Is Your Brand Built On Mirrors or Core Values?


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!

Your Comments

  • Steven Savage

    One of the things I’m glad you included is that it IS OK to loose clients and people to maintain who you are.

    You can’t meet goals maintaining relationships and doing things that aren’t in sync with them. You’ll distract yourself at best – and at worst wear yourself out.

    • Lisa Barone

      Definitely. I think one of the best parts about running your own show is being able to choose who you work with to make sure that it’s a fit on both sides. Trying to work with a client who you don’t get or who doesn’t get you is just a recipe for resentment and bad working conditions. Find the people who “get” you. Otherwise you end up like Conan. :p

  • Michael D

    I really love when I read your posts and can check off items on my mental list of company/personal goals. An important one (which goes against traditional business teaching) is not being afraid to lose clients or order to maintain culture. We took this approach to the point that people are turned away on occasion (for whatever reason they don’t fit) so that we can continue providing a level of service we’ve developed for our core clientele. It’s been a fun and educational experience.

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s awesome. I think that’s the best way to do business. You really have to protect that company and not compromise what’s important. We absolutely know that we lose clients because of our mouths and the way we conduct business – but we attract a lot more at the same time.

  • Joanna Lord

    Spot on ladies. The past year has brought so many layoffs and left job candidates searching out a new brand to call home. One thing is for sure that although losing a job is a challenge it can also open all sorts of amazing doors for you. One of which is exactly what you describe above.
    When a person searches for the next “brand” they want to stand behind they really need to know if the core values are something they can hold onto through the storms. Leaders of the brand have to make sure they are hiring sincere examples of the brand they hope to build and job candidates need to be sure the opportunity is less about the check and more about standing tall behind what their new company represents.

    The perfect match makes for some happy days. #warmandfuzzy

  • Michael Martin

    Also helps when the company has the pull to get mentioned in CNN, Forbes, & BusinessWeek within short order – CONGRATS!

    @Michael (THE Chiropractor)
    You hit the nail on the head by not compromising values in FIRING poor fit clients!

    I didn’t see beer drinking mentioned in your core values as I thought that was CRITICAL at Outspoken :)

    ,Michael Martin

    • Lisa Barone

      We’ve been very lucky with the media attention over the past year, for sure. But I think a lot of that attention has become because we HAVEN’T backed down and gone quiet just because folks told us to. We stayed true to our name.

      Beer is only a core value for Rae and I. Rhea prefers other stuff and Dawn’s allergic. Really, it’s drinking that’s the core value, not beer itself. ;)

  • Marc Meyer

    Totally agree Lisa. In fact isn’t that how we create our friendships? We look for the common threads, the bonds that bring us together. Be it my brand or my company brand, we want people to identify with more than just a well creafted pitch or a product, we want that consumer for the lifetime of the brand-how do we do that? trust, common ground, zero betrayal, the ability to make concessions, the ability to forgive fuck ups.. Brands built on a house full of cards or with mirrors don’t last long. People will eventually find out, they always do. Just like personal relationships.

  • fionnd

    Hi Lisa,
    Great post and you go girl with the PR success. I have found that its very difficult to find staff who want a different culture (Well in Arizona anyways, must be the cactus makes them prickly). People say they want to work somewhere different but when it all boils down to it a different culture scares them. One thing I have found detrimental is hiring from large companies into a small one. The greatest success we have had in sticking to our brand and culture is hiring new people with a lot less experience and training them. Hiring very experienced people has never worked for us as they bring their former culture with them and at times its been a complete disaster.

  • Dave Manningsmith

    Excellent article, Lisa!
    Thank you.

  • Nathan Hangen

    I think a lot of it has to do with being patient enough to take only opportunities, whether from a business, hiring, or marketing standpoint, that are in sync with your brand.

  • Jordan Kettner

    Great Post Lisa,

    Like Steven, I agree with your point, you have to be able to cut clients loose if they don’t fit your core values.

    Also, I have always been a fan of Seth Godin’s book “Purple Cow”. You need to be absolutely remarkable with your core values and client service if you want to be successful. Great example with Zappos!