Is Your Brand Built On Mirrors or Core Values?

January 15, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Branding

I stay up at night worrying a lot. I mean, how does Snooki get her hair to stay like that? Why are there never enough oranges in the house? Is it possible to run on ice without having to fear a broken ankle at every turn? How do other companies view their brand? Do they find ways to integrate it into their daily interactions and culture? If not, do customers notice? Do they care? Does it matter? Why won’t the cats stop crying at my bedroom door and OMG CAN I KILL THEM YET?!

Do you see what I mean?!

Obviously as Chief Branding Officer, I spend a lot of time looking at and evaluating brands. But I’m noticing that I’m starting to do it a lot more as a consumer, as well. Social media has given an intimate look at what really happens behind the scenes. I want to be able to trust that I “know” the company and the culture that I’m investing my energy and dollars into. And that means creating a brand that’s consistent and that the company bleeds from every pore.

This idea came up earlier this week when Rae, Rhea and I recorded a podcast with John Jantsch for his Duct Tape Marketing Series*. We talked a bit about the Outspoken Media brand, where the name came from, and how the idea of ‘outspokenness’ plays into everything that we do. We talked about how it’s who we are. We’re the exact same Outspoken on the Web site, on the blog, on our individual Twitter accounts, and on the phone when you call about services. Clients can trust that the no-holds-barred approach we take to blogging and communicating is the same way we’re going to handle their Web site and our interactions with them. It’s not just our brand, it’s our culture and, in some ways, our promise.

And I think that idea is becoming more important. Because when you build a brand around your core values and who you are, your brand becomes much more than a logo. It becomes a marketing tool.

Zappos built a company model around creating ‘wow’ experiences and they did it by encouraging that behavior in employees. Zappos will pay you $2,000 to quit. They have a culture book that is put out once a year that employees contribute to and use to share what the Zappos brand means to them. Interviews and performance reviews are based 50 percent on values and culture fit. They offer 5 weeks of core value training to new employees. Zappos has put the steps in motion so that they bleed their brand from every outpost. And that’s been important for them because the brand is now their biggest marketing tool. That’s where the strongest brands are formed.

The question is then: How do you set up your organization so that your brand is more than just logo? How do you make it something that you bleed?

I think you create a company that sets its core values as the number one priority. And you stick to that. No matter what. They become what guide all your actions.

For example:

  • Employees are hired based on how they fit the model you’re after, not just pure skill. [We’re exceptionally lucky that Dawn meets both.]
  • You’re not scared to lose a talented person in order to keep the fit, knowing that one rotten egg can spoil the bunch.
  • You’re willing to lose clients to preserve company culture [note #5]
  • You treat employees how you want them to treat clients.
  • You epitomize company culture at every touch point, regardless of position or medium. The secretary and the CEO should be answering the phone the same way, and they should tweet the same way they’d answer the phone.
  • You make preserving and evangelizing company culture your main priority.

There’s a lot to be said for a company that’s not afraid to define their core values and stick to them. It turns your brand into something that you can sustain and live up to. It differentiates you from everyone else and attracts your community. It creates an experience with your customers that they’ll be able to trust will be consistent.

In this new age of marketing, I’d argue that your brand needs to become more than just a logo or a tagline on your Web site. It’s something that you need to bleed because the alternative just isn’t good enough. Outspoken is far from perfecting the art the way Zappos has, we may never get there, but it is something that we’re always thinking about.

What about you? Does it matter or should I start taking meds to help me sleep at night?

*Yes, I will tell you as soon as the podcast is posted so that you can all experience the ONE TIME where Rae, Rhea and myself all went quiet in fear of talking over one another. I swear that’s never happened before. But the interview was still a lot of fun!

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