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Culture Shock: How Company Culture Is the Primary Force in Determining Brand Strength

Back in 2012, we did things very differently at 97th Floor. One aspect of our company was that we used to have the team come in at 8:00am on the dot and make them leave at 5:00pm. They had some flexibility of course…they could take a 30 minute lunch or a one hour lunch! I vividly remember lecturing one particular team member that he had to take at least a 30 minute lunch.

My intentions were good; I was just doing what I was accustomed to and I thought it would be good for his health and productivity to take a break. However, at the same time we were really pushing hard to build our brand as a results-based marketing agency. We wanted clients to hire and pay us for our strategy and results, more than our hours and deliverables. Sure, we had (and still have) projects that were billed hourly, but the majority of our clients were hiring us for our skills as an agency. What they were after were results, not hours.

It was really hard back then—and still is sometimes—to get companies to view us in this light. That’s when we started asking ourselves, “Why should clients judge us based on results and the true value we bring to them if we judge our own team on how many hours they sit in their chairs where we can watch them?” Oh and don’t get me wrong, we were much worse than just tracking their every minute. We tracked basically everything you can imagine that really doesn’t matter. We couldn’t expect our clients and prospective clients to be different than us.

Brands are built through culture

We ultimately learned that the culture we breed at 97th Floor directly impacts our brand. We quickly (but not abruptly) started changing our policies and environment to help facilitate the culture that we now wanted. Today, team members are judged on their results and the value they bring to 97th Floor only. They have 100% autonomy, and in turn they give the company 100% accountability. This example, along with many other major improvements to our culture, has allowed our brand to be about results-based marketing.

Most companies haven’t figured this out yet. They are doing things the old way: coming up with what they want their brand to be, and then spending money to force it down their customers’ throats. And sure, that works to an extent, but it won’t last in the long term. Today, your culture is the main influence on your brand.

People are increasingly doing more and more research about companies before they buy. They ask their friends. They scroll through social networks. They read reviews. People don’t buy from Zappos because the particular shoes are better quality than everywhere else. It’s not even for the free, fast shipping. The shoes are the same on the other site and many other sites offer free, fast shipping now as well. They buy from Zappos because their brand is all about superior customer service. That was Zappos intent and they built that by creating a culture based on excellent customer service. Just ask Tony Hsieh.

There are many famous examples of companies with strong brands, and they were created through the company’s culture. Sure, the marketing and ad dollars helped, but the main driver was the culture.

Good or bad, employees pay it forward.

All companies love to tout that their people are their number-one asset, and it’s for good reason; the people are what drive a company to success or failure. However, you constantly see companies that treat their employees terribly and let their culture go to garbage. Just browse around on Glassdoor and see for yourself. In the past companies could say one thing and hide everything that went on in their office from the public. Not anymore. Not in the increasingly transparent world we live in.

Today’s workers are knowledgeable and empowered. Top talent isn’t joining those companies with terrible cultures, and any top talent that is at those companies are quickly leaving. Now, if you don’t have a solid company culture, everything will start going south quickly. Your employees will be disengaged and do shoddy work, which will lead to your disgruntled customers shaping your brand for you. Your employees aren’t going to be brand ambassadors outside of the office, so customers and potential employees will stay away from you. Your employees and customers will create your company’s brand no matter how hard you fight back. The only way to fix it, or prevent it, is to focus on cultivating a healthy company culture.

The positive side of this is that the opposite is true. If your culture is thriving, your employees will do great work, they’ll be brand ambassadors even outside of the office, and your customers will spread your positive branding as well. Basically, however you treat your employees, they’re going to pay it forward to your clients.

Let your culture carry your company.

These days I don’t worry so much about our branding. Instead, I spend my focus and energy on our culture. We make sure our policies and our environment are conducive to the team, and strengthen and add to the culture. I know based on our own experience and the experience of many other companies that as long as the culture is right, almost everything else, including the brand, will take care of itself. Our company culture is the best test of the strength of our brand.

So start asking yourself questions. Do you want your brand to be known as up to date and cutting edge in your space? Is your culture one that encourages people to constantly be learning, testing, and growing? Because if your culture isn’t pushing your brand in the direction you want it to go, start making changes now.

97th Floor has come a long way since 2012, when lunch schedules seemed like an issue worth addressing. Now, our major concern is providing the best service to our clients. As long as we're accomplishing that task, the hours don't actually matter. After all, culture is what will carry your company into the future, but only if you step back and let it.

Give your employees a culture that supports and strengthens them, and they'll give your brand a future worth working for.

Wayne Sleight

Chief Operating Officer

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