Building Strong Brands and Strong Cultures

Last month, we started to explore the relationship between brand and culture. Great cultures are those that have a great story that employees want to be part of while great brands are those that 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. Many times we 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, we’re going to give 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 that we’re wanting to serve? So, 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, let’s first find out what is important to our 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. A lot of people think, “let’s set up a class and teach our employees about our culture.” I actually think role modeling the behaviors and values on an ongoing basis are 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 because things that were valuable were talked about in meetings and were referred to in decision making. And, most importantly, the behaviors were role modeled. Let me give you an example: you almost never walk in 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-fi-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!

Another great example: Dan Cathy was really good at role modeling, and one of the things he was very passionate about is picking up trash. So, he would go around the home office and if there was a napkin on the floor he would just discreetly pick it up and throw it away. But he would not just do it at the office – I remember being on a trip with him in New York City with the president of Coca-Cola. And Dan was walking down the streets of New York City talking to us and just suddenly would reach down and pick up trash to throw away without breaking eye contact. Well, guess what the President of Coca-Cola started doing a little bit into the trip? I really think the strongest way to “teach” cultural values is to bring clarity around what they are then 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 that’s 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, we build buildings, we have bathrooms, we clean restaurants, we manage cash flow… but 20% of what we do is very different. So, what I was always looking for is a lot of clarity around the 20% of what was unique about Chick-fil-A and asking the question, is that what the candidate is drawn to? If their answers are all about wanting to work for a big successful brand with great benefits – 80% territory – that’s not the right candidate. 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) lead to Raving Fan Customers (brand) every time.

Be sure to catch last month’s newsletter where we began exploring the relationship between brand and culture!

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

Recent Resources

I spent most of my career in marketing at Chick-fil-A. I was there for 37 years, 35 of which were in the marketing department (I rotated out for two years to lead an operations team). While reflecting back on my time there, I made a discovery that I wasn’t consciously aware of while living it: the very best marketing is not about generating sales – it’s about creating a story that customers want to be part of. The greatest brands have the greatest stories.
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