a conference (say, you’re funding a scholarship as part of your commitment to the industry). Look for themes in your research and development projects and investments that have important implications for society or the environment, and share that story. If you’re speaking or writing on those programs, make sure you tie it back to the brand promise.

Q4: How should you market more aggressively without diluting the authenticity of the already developed brand?

This is an opportunity to expand your audience and message, not barrage your existing database. Tell your brand story by experimenting with new channels, and refreshing old tactics with updated messaging. Social media is a great place to expand your story. Be clear and specific in the goals of each channel and tactic so you’re not diluting your brand authenticity.

Q5: How do you create an environment where you can have a constructive disagreement?

This one is important to get right! We’re building cultures that are kind and supportive, but that makes conflict even more important. One way is to designate a devil’s advocate for each meeting. Set the expectation that pushback IS creating value. Make sure to always recognize and reward for it. We go around at huddle and give kudos once a week—it’s a good opportunity to recognize people for constructive disagreement that ends in a stronger end product. Personality profile exercises are also a good segue into why people tend to avoid conflict. This was one investment that has paid off in spades for us: a workshop to help people recognize how they operate in conflict, and how to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.

Q6: Is organizational culture your most valuable asset at Launch Team?

Yes! We’re a services business–that’s a people-centric model. We are geared for long-term relationships with customers, long tenure with employees, and in today’s job market, to keep employees for 4, 5, 7 years and have them strive to be continuously better so that they have a strong reason to stay. We’re the ones you bring in for new markets, fast change, and new technology—so Launch hires for the ability to deal with ambiguity, customer focus, and action. We’ve geared our whole recruiting and interviewing process around it. It’s helped us with customer retention and to scale: it’s not me solely responsible for a new employee’s success—team members' relationships with each other is why they thrive and choose to stay.

Q7: Should culture and brand building be a top-down or bottom-up process within companies?

Both. Leaders need to look at the culture that already exists at every level of the org, identify the pockets of excellence they want to build on, and set the vision. You already have a culture whether it’s intentional or not…culture is bottom-up, changing it is top-down.

Q8: What are your top 3 tips to unleash company culture?

  1. Decide what you’re NOT. Even when it means saying no to opportunities. For instance, we are not a traditional agency. There are those that want the prestige and entourage (think Mad Men)—those are not our customers.
  2. Take a good look at your star performers. What makes them great? What do you see when you watch them interact?
  3. Let your people define it. Ask people to describe the company in three words. Look for themes, then decide if that’s what the market values and where you want to be.

Interested in hearing more from Michele about market insights and the importance of creating an authentic competitive advantage through culture and brand building? Listen to the full recorded webinar here!