How much does culture matter in branding?

Company culture is a buzz phrase for job candidates and human resources departments — but it’s something that marketing departments should think about too. Culture and brand ought to go hand in hand, argues Denise Lee Yohn in her new book, “Fusion: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies.”

In it, Yohn encourages companies to build their brands “from the inside out,” integrating it with employees’ experience, not just customers’. Some companies have already pulled off this approach — think Patagonia’s extreme stance on preserving national parks or Outdoor Voice’s motivational marketing. But many other retailers, especially big-box players, have disconnected these two crucial aspects of their identities.

It’s a fusion that requires thought and effort — like any business decision — and one that executives must consider strategically as it relates to their core mission. On the topic, the discussion forum RetailWire asked its BrainTrust panel of retail experts the following questions:

  • Do you agree on the need for companies to fuse culture and brand?
  • Why do brand communications often vary from an organization’s cultural messages?
  • What advice do you have for companies looking to fuse culture and brand?

Here are eight of the most provocative and insightful comments from the discussion. Comments have been edited by Retail Dive for length and clarity.

1. Time to tell a story

Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates: A company’s brand should be reflected in its culture; otherwise there is a disconnect that will impact morale, which will impact sales. Companies need a story behind their brands that encompass what the company does and why it’s important. That same brand identity should be part of the company’s internal culture.

2. Think of it like a long-term relationship

Brandon Rael, Retail Excellence Leader, Tulip Retail: Consumers are seeking long-term relationships with their favorite brands, and have a connection with the company well beyond the products themselves. We associate certain emotions and nostalgic feelings with certain brands not because of the products, but because of what the brand seemingly stands for.

All of the magic we see with Coke’s iconic ad conveys a sense of culture and a sense of why that still resonates today. So yes, your culture is your brand.

3. Can culture become a cult?

Nikki Baird, VP of Retail Innovation, Aptos: Where I pause, not because I have an opinion yet but because I think I’m probably going to have to have one at some point, is the balance between building an organization based on this deeper meaning and crossing some line into cult or group-think status.

If my company stands for, say, mental health in teens, then do I insist that every new hire care about that and buy into that? What if they don’t? And with current high awareness of diversity – its challenges and its values – then by demanding buy-in to a company’s deeper meaning, are you locking yourself out of opportunities that would come from different world views and perspectives? I don’t have an answer to that, but it’s something I think every company needs to think about.