What does a powerful brand and culture look like today? One of the most obvious answers in the outdoor space is Patagonia, a company that wears its activist heart on its sleeve. Company founder Yvon Chouinard has grown the former mountain climbing supply company into a multibillon-dollar brand that spans sports, fashion and a love for the outdoors.
Chouinard grew his vision into an empire by sticking to his beliefs and empowering his employees. In his book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant
Businessman, he summarizes his approach:
“If you care about having a company where employees treat work as play and regard themselves as ultimate customers for the products they produce, then you have to be careful whom you hire, treat them right and train them to treat other people right. Otherwise you may come to work one day and find it isn’t a place you want to be anymore.”
So where do you start to create a purpose-driven business? And how do you embed the culture and develop the brand? As a leader, what role do you play in all of this? And will playing this role add anything to your bottom line?
What is a Company Culture?
Your company’s culture is more than just your mission statement and vision. It’s what you stand for, how you are known and what people experience when they buy from or interact with you.
Company culture is about how you communicate with customers and staff, too. It’s not only how you deal with suppliers; it’s which suppliers you deal with based on their cultures. It’s how you attract and recruit new people to your team, and it’s how you sell your product or service.
Most businesses don’t design their cultures and instead let a culture form organically as the company grows. This could work, but the effectiveness of the strategy is finite. As soon as your company begins to grow or open in other locations, this culture can disappear — or worse, turn toxic.
We’ve all worked in companies where there’s a toxic culture. People leave. They’re unproductive. There are higher rates of sickness and absenteeism, and you lose customers just as quickly as you gain them.
Business owners who manage to grow and maintain a fantastic culture pick the right people and have a strong personality that keeps the culture growing in the right direction. They also tend to work in line with the following three general principles.
Have a Brand Promise
This is the promise you make to you customers, suppliers and employees, and how you deliver on that promise through what you say, how you act and what you do.
Your Employees are Your First Customer
Employees are your front line, your people on the ground, your ambassadors and advocates. They should be treated as such. They sell your business for you, to your customers, every day. Treating them right promotes the feeling that they can contribute and that their ideas are valuable to the company’s success.
Use Your Culture as a Marketing Tool
People, talent and consumers are drawn to people doing good for their customers and staff. By capturing your company’s day-to-day efforts in marketing materials, you can create the kind of insights and transparency that customers love to see.
By starting with what you care about and knowing what you stand for, you will attract the right sort of people as employees and encourage the right sort of behavior. All of these things lead to growth. When your brand and culture are aligned, you can make clear choices easily and quickly, based on your values. This alignment gives you the ability to hire more of the right people more often because you’re hiring not just for skill, but also for an individual’s values and attitude. In turn, your business will attract and retain the right kind of people because they will feel at home.
How can you start to think about focusing your brand’s culture? First, think about what you stand for and for what purpose your business exists. Hint: The answer is more than “to make money.”
Next, put your employees first. Get that part right, and the employees will look after your external customers. Then identify what you don’t stand for and make every attempt to clarify what is most important to your business.
Finally, hire people based on your purpose, vision and values. You can train skills, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to train values.
Lauren Jones is founder and director of the branding agency Box Creative. Rebecca Bonnington is CEO and founder of Tricres, a consulting and coaching company that focuses on creating business culture.
This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue.