Building Strong Brands and Strong Cultures

Last month, we started to explore the relationship between brand and culture. Great cultures have a great story that employees want to be part of, while great brands have a great story that customers want to be part of. As leaders, what can we practically do to build our brand and culture? It has always been true and will be even more true in the future, that word-of-mouth advertising is the best form of marketing. We often confuse the world of marketing with advertising- buying billboards and TV commercials. The truth is, if we think honestly about why we make the decisions we make, it’s that someone else told us – it’s word of mouth. Great brands create the conditions under which customers want to talk about them. At Chick-fil-A we had what we called the Raving Fan Strategy and it had 3 parts to it.

  1. The first was Operational Excellence: doing what people expect with excellence. If they come in and they don’t get what they expect, you might get some word of mouth; it just won’t be good word of mouth. So, stage one is, giving them what they expect with excellence.
  2. That enables part two to happen: Second Mile Service. Second Mile Service is giving people things they didn’t expect with excellence. That’s the point at which customers start to remark in a positive way.
  3. Part three is Emotional Connections Marketing. Emotional Connections Marketing can be thought of this way: how do we use our marketing funds to invest in the customers we want to serve? Instead of spending money on an ad or other traditional marketing tactics, can we invest in a daddy-daughter date night? Can we invest in something important in the community? The underlying idea is first to find out what is important to the customers and then make it important to us. If you’ve got kids in a local school and I support that school, I’ve supported you – my customer. I’ve used the resources that I have to care about what customers care about. That’s Emotional Connections Marketing.

It’s important to note that cultures are more caught than taught. Many people think, “let’s set up a class and teach our employees about our culture.” I believe role modeling behaviors and values on an ongoing basis is far more important to culture building. One of the things I noticed at Chick-fil-A is that much of the culture is not taught in a class; it’s learned. This is because valuable things were talked about in meetings and referred to in decision-making. And most importantly, the behaviors were role modeled. Let me give you an example: you almost never walk into the Support Center at Chick-fil-A when there’s not someone that holds the door open for you. If I’m walking into Chick-fil-A and I see somebody coming up behind me, I instinctively hold the door open for them. Not once in my 37 years did somebody say, “David, you need to hold the door open for other people.” Never once. There was not a class that taught me to do that, but it was role modeled so consistently that I’ve even seen visitors pick up on it! I think the strongest way to “teach” cultural values is to bring clarity around what they are and empower leaders to role model them consistently.

Cultures can be thought of like a magnet. With a magnet, you have two ends, a positive and a negative. One side attracts, but flip it around, and it repels. Strong cultures either strongly attract or strongly repel people, depending on their values. When a potential employee is a fit, there’s this sense of alignment around mutual values. In an interview, I would always be really clear about our values and see if the person is strongly drawn to them. If their answer was, “yeah, I could live with that” or, “I’ve always wanted to work for a big, successful brand,” versus something like, “wow, that’s the kind of company I’ve always dreamed I could work for,” it’s incredibly revealing. You’ve got to surface the values during the interview and then look for the degree to which there’s a strong emotional connection to those values within the candidate. Are they drawn to something unique about your brand? 80% of what we do at Chick-fil-A is exactly the same as what everyone else does – we buy land, build buildings, have bathrooms, clean restaurants, manage cash flow… but 20% of what we do is very different. So, I was always looking for a lot of clarity around the 20% of what was unique about Chick-fil-A and asking to see if that’s what the candidate was drawn to. You must have clarity on the uniqueness of your brand, and the best candidates will be those that are strongly drawn to that uniqueness; they’re the 20%.

I’ve never seen a great brand come out of a mediocre culture. Start with building a strong culture, then let your brand story be an overflow of that success. Raving Fan Employees (culture) leads to Raving Fan Customers (brand) every time.

Together, we can Spark a Revolution of brands more defined by meaning than money, brands that achieve success in a manner that redefines it.

I’d love to connect with you on social media, you can find me on these platforms:

Together, we can Spark a Revolution of brands more defined by meaning than money, brands that achieve success in a manner that redefines it.

David Salyers
Founder, Spark A Revolution

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